On Thursday, New Jersey became the first state to offer boxes full of essential items, including a built-in baby mattress, to all residents with newborns. Government-distributed baby boxes that double as beds for young infants are a decades-long tradition in Finland, where they are credited with reducing the country’s infant mortality rate to one of the lowest in the world. New Jersey’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board hopes that the free boxes will make a dent in the state’s incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by providing infants with a safe place to sleep. The state will also require parents to complete an online education course on newborn safety before they can receive the box.
Since 1949, all parents of newborns in Finland have been offered a choice between a maternity box and a check for 140 euros from the government. The vast majority of parents choose the box. As of 2010, Finland’s infant mortality rate was 2.3 deaths per 1,000 live births; the United State’s was more than two and a half times higher, at 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. A few small-scale programs, including ones in Philadelphia and San Antonio, have attempted to bring the benefits of baby boxes stateside in recent years. New Jersey’s program, which is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is expected to provide 105,000 boxes from the Baby Box Company to new parents.
New Jersey’s public health officials seem to see the box partially as a way to distribute important information about safe sleeping practices, but it also serves as a powerful symbol of support. It’s hard to imagine a clearer message that the government values children and their parents than a gift box full of items that all new families need. The overwhelming popularity of Finland’s box relative to the cash option is a testament to the joy and relief that parents derive from knowing someone else is looking out for their well-being. “This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life,” one beneficiary of the Finnish box told BBC News in 2013. “It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together.”
In 2016, the Finnish box contained more than two dozen baby garments (including an adorable hooded coverall with bear ears), linens, personal care items, bibs, diapers, and a picture book called Kukkuluuruu/Kuckeliku. New Jersey’s version will be more bare-bones, containing a “diapers, a onesie, baby wipes, and breast pads and nipple cream for breastfeeding mothers,” according to Philly Voice. Prototypes of New Jersey’s box distributed at a launch event on Thursday were printed with a cartoon of purple seals frolicking on a beach; by comparison, the outside of Finland’s most recent box features an illustration of a family of ducks trudging through the snow. America may not be able to deliver quite as many frills inside our baby boxes as socialist Finland, but our baby boxes are equally fun to look at—and they make equally good beds for sleepy infants.