Hospitals in Leeds will now be giving out free baby boxes in an effort to reduce infant deaths and to empower new parents.
The scheme was launched on Monday as part of Leeds Baby Week — a partnership in the city which aims to give infants the best possible start in life, regardless of their circumstances.
It comes as part of a growing trend for baby boxes, which come filled with essentials for a newborn baby and its parents.
Boxes are made from durable cardboard, and come with a firm foam mattress, so they double as a temporary cot for the newborn.
While the boxes are free, expecting parents in Leeds have to complete an online course in caring for their baby, from the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust.
Once expecting parents have completed the course, created in collaboration with medical professionals, they receive a certificate that can be redeemed for their free baby box at the hospital when their baby is born.
The idea is to encourage expecting parents to connect with maternity services at an early stage, and to promote access to care for all pregnant women.
“This initiative supports the information that parents receive around safe sleeping and reducing the risk of cot death,” said Sue Gibson, head of midwifery for the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust. “But it is much more than that. Parents have access to a wealth of information, in the form of short films made by the maternity team in Leeds about pregnancy, birth, and caring for their babies.”
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Scotland also introduced the baby box programme as a pilot scheme in January, and last month rolled it out across the country.
“Scotland’s baby box is a strong signal of our determination that every child, regardless of their circumstances, should get the best start in life,” said Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in January.
The first hospital in the UK to trial the scheme was Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in West London, in June 2016, giving out 800 baby boxes for free to new mothers — after instances of cot death increased to nearly 3,000 a year in Britain.
Other hospitals reported to have trialled the scheme in England include the North Middlesex and Whittington hospitals in north London, Colchester, Ipswich, Wigan, the Royal Berkshire in Reading, and Birmingham Women’s Hospital.
But the scheme was first introduced in Finland in 1938, to discourage parents from letting their newborn share their bed.
The scheme has been credited with a dramatic drop in infant mortality — from 65 babies in every 1,000 in the 1930s, to two per 1,000 in 2015.