Bringing home a newborn can be an equally exciting and nerve-wracking time for new parents.
A program new to New Jersey aims to make it a little less scary.
It all starts with a box that serves as a bed.
New Jersey became the first state in the nation last week to roll out a free baby box program to reduce rates of infant mortality, which is sometimes due to unsafe sleep practices. The idea originated in Europe, where infant mortality was significantly reduced.
The state Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board partnered with the Baby Box Co., based in California, to provide 105,000 baby boxes this year to parents of newborns. The program received a grant for the project from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“(The baby box program) will help families make safe and healthy choices for their children by educating them about simple changes that will decrease the risk that a death will occur due to an unsafe sleep environment or sudden infant death syndrome,” said Dr. Kathryn McCans, emergency department physician at Cooper University Health Care in Camden.
New parents who are state residents can enroll online with the Baby Box Co. and complete an online course on infant safety. They can bring their certificate of completion to a baby box distributor center, including one in Atlantic City.
Baby box program distributors include Cooper and the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, which will have boxes available at its offices in Atlantic City, Camden and Pennsauken, Camden County. Delivery may be scheduled, too.
Free baby box kits contain a mattress, waterproof cover and sheet, diapers, baby wipes, breast pads and nipple cream for breastfeeding mothers, onesies and other items for mother and child. The box is just the right size for infants to safely sleep.
The country’s infant mortality rate is 5.8 per 1,000 births for children younger than 1 year. This is smaller than most other countries but outpaces counterparts like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Japan.
New Jersey had one of the lowest rates of sudden unexpected infant deaths in the U.S. in 2013, according to the SIDS Center of New Jersey at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. About four infants younger than 1 year per 1,000 births died in the state in 2014, according to the CDC.
About 93 percent of unexpected infant deaths related to sleep and sleep environments, according to a report by the national Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board.
National Institutes of Health safe sleep practices include placing newborns on their backs, using a firm mattress covered by a fitted sheet and clearing the sleep area of toys and blankets.
The program aims to provide a safe place to sleep for families who don’t have a bassinet or crib, said Judy Stark, assistant director of regional programs at the perinatal cooperative.
“It’s also an opportunity to put our arms around families, so they feel supported by their government and community,” she said.
The Baby Box Co. program was modeled after a tradition in Finland that started in 1938 when expectant mothers were given a baby box kit with clothes, blankets and other necessities. The box, lined with a thin mattress, served as a baby’s first bed.
That program was credited with helping reduce the country’s infant mortality rates, which has fallen more than 95 percent since baby boxes began.
Program founders said they hope to continue the program beyond 2017.