NEW JERSEY — Babies born in New Jersey this year will go home with a sturdy, safe box to sleep in and additional newborn essentials — all for free. On Thursday, the Garden State became the first in the US to launch a universal baby box program in an attempt to reduce infant mortality rates.
The baby box program follows the example of Finland, which has had a similar program in place since the 1930s. Any expecting parent or parents of infants younger than 3 months old in New Jersey can take a short online educational program and receive a box filled with newborn essentials that can also serve as a safe sleeping space.
The Baby Box Co., a California-based company, paired up with New Jersey's Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board on a grant from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in order to reduce Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and improve family health care.
According to the company, the program will continue beyond 2017 based on its success, measured by parents' use of the boxes and improvements tracked in the state's health outcomes.
The cardboard boxes, distributed at Cooper University Healthcare and Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, come with a firm mattress, a waterproof cover and a fitted sheet, in addition to diapers, wipes, breast cream, breast pads, a onesie and an activity cart: about $150 in materials.
Jernica Quionnes, 33, a new mother from Camden, New Jersey, came to the program's launch Thursday to receive a baby box. She has a 2-month-old, Bless'n.
"I have it in the living room right now," she said, noting that it's lightweight and easy to move around. "I never thought about having one, but it lets me put the baby down while I'm in the kitchen."
Baby Box Co. CEO and co-founder Jennifer Clary said the company will distribute about 105,000 free boxes in New Jersey -- the anticipated number of births in 2017 -- ensuring that every expecting family in the state can get one.
To receive a box, parents must register for free at babyboxuniversity.com as New Jersey residents and include valid contact information and mailing address. They will watch a program lasting 10 to 15 minutes and take a short quiz to get a certificate of completion. Then, they can choose to collect their box from the closest distribution partner or have it shipped to their address.
The Baby Box Co. launched its first city-wide initiative in San Francisco in November. The boxes are also available to people who live outside New Jersey or San Francisco for $70 to $225.
Baby Box Co. initially started as a "baby shower in a box" product meant for gifting to friends and family, Clary said. But after visiting Finland to learn about its health care system, the company pivoted to integrate an educational platform. In Finland, "maternity boxes" are an institution, of sorts, parents there said.
Satu Korkohen of Helsinki, mother of 2-week-old Emma, explained that the box she received introduced her to parenthood and gave her an idea of the optimal sleeping conditions for her baby.
"The products inside as well as the box itself are clues to good parenting," she said. "Once you see the tiny baby nail scissors, you start wondering how often will you need to use them, or the bath thermometer. So even if you could afford to purchase all the stuff, it's emotionally very comforting to have the essentials ready at hand and delivered to you."
Organizers say the online program for New Jersey parents will help them make safe, healthy choices and decrease babies' risk of death due to an unsafe sleep environment or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, one aspect of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death.
There are an estimated 3,500 deaths from SIDS and other sleep-related deaths in the United States each year, according to the CDC. Forty-four percent of these are caused by sudden infant death, with 25 percent accidental strangulation or suffocation in bed and the rest unknown.
US Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for a safe sleeping environment for babies say parents should use a sleep surface such as a firm mattress or safety-approved crib covered by a fitted sheet, and nothing should be covering a baby's head. Additionally, blankets, crib bumpers and pillows should be kept out of the sleep area. Loose bedding and soft toys should also be left out, and smoking should be forbidden near the baby.
Babies should always be put on their back to go to sleep and be dressed in a one-piece sleeper, without a blanket, according to the guidelines. Lastly, the baby's sleep area should be placed next to its parents, but parents should refrain from letting the baby sleep in an adult bed, chair or couch with parents or anyone else.
In 2016, an estimated 93 percent of infant fatalities associated with SUID in New Jersey were related to sleep and sleep environments, according to a report from the New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board.
"Every year we review instances in which infants die suddenly and unexpectedly," said Dr. Kathryn McCans, an emergency department physician at Cooper University Health Care Hospital and chairwoman of the review board. "In a significant proportion of these deaths, an unsafe sleep circumstance is a contributing factor."