A London hospital has become the first in the UK to trial Finnish-style ‘baby boxes’ – free starter kits given to all new mums regardless of background said to help reduce rates of infant mortality.
The widely-praised government scheme in Finland has been providing baby boxes to expectant mothers for over 75 years, containing bedding, bathing products and clothing, including a snowsuit for Finland's harsh winters, while the box itself doubles up as a cot.
The Queen Charlotte and Chelsea Hospital, located in west London and part of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, has just started handing out boxes to new parents. Made from sturdy cardboard and containing a foam mattress with waterproof cover and a cotton sheet, it's designed for newborns to safely sleep in and come filled with essentials to help aid the transition to parenthood, such as nappies, wet wipes and clothing for newborns.
The boxes also come with educational materials with advice on how to reduce the risk of infant mortality and improve parental bonding.
Bianca Adefarakan-Davies and her husband Robert were among the first new parents in the UK to be given a baby box for their son Jackson. Speaking to ITV News, Bianca said: “Having this and being given those bits and pieces you need once you get home just for your first few weeks is really brilliant. As a bed, something portable like this is actually really good, and he loves it! If you got any old cardboard box you would not put your child in there, but this one does actually work.”
It's thought that the size of the box prevents babies from rolling onto their stomach, behaviour linked to sudden infant death syndrome. In Finland, the tradition is thought to have contributed to reducing the infant mortality rate in the country from 65 infant deaths per 1,000 births in 1938 to 2.26 per 1,000 births in 2015.
In comparison, the UK has some of highest rates of infant mortality in Europe – ranking 22nd out of 50 European countries, with 4.19 deaths per 1,000 births.
Dr Karen Joash, the consultant obstetrician leading the baby box trial, said: “For too many years the UK has fallen behind its European counterparts when it comes to reducing infant mortality.
“These boxes have been proven to help reduce the infant mortality rate in Finland and we hope that these results could be replicated in the UK.”
The London trial was initially expected to last around seven weeks, with 800 boxes being distributed to new mothers on a first come, first served basis, but it's now hoped it will be extended because the boxes have been so well received by both staff and patients.
If the trial is a success, the scheme may be extended to other parts of England. Meanwhile, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to bring the scheme north of the border, too.
Speaking in April, she said: “By providing every newborn with a baby box, we can help child health – and by providing greater support to new families, we will also help to tackle child poverty and improve the chances of some of our most deprived children.”
Images: Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust / Finnish Labour Museum