The fourth-poorest state in the nation with the second highest infant mortality rate, Alabama is embarking on a radical child-care initiative that will give kids a head start, and could even go toward ending poverty in that state. They’re putting their babies in boxes.
First popularized in Finland, the premise of the “baby box” is quite simple. New parents are sent a free box filled with handy items for their child (like a thermometer, teething toy, and even a picture book) and parents are provided with information about how to best nurture their child from a young age. The box itself doubles as a crib, and comes fitted with a mattress, blankets, and pillows.
Think of it like a care package from the government, for babies.
In Alabama, the infant mortality rate sits just under 9 deaths per 1,000 babies, second only to Mississippi, and roughly on par with that of Sri Lanka. The statistic refers to the number of babies who die before reaching the age of one.
In some cases, these deaths are preventable simply by educating parents about safe sleep habits for infants. For example, in 2015 roughly 3,700 babies nationwide died from what is termed a “sudden unexpected infant death” — oftentimes a result of suffocation, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the cause of which is unknown.
Avoiding infant bed-sharing (which about 11% of parents do, often because they can’t afford a crib) and ensuring that babies are put to sleep on their backs can prevent these tragedies from occurring.
In the United States, baby boxes come accompanied by important informational videos for parents about the best safe sleep habits. Parents can even go to Baby Box University for additional resources.
While it’s too early to tell if America’s baby box experiment is working (baby boxes are available in just three states, at the moment: Alabama, New Jersey, and Ohio), it has been proven that educating parents about safe sleep habits and providing something as simple as a baby box can have a positive effect on infant development.
Finland adopted the baby box in the 1930s, when the country had an outrageously high infant mortality rate of nearly one in 10. Now it has the sixth lowest infant mortality rate in the world, according to the CIA world factbook.
Lowering the infant mortality rate helped fuel Finland’s rise up out of poverty. Today, its GDP per capita is roughly equal to that in the United States, whereas as recently as 1960, Americans were three times richer, on average. While not all of that growth can be explained by a lower infant mortality rate, having government-funded access to resources for infants more than likely played a role in the country’s turnaround.
For a state like Alabama, in which about 18.5% of people live in poverty, having access to resources like the baby box could have a similarly positive effect on the overall poverty level.
And it all starts with a box.