New Jersey is giving away free cardboard boxes to reduce infant death rates

They aren’t your ordinary brown cardboard boxes — although your cat is bound to love them all the same.

These, in fact, are baby boxes: cardboard bassinets given to new parents, with a bundle of baby clothes, towels, toiletries, and more stored inside.

Providing baby boxes to new parents is a tradition long-observed in Finland, but New Jersey just became the first US state to issue them. In 2017, the state will give approximately 105,000 boxes to new parents for free.

The goal is to make typically rocky beginnings a little easier for parents. And in New Jersey, the baby-box program has a public-health component as well: reducing rates of sudden infant death syndrome.

Dr. Kathie McCans, a pediatric physician and chairwoman of New Jersey’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board, told the New York Times recently that 57 of the state’s 61 cases of SIDS in 2014 (the most recent year data is available) involved unsafe sleep circumstances. That could mean the child was sleeping with a parent, wrapped in a blanket, or a number of other risky scenarios.

The safest position, experts agree, is positioning the baby flat on his or her back.

Baby boxes are meant to encourage parents to follow that wisdom. As McCans told the Times, they’re also meant to be an education tool. To receive the baby box, New Jersey parents have to take a brief online course instructing them on the various ways babies can suffer SIDS. In the first two weeks of the program, about 12,000 people have taken the course.

Finland’s baby box program started with a similar goal 75 years ago. The infant mortality rate was high, and the federal government wanted a way to standardize, at least in part, the way newborns were cared for. Today, that means sending parents a box filled with clothes, burp cloths, toys, outerwear (it’s chilly in Finland), a toothbrush, bibs, and other essentials that babies demand.

New Jersey’s baby boxes come with a similar assortment: baby wipes, breast-feeding pads, Pampers, a onesie, and other smaller items. The boxes themselves are paid for by the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Reviews board, though any remaining costs will be paid by the California-based Baby Box Company.

Parents from all income brackets can receive a box, as SIDS doesn’t affect one socioeconomic group more than another. In the US, SIDS ranks as the leading cause of death for children between one month and one year of age.

New Jersey’s rate of SIDS happens to be the lowest in the country, tied with California’s. If the new program works as intended, it’s likely to reduce the number even further.

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