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Finland's 'Baby Box' program coming to Canada

Last Updated May 14, 2016 at 12:01 am EDT

It’s the movement that has been credited with potentially helping Finland drastically reduce its infant mortality rate, and now the Baby Box is coming to Canada.

The Finnish government has been providing every expectant mother with the free box since the 1930s. It’s filled with baby supplies as well as a mattress that eventually turns the box into a sleeping space for the infant.

A baby rests in a Baby Box. Image credit: The Baby Box Company.
A baby rests in a Baby Box. Image credit: The Baby Box Company.

The idea has since been implemented in a number of other countries, and now The Baby Box Company says it will also provide the kits for free to every mom-to-be in Ontario.

“About 80 per cent of parents who receive their baby box, do use it as a primary safe sleep space for their infant, up through at least six months of age,” Jennifer Clary, CEO of The Baby Box Company, said Wednesday.

The boxes for Canadian moms will include a wide variety of supplies, such as pampers, teethers, and clothing. And like the Finnish concept, there’s also a huge education component behind it.

“If we can enhance our understanding of children’s development, we can actually have an impact on parenting style,” Jennifer Weber, chief education officer with the Baby Company, said Wednesday.

Twins celebrate St. Patrick's Day in the Baby Box.  Image credit: The Baby Box Company.
Twins celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the Baby Box. Image credit: The Baby Box Company.

Although Canada’s, and particularly Ontario’s infant mortality rate hasn’t been identified as a significant concern, Manavi Handa, a registered midwife working in Toronto, says it’s still the most common reason for infant death.

“We still don’t know what causes it, it may be something to do with brain development, it may be about the ability to regulate breathing, it might be about the ability to regulate temperature,” she said.

Handa adds that having a baby on a firm surface on its back with an air cushion does make a difference, and perhaps the data the company collects can be instrumental in understanding if the box can reduce cases of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

“We need the research to know whether it actually will help with infant mortality, and in what cases,” she said.

Clary says her company will be tracking data through their distributors, hospitals and healthcare providers, to determine the effectiveness of the baby boxes. Not only when it comes to SIDS, but also seeing if more the program helps more moms maintain relationships with existing prenatal services in the community.

“It’s really about connecting with parents sooner rather than later, and being able to provide enhanced parent education and parent programming prior to a baby being born, so families can continue to be connected to those existing community services,” said Weber.

A father smiles at his baby in the Baby Box. Image credit: The Baby Box Company.
A father smiles at his baby in the Baby Box. Image credit: The Baby Box Company.

The moms-to-be must complete a series of educational requirements, including safe sleep training, in order to receive the free box, valued between $150 and $200.

Handa says her only concern is making sure every expectant mother in the province has access to these boxes, and eventually the resources that come with it.

“In Brampton, there’s very high rates of Punjabi speaking people, are there going to be boxes available for people who speak Punjabi, if not, and all those resources are in English, then that community is still not going to be able to access the resources that are out there,” she explains.

The Baby Box Company says they’re hoping to distribute 145,000 boxes throughout Ontario starting in August 2016. So far 100 distributors have been identified, including parenting centres, doctors, hospitals, and mom groups. The company says they will increase their number of distributors in the months to follow.