For some parents in the Walla Walla Valley area, care for their new baby will begin with a very old idea.
Last Friday Providence St. Mary Medical Center began distributing “Care Crates” to families that need help getting basic resources for their infants.
The cardboard crates, sometimes called a baby box or sleeping box, contain diapers, baby wipes, onesies, wash cloths, a swaddling blanket, booties and more, said St. Mary social worker Amy Evensen. But the real treasure is that box, she said.
The “Smitten Baby Box,” by the Pip & Grow company, is modeled on a concept born in Finland about a century ago.
“The baby bassinet boxes became a part of a concerted effort to reduce infant mortality,” the company says on its website.
A number of companies distribute baby boxes.
According to an NPR story last year, the sleeping boxes were originally intended “to support impoverished families and counteract high infant mortality in Finland: to claim the free gift, mothers had to visit a maternity clinic and undergo a medical exam. The lure worked and soon maternity exams became commonplace for moms.”
The containers, crafted from highly durable cardboard, function as a lightweight, portable bassinet that provides a safe sleep environment with a much smaller footprint than a traditional crib, said Lindsay Oldridge, chief philanthropy officer for Providence St. Mary Foundation.
The foundation partnered with Junior Club of Walla Walla to bring baby boxes to families here at no cost to St. Mary or patients.
Not only do the cardboard crates create a dedicated space for infants to sleep, but the portability encourages parents to pack the baby from room to room, wherever the parent needs to be, experts say.
Infants can sleep in the Smitten box for up to 6 months, the riskiest period for SIDS and suffocation, according to Pip & Grow.
Since the baby box movement began, Finland’s infant mortality rate has decreased from 65 infant deaths per 10,000 to just 3 infant deaths per 10,000. Similar sleep box programs have been implemented in other countries with equal success, Oldridge said in a news release.
Evensen works with low-income families to make sure they are discharged from the hospital with needed resources. Mostly that’s been printed materials, especially around the topic of safe sleeping, she said. Until now.
“That’s one of our biggest concerns, especially when parents don’t have a dedicated sleeping space for baby and then might choose to co-sleep,” she said.
That means adults sleeping next to their infants, something that’s been associated with increased risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy and fatal sleeping accidents.
Evensen has given out two baby boxes, which include the thin mattress recommended for babies.
“At first, the moms are very grateful and very accepting of additional resources, but they don’t know what we’re talking about. But when we bring it into the room, they see how simple and compact it is. They see how they can use it,” she said.