Baby boxing, a practice that began in 1990 Finland in the 1930s and now recognized around the world, providing parents with equipment for their newborns and a safe place for their little ones to sleep. While some American companies have tried to popularize babies sleeping in cardboard boxes, the concept never caught on in the United States. Here’s why – and what you should know.
History of the baby box
“When I think of a baby box, I immediately think of the effort [especially in Europe] to make safe sleep more accessible to every family,” shares baby sleep expert Cara Dumaplin, better known as Take Cara babies with you.
Since the late 1930s (the program was expanded to all families, not just low-income families, in 1949), Finland has offered new parents a so-called “baby box”. The box, a gift from the government, is filled with baby equipment – the 2023 box includes 38 baby products such as baby clothes, bedding and postpartum hygiene products, as well as baby care items such as a bib, nail clippers and hairbrush. The box contains a small mattress and can be used as a baby bed after removing the products.
When the program began in Finland in 1938, 65 out of 1,000 Finnish babies died within their first year of life. Poverty was a factor, and many parents slept in bed with their children, increasing the risk sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The aim of Finnish baby boxes is to incentivize prenatal care and provide a safe space for the baby. The rules currently indicate this to receive the box, or a credit of 170 euros (which parents can choose instead), expectant parents must visit the doctor before the 18th week of pregnancy to make an appointment for prenatal care. Child mortality in Finland today is among the lowest in the world; Many people link this change to the introduction of the box, but a Study 2020 corrects this misinterpretation and attributes the decline in infant mortality more generally to access and information to health care. In fact, Denmark and Sweden have similarly low child mortality rates, with the commonality between the three countries being universal healthcare, not baby boxes.
In other countries, governments and organizations use their own version of the baby box. A Scottish version of the baby box, a free initiative launched in 2017 to “give every single baby in Scotland an equal start in life”, includes clothing, bedding, books and basic medical supplies for everyday needs. There is a similar government program England. In South Asia, NGOs like Barakat package Provide supplies to mothers in need with baby boxes. The USA, on the other hand, tried various baby boxes, but the idea never really caught on.
Past US attempts
A few companies and a state have tried to stimulate American interest in baby boxes. In 2017, New Jersey became the First state to launch baby box program. As in Finland, the box was used for both security and education. To receive the box, parents had to complete an online course followed by a short quiz.
Similarly, private companies in the US – such as The Baby Box Co. and Finnbin – sought to capitalize on the sustainable element of the baby box and turn them into profitable businesses. These boxes were purchased items (Finnbin’s price was about $100) and contained bedding, but not the other newborn supplies that government-issued boxes identify.
American interest in baby boxes temporarily increased – popular website for new parents Lucie’s list even called them “mainstream” – but the reality is that they never quite reached the level of a more traditional bassinet or crib.
But are baby boxes safe?
In 2022 The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the federal agency that monitors the risk of consumer products, has put forward new proposals Regulate for baby sleep products – and the design of baby boxes was no longer considered safe. Companies like The Baby Box Co. and Finnbin no longer exist, nor does the New Jersey program.
“The Infant Sleep Products Regulation requires that products marketed or intended to be used as a sleep facility comply with one of the existing infant sleep rules (cribs, bassinets, playgrounds or cots) or at least meet the requirements for bassinets “including meeting the definition of a bassinet, which means the product must have a stand,” explains Nychelle Fleming, a spokeswoman for the CPSC. “The presence of a stand discourages the consumer from using the product on unstable, elevated or soft surfaces.”
Fleming continues: “CPSC is aware of incidents where children have been placed in unstable products or where products have been placed on unsafe elevated or soft surfaces where the products may tip over or fall, resulting in serious injury and death from incidents such as “Can lead to skull fractures and suffocation.”
In early 2023, DockATot, a Scandinavian company popular in the US, launched its Child Essential Bassinet, a bassinet reminiscent of the Finnish baby box but raised above the ground to comply with CPSC regulations. “As a Scandinavian brand, we were of course familiar with the long history of baby boxes and therefore pooled our knowledge in product development and safety to develop a new concept that also meets all standards for safe sleeping places,” says DockATot Vice Marketing Manager Christian Piencka about the new product.
DockATot’s $119 Kind Essential Bassinet comes in a variety of patterns, is sustainable, recyclable, easy to transport, and can be turned into a toy box once baby outgrows sleeping time. But as critics note, It’s also a box for $119. Still, it’s a new take on a nearly century-old baby sleep practice and another opportunity for Americans to embrace some form of baby crate.
“We have long used cardboard as a medium for design and architecture and fell in love with its incredible versatility,” Piencka tells Yahoo Life. “We also became increasingly aware of the enormous amounts of waste generated by the youth products industry and how many products end up in landfills and long outlive their intended users.”
The news came just a few months later recall one of their sleep products. However, pediatrician Florencia Segura notes that this product does not pose any safety risks. ““One of the most important aspects of safe infant sleep…is that babies sleep on their backs on a firm, flat, non-inclined surface in their separate sleeping area,” she says. “What this box offers.” The Kind Essential Bassinet boxes are raised off the ground, making them compliant with federal regulations.
Is it better than a bassinet?
“When parents are looking for a safe and affordable baby sleep option, they can often find a bassinet, play area or portable crib for the same price or even cheaper than many of the cardboard baby boxes available,” says Dumaplin.
Selling the DockATot bassinet took some time. “To be honest,” says Piencka, “sales have been slow and it has taken some time for consumers’ perceptions of cardboard to change.” However, as we get more and more child bassinets into the hands of real parents , we see consumer demand steadily increasing.”
Taking that away
The bottom line is baby sleep safety, and while the DockATot cardboard bassinet may be expensive for what it is, it is considered a safe place to accommodate a baby.
“Such a baby box can also be used as a newborn lounger,” says Segura, “where you can lay your baby down between diaper changes or feedings, which is 100% safer than a Boppy lounger.”
Some parents may see these boxes and think they can let their baby sleep in any old box, but that is not advisable. “The American Academy of Pediatrics says the only safe sleeping options for babies younger than 12 months are those labeled ‘crib,’ ‘portable crib,’ ‘bassinet,’ or ‘playground,'” explains Dumaplin. “For a baby box to be safe for sleeping, it needs to meet the same standards. In the US, that would mean it should be clearly labeled as a “bassinet” or “portable crib” and meet all CPSC standards.”