Canada's "Baby Box" Program Aims to Lower Infant Mortality Rate

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Newborns in Finland sleep in boxes, not bassinets. Now, thanks to Canadian health officials, many infants in Nunavut will, too. As the CBC reports, the region’s health and education departments have joined forces to hand out more than 800 “baby boxes” to new parents in Canada’s northernmost province. They hope that the boxes will help reduce the region’s high infant mortality rates, as they did when they were first introduced in Finland nearly 80 years ago.

Baby boxes are cardboard containers filled with all the basic newborn essentials: clothing, sheets, toys, diapers, and hygiene products. They even come with a tiny mattress, so infants can sleep in the empty boxes once their contents are removed. According to experts, these makeshift box-beds lower babies’ chances of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), since they prevent them from rolling onto their stomachs [PDF].

Finland’s government began handing out baby boxes in the late 1930s. Initially, they were only given to low-income families, but soon they were gifted to all new parents, regardless of socioeconomic status. They’re credited with lowering the nation’s infant mortality rate from 90 in 1000 to less than two in 1000, the CBC reports.

Naturally, Canadian officials hope the boxes will also help babies in Nunavut. Nunavut is Canada’s most sparsely populated province, but it also has the highest birth rate, along with the nation’s highest rate of infant mortality—a rate five times higher than the national average.

For the most part, Nunavut’s baby boxes are like Finland’s, although they contain unique, culturally-specific items like children's books written in the Inuit language. The boxes also include family planning materials for parents, like condoms and brochures on baby care and various health risks.

Nunavut's new baby box initiative was piloted in Alberta earlier this year, through a program called “Welcome to Parenthood," Huffington Post Canada reports. Now that it's arrived in Nunavut, the province's Department of Health will hand out the boxes to parents in 25 communities over the course of the next year (and beyond, if the program is successful). Parents can register for the boxes at prenatal appointments or community health centers.

"Reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and infant mortality is a priority,” said Minister of Health George Hickes in a news statement published by The Arctic Journal. “I’m thrilled that Nunavut is taking the lead on this baby box initiative—the first publicly funded universal program of its kind in Canada.”

[h/t CBC]

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