DC bill proposed to provide baby boxes for all newborns

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When it comes to newborns, sleep environment is crucial. Pillows, blankets, crib bumpers and stuffed animals can cause suffocation in a baby's sleeping space.

Now, new legislation has been proposed in the District that would make sure every new parent in the city have access to a free baby box in an effort to reduce D.C.'s infant mortality rate.

"We don't know all the causes of sudden infant death, but we do know that sometimes co-sleeping can cause problems," said D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1). "So we want parents to have a safe place to put their child while they are sleeping while it is also convenient for them. Having a box that fits on your dresser or by your bedside is really convenient when you are waking up multiple times in the night and we know that these programs are working in other places and we want to be a part of that."

Nadeau is a mother-to-be and she introduced the legislation. She said it has a lot of support on the council.

"It's pretty close to home so it is exciting to be able to do this for other parents," she said.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the third-leading cause of infant mortality. According to Nadeau's office, the most recent statistics show the District has a significantly higher infant mortality rate than the national average. The number is nearly double when you look at families with non-Hispanic black mothers.

Similar baby boxes with samples and educational materials that come along with them have been used in Finland for the past 70 years and the country has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.

Nadeau hopes it can make a difference in D.C. She is working on getting a hearing with the council's health committee while trying to figure out the logistics.

"We have consulted with hospital association," Nadeau said. "We are hoping they might be our willing partner to provide the boxes as parents are leaving the hospital. One of the challenges is where do you store them because they are kind of big if you are taking thousands of them, so we are working on that now."

In the meantime, the cardboard box and foam mattress with a fitted sheet is getting positive from a local pediatrics group we checked with.

"These bed boxes are a really great idea because the thought processes are they control all of these factors - they give the infant a good neutral to hard surface to sleep on, the infant goes to sleep on his or her back, the box is devoid of any accessories, of any stuffed animals or large quilts and plush blankets, and we do have good temperatures stability so it is a nice, cool environment for the infant to sleep in."

The American Academy of Pediatrics has not weighed in on their position on baby boxes because there are not enough studies on this topic. On its website, the group wrote:

"The Finnish baby box has captured attention in the past couple of years. Currently, there is insufficient data on the role cardboard boxes play in reducing infant mortality. Finland does experience a low infant mortality rate but they have never collected data on the possible role of cardboard boxes. There are many factors that may contribute to the country's low infant mortality rate: women receive excellent prenatal care; there is very little smoking in the country; and almost all babies sleep on their backs. Currently, there are randomized controlled trials being conducted in New Zealand and Australia regarding the use of boxes (not necessarily cardboard boxes but flax or woven boxes). However, none of these studies have been published yet."

However, baby boxes have already been rolled out in New Jersey and several other states.

The bill in the District paves the way for any company to become the provider of the boxes. Currently, The Baby Box Company is the only business making them.

To qualify for a free box and samples, parents have to complete an online education course and pass a quiz.