Why Denver Health Officials Hope a Simple Cardboard Box Will Reduce Infant Mortality

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Denver Public Health hopes to soon begin a campaign distributing free baby sleep boxes across the city, a first, modest step in Colorado to help new parents gain access to a simple tool that health experts say could greatly reduce infant mortality.

Denver Public Health hopes soon to begin a campaign distributing free baby sleep boxes across the city, a first, modest step in Colorado to help new parents gain access to a simple tool that health experts say could greatly reduce infant mortality.

The boxes — made of cardboard and decorated with playful, kid-friendly designs — are given to new or expecting mothers and typically hold diapers, wipes and maybe a set of baby pajamas or a sleep sack. But the most important part is the box itself. Each box also comes with a firm mattress pad that allows the box to be turned into a basic, but safe, bed for infants under about 6 months old.

Kellie Teter, Denver Public Health’s maternal child health manager, said sleep-related deaths — whether caused by babies sleeping in the same bed as their parents or babies suffocating after rolling into too-soft bedding or pillows — is one of the biggest causes of sudden infant death.

“Baby boxes are a well-tested and very safe sleep environment for newborns,” she said.

The boxes have been used with great efficacy in Finland for decades and have recently become part of infant-health campaigns in Canada and the United States.

In Denver on Saturday, the boxes will be given out for free to attendees at the Baby and Kids Experience expo at the National Western Complex. The giveaway is a partnership between the expo and the Baby Box Co., an American company that sells the boxes in the United States and also works with health agencies on free-distribution programs. Those wanting the boxes at the expo must first watch an educational video about how to use them properly.

“We want to make sure people have the right knowledge,” said Holli Snyder, the expo’s executive producer.

There will be 1,000 boxes available at the expo. Those that go undistributed will be donated to Denver Public Health to start its program.

Teter said Denver Public Health will focus its efforts first on distributing boxes to new African-American mothers. In the Denver area, African-American babies are four times more likely to die in infancy than white babies, a disparity that cuts across economic lines. Many of those deaths are related to premature births, she said, but safe-sleep education for all mothers, regardless of race or class, is important too.

Teter said Denver Public Health hopes that the new program will build momentum for distributing baby boxes to every mother who gives birth in Denver.

“To most people,” she said, “it makes a lot of sense to them.”

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