A new program launching this week will bring cardboard boxes that can double as sleeping spaces to all parents across Alabama in an effort to reduce the state's high rate of infant mortality.
The partnership between Baby Box Co. and the Alabama Rural Development Office will be the third for the company, which has started similar programs in Ohio and New Jersey. Parents can go online, watch short educational videos and take a quiz to qualify for a box. Once they have obtained certificates of completion, parents can pick up boxes from distribution sites or arrange for home delivery.
"Each box is essentially a cardboard bassinet," said Jennifer Clary, CEO of the Baby Box Co.
Each box contains a firm mattress and fitted sheet and can hold a baby up to age six months, Clary said. Boxes also contain onesies, diapers, wipes and breastfeeding supplies.
"We are excited to be one of the first states to offer this program statewide to provide families with the tools and education to give their babies a healthy start in life," said Ron Sparks, Director of Alabama Rural Development Office, in a press release. "The ultimate goal of the program is to save babies' lives."
Boxes provide a safe sleeping environment for babies and are easy to transport. But Clary said parents also benefit from the educational component. The videos teach parents about safe sleep and baby care.
Alabama's infant mortality rate is higher than the national average. Every year, hundreds of babies born in the state die before their first birthdays. The infant mortality rate has risen for African-American babies in Alabama, who die at more than twice the rate of their white counterparts.
Many babies die as a result of suffocation from unsafe sleeping. Doctors encourage parents to put babies to sleep on their backs in cribs or bassinets without bumpers, pillows, blankets or stuffed animals.
The program is modeled after the Finnish tradition of providing sleeping boxes filled with baby supplies to expectant parents. The box gives babies "an equal start in life," according to a 2013 BBC News story about the program. Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. In Finland, 1.3 out of 1,000 children died during infancy in 2013, compared to 8.6 in Alabama.
"There is much work to be done to address the ongoing challenge of infant mortality here in the state," said Dr. Tom Miller, state health officer, in a press release. "This initiative will assist in addressing the challenge by providing education to parents from medical providers that practice within our state."
Baby boxes in Alabama will be available to all parents, regardless of income. Many parents in Alabama may not have a crib or bassinet where their baby can sleep. The boxes will fix part of the problem, Clary said.
"It really is the education that I think is going to lead to improved health," Clary said.