'Baby Box' program rolls out in New Jersey; first in U.S.

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CAMDEN, N.J. — A statewide safe-sleeping campaign featuring free cardboard "Baby Boxes" rolled out Thursday at Cooper University Hospital, part of the newest effort to reduce the number of infants dying from Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (or SUIDS).

New Jersey is the first state where all expecting and new parents can receive mattress-lined boxes and infant care supplies from The Baby Box Co. after completing an online parenting education program through its website, babyboxuniversity.com.

Finland introduced baby boxes, along with prenatal care and parenting education, as a way to decrease its infant mortality rate, from 65 deaths per 1,000 births in 1938, to 1.3 deaths per 1,000 births in 2013, according to the World Health Organization.

That country's work inspired Jennifer Clary and Michelle Vick to launch The Baby Box Co. in the United States. According to its website, Baby Boxes serve families in 52 countries.


Mothers receive 'baby boxes' in Camden

Five-week-old Ariabella Espada tries out her new 'BabyFive-week-old Ariabella Espada tries out her new 'Baby Box' Thursday at Cooper University Hospital in Camden. The free program provides parents with a safe sleeping space for their infants as a way to combat Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome.  Joe Lamberti/Staff Photographer
Camden resident Dolores Peterson adjusts the bib on
Camden resident Dolores Peterson adjusts the bib on her 5-week-old daughter Ariabella Espada at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.  Joe Lamberti/Staff Photographer
Camden resident Jernica Quinones, center, carries her
Camden resident Jernica Quinones, center, carries her 2-month-old son Bless'n DeLarge as she receives a 'baby box' Thursday, Jan. 26 at Cooper University Health Care in Camden.  Joe Lamberti/Staff Photographer
Camden resident Dolores Peterson holds her 5-week-old
Camden resident Dolores Peterson holds her 5-week-old daughter Ariabella Espada before receiving a 'baby box' Thursday, Jan. 26 at Cooper University Health Care in Camden.  Joe Lamberti/Staff Photographer
Two-month-old Bless'n DeLarge of Camden gazes from
Two-month-old Bless'n DeLarge of Camden gazes from his new 'Baby Box' Thursday at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.  Joe Lamberti/Staff Photographer

"I think we have a very special product, but it's only special because of the way we distribute it," Clary, the CEO, said. "Early parenting education is linked to infant mortality reduction. That's what we focus on."

The New Jersey program expects to distribute about 105,000 boxes this year. In South Jersey, the boxes will be distributed by Cooper University Health Care and Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, among others. Parents also can choose to have the box delivered to their home.

Made from sturdy cardboard, the boxes can be used as a bed for the baby until 5 or 6 months of age. The supplies include diapers, wipes, a onesie, breastfeeding supplies and other items, valued at $150.

The program was introduced by New Jersey's Child Fatality & Near Fatality Review Board, using a grant from the Centers for Disease Control. The review board examines deaths and near-deaths of children to identify causes and ways to prevent future deaths.

While unsafe sleeping practices don't account for every case of SUIDS, parental education can help eliminate preventable deaths, said Dr. Kathryn McCans, an emergency department physician at Cooper who also leads the review board.

"Unsafe sleep is a significant cause of SUIDS in our state and likely in every state," McCans said. "Based on national data, New Jersey fares pretty well, as far as the rate of SUIDS death, but our rate is still high enough that it results in 50 to 60 deaths a year that seem to have at least unsafe sleep associated with it, even if it wasn't the full cause."

Factors associated with safer sleep include a firm mattress and a bare crib with no blankets, pillows, bumpers or stuffed animals in it; no smoking or substance use during or after pregnancy or by anyone in the household; exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life or any amount of breastfeeding possible.

"This program, at its core, is about getting education out to parents in a form that younger parents really love," McCans said.

Cooper doctors and health experts in New Jersey helped the company create educational videos for expectant parents on topics like installing car seats, safe sleeping practices, breastfeeding resources and support, and fatherhood engagement.

Two Camden families were the first to receive their boxes Thursday. Dolores Peterson popped her 5-week-old daughter into a cardboard box lined with a mattress, as cameras recorded little Ariabella Espada's reaction.

Peterson, a first-time mother, said she plans to tell her mothers group about the program.

"I'm going to let every mother know to sign up and get a box," Peterson said, so their babies can sleep safely, too.

To receive a free box, New Jersey parents can register for free online at babyboxuniversity.com. After watching a 10-15 minute program and taking a short quiz, parents can choose how to receive their box.

Follow Kim Mulford on Twitter: @CP_KimMulford

A new study says sleeping in the same room with an infant during the first year reduces the risk of sleep-related deaths. Here are a few other ways to ensure a safe sleeping environment for your baby. USA TODAY NETWORK - http://usat.ly/2fbiZI1

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