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Baby box program gives women ‘breath of fresh air’

State initiative encourages safe sleep practices for parents and infants


New and expecting moms throughout the Colorado now have access to free, safe place for babies to sleep with the Colorado launch of the baby box.

The Baby Box Co., the company behind the global initiative to equip expecting families with vital parenting education and resources, has partnered with Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation (RMCHF) and Denver Health Foundation (DHF) to bring the initiative to Colorado, making it the fifth U.S. state to offer families a universal free baby box program.

A launch was held for the Colorado boxes July 13 at Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation in Arvada.

“The baby box is not just a cardboard box,” explained Luanne Williams, executive director of Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation. “It has gone through a lot of testing to be rated as a bassinet.”

Inside each box is a firm mattress with an organic sheet along with diapers, wipes and breastfeeding supplies for the new mom to utilize.

The Baby Box Co. co-founders Michelle Vick and Jennifer Clary based their company and product off the Finnish baby box program.

Vick said she was inspired to start the company after reading a BBC article about the program.

“Every baby who is born in the country receives this baby box,” Vick said of Finland. “And that means that every baby that’s born in the country has a safe place to sleep.”

Box promotes safe sleep habits

The Finnish initiative, which enables every expecting woman in the country to claim a free baby box once she receives prenatal care and parenting information from a healthcare professional, is credited with helping to decrease Finland’s infant mortality rate.

The 2016 infant mortality rate for Finland is 2.5 per 1,000 babies, the fourth lowest in the world, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. In the United States, the infant mortality rate is 5.8 per 1,000 babies, which Vick said is “shockingly high for a developed country.”

“We want to do what we can to try to help that,” Vick said.

The statewide program earmarked approximately 66,500 free baby boxes for distribution, the estimated number of Colorado babies expected to be delivered within one year, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Partners for the Colorado program include Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation, Denver Health Foundation, Denver Department of Public Health, Lansinoh and multiple other healthcare organizations throughout the state.

One way baby boxes are utilized is to promote safe sleep habits, which can be challenging for sleep-deprived parents and particularly for breastfeeding mothers. According to a recent study released by Temple University Hospital, 59 percent of mothers who exclusively breastfed their babies and used a baby box said it made breastfeeding easier, due to the proximity of the baby boxes at night. This study also found that baby boxes cut co-sleeping rates in breastfeeding mothers by half since mothers can keep the baby box close by without having to co-sleep out of convenience.

“For moms that are trying to breastfeed, it allows baby to be next to the mom while she’s sleeping, which will hopefully reduce the amount of co-sleeping — where the baby is sleeping in the parents’ bed — which we know is not the safest place for a baby to sleep,” said Jan Kennaugh, neonatologist at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.

Denver mom Sarah Widmann was one of the first recipients of a Colorado baby box from The Baby Box Co. at the launch held July 13 at Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation in Arvada.

“I’m super excited that this is a program that’s offered for new moms,” said Widmanm, while breastfeeding her 6-month-old daughter. “Everything you read, doctors always caution against co-sleeping — the baby can suffocate. So, having a box right next to your bed is pretty convenient.”

Boxes tailored to Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation is working with The Baby Box Co. as part of the foundation’s Best Start Program which aims to provide evidence-based resources and education to ensure that every newborn in Colorado has a safe place to sleep, can reap the benefits of human milk and will thrive by building a strong and healthy brain.

“At Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation, we are committed to giving every baby born in Colorado the best start in life,” said Kennaugh, who also sits on the foundation’s board. “One way we are doing this is by working to improve breastfeeding rates. It is our hope that the educational resources contained in Baby Box University and through Mothers’ Milk Bank and the convenience of the baby boxes will aid in this effort.”

The Colorado baby boxes are designed specifically for the state with pictures of mountains, trees, big sky and momma and baby animals native to the state.

“We love it when a box can be tailored to the local community,” Vick said. “Community is important to us and these boxes scream Colorado. We love that.”

Baby boxes will be available to all Colorado moms free of charge after completing an online syllabus, developed specifically for Colorado by RMCHF in partnership with Denver’s Department of Public Health, through the educational platform, Baby Box University.

The educational component, Vick and Williams both said, is one of the most important part.

“We were worried that if you gave a parent the box — or a really expensive crib — they might still not follow safe sleep rules,” Vick said. “There’s a need to provide parents with the safe sleeping resources but also the education.”

At Baby Box University, parents can watch videos about safe sleep practices, how the baby box should be used, breastfeeding and other ways to keep baby healthy and safe. Once the course is completed, parents can pick up their Baby Box at any distribution center.

Colorado has 35 distribution centers as of July 13, with more being added each day. Many distribution centers are concentrated in the Denver metro area.

Robin Engleberg, program manager at the Denver Health Foundation, said they plan to distribute the baby boxes in each of their nine community health clinics located in the most vulnerable areas across the city.

Widmann, who was excited to take her baby box home and let her daughter Layla explore it, said the launch of baby boxes in Colorado was a “lovely breath of fresh air.”

“To give women resources instead of threaten that they’re going away …” she said. “It’s nice to see something positive happen in the community.”


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