You might have heard of baby boxes before.
They’re the cardboard boxes handed out to new parents in Finland after the birth of their baby, and a lot of babies end up sleeping in them. It’s a tradition that’s been going for 75 years, and many people believe it’s one of the reasons that Finland has such a low infant mortality rate.
Handouts of baby boxes have began in the UK last year. The boxes and contents are being supplied by an American social enterprise company, The Baby Box Co, with businesses supporting it. The government isn’t footing the bill for any part of it.
Listen: The Sleep Whisperer shares some sanity saving tips on how to teach your baby to self-settle.
So what makes the original Finnish baby boxes so good? Well, they’ve got almost everything that new parents need, from clothes, nappies and a sleeping bag, through to a toy, a book, a bath thermometer and condoms. But the best thing of all is the box itself, which comes with a mattress, so it can be used as a bed.
Back in the 1930s, Finland was a poor country, and infant mortality was high. Sixty-five out of every 1000 babies died. The box gave parents a clean, safe place for their babies to sleep, while the essentials inside it helped babies get off to a good start in life.
Currently, infant mortality in Finland is 2.3 out of 1000, well below countries like the UK.
The box reduces the risk of SIDS for several reasons. The mattress is firm, in line with recommendations. The size of the box is believed to make it less likely for babies to roll onto their stomachs. Plus, it’s an easy way for tired parents to keep their baby next to them. Babies are safest when they’re sleeping in their parents’ bedroom but not in their bed.
Baby boxes are now being sold worldwide, to parents who like the idea of the Finnish tradition. Photo via The Baby Box Co.
The boxes are hugely popular in Finland, with 95 per cent of parents choosing a box rather than a cash grant. They're a great leveller, with kids of all backgrounds wearing the same clothes, with colours - gender neutral - changing from year to year.
Isn't it time we started up a baby box scheme in Australia? Anything that can reduce the risk of SIDS is worth investing in. But there's more to it than that. It's easy, as a parent-to-be, to fall into the trap of spending a lot of money, whether you can afford it or not.
The baby box would give every new arrival the essentials of life. For parents who don't have much, it would be a huge relief. For parents who have plenty, it would be a reminder of how little a baby really needs.
To find out what's happening to bring the boxes to Australia Mamamia spoke to The Baby Box Co founder Jennifer Clary.
Currently, the boxes are available for purchase online to ship to Australia (starting at $88.33), but Clary told Mamamia her team is working within Australia to establish partners and networks so the boxes can be available free of charge.
"We are at the very early stages of programme development in Australia, but ultimately our aim is to provide the same equitable platform on Baby Box University for families in Australia as we have in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland," she says.
Baby Box University, Clary explained, is a crucial part of the programme. It's the name for the locally-tailored education course that parents must complete in countries the program exists in order to get their hands on a free baby box.
Clary said she believes it is not the bed box alone that has led to Finland’s positive infant mortality results, but the education of parents on safe sleeping.
"The truth is that Baby Boxes are not inherently magical and our team has been consistently public about the need to distribute Baby Boxes in conjunction with parenting education."
So what's next for baby boxes in Australia? Well, Clary says the groundwork is being laid for free distribution in Australia, but it's a while away yet as the organisation learns more about our market and talks to potential partners to learn the best way forward.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the federal government has no plans to roll out a Baby Box-style program of its own in Australia.
"Australia has shown significant progress in reducing infant and child deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome. The SIDS death rate decreased by 86 per cent between 1986 and 2003," she said.
She said that rates of SIDS have remained low - attributed as the cause of seven per cent of infant deaths from 2008 to 2010.
The spokeswoman added that the federal government supports measures to reduce infant deaths, and currently funds the Pregnancy, Birth & Baby Helpline and website, which is where you can find a range of resources and information about reducing the risk factors of SIDS.
Would you like to see baby boxes given to new parents in Australia?