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Can My Baby Sleep In A Cardboard Box?

If you ask someone what material their bassinet is made of you'll probably get responses like pine, oak, maple, poplar, metal, and cardboard. Wait, cardboard? Did someone actually say their bassinet was made of cardboard? Surely I must be hearing things. That can't possibly be the case.
As it turns out there really is a cardboard option out there if you're in search of a bassinet for your newborn. This isn't a trendy new idea stemming from a recycling program. It's actually a tradition that dates back to the late 1930's in Finland. That's right, Finland. The country that brought you the game Angry Birds has also brought you cardboard boxes for babies. What will they think of next?

What prompted this Finnish tradition?

Back in the late 1930's Finland was a relatively poor country and was plagued with a high infant mortality rate. Nearly one in every ten children died before they reached their first birthday.
Finland Infant Mortality
Source: Statistics Finland
There were a number of causes for the high mortality rate. Some of the most common causes were birth injuries, developmental defects and innate weakness. In effort to help new parents, especially those of lower incomes, the government instituted the Finnish Maternity Grants Act. Under this act expecting women were offered a cash grant, maternity pack/box, or a combination of the two items. About two thirds of women that gave birth in 1938 qualified for this program. Starting in 1949 all pregnant women qualified as long as they visited a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy, and their pregnancy lasted at least 154 days. The box was a way to encourage prenatal care and it provided a place outside the parents' bed for the baby to sleep. Today Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates of any industrialized nation, even lower than the one in the United States. Although the reduction in the mortality rate can't be entirely attributed to this program it certainly contributed to the directional shift.

Did anything come with the box?

When the box was first issued it came with a blanket, crib sheets, diapers, and fabric which parents could make clothing with. Over the years the contents of the crib have changed with the culture.
Here's a picture of the package from 1953...
1953 Maternity Package
Source: Werstas

Is the Finnish tradition still around today?

Yes, the maternity package is still around today. The social security institution Kela administers the program. Unlike its initial beginning all expectant or adoptive parents who live in Finland or are covered by the Finnish social security system are eligible to receive this package. In order to receive the package though the mother has to undergo a medical exam during the first four months of pregnancy.
Today the package contains a total of 50 items including children's clothes and other necessary items, such as diapers, bedding, cloth, gauze towels and child-care products. Kela reviews and updates the contents of the package about once per year to keep current with the times.
Here's a picture with the contents of the current package...
Current Maternity Package
Source: Kela
Each year Kela gives away about 40,000 of the boxes. Expecting moms can also opt to receive the package alternative which is a cash grant in the amount of €140 (approximately $153). Only about one third of women accept the cash grant.

Is there a similar program in the US?

Although there's no federal program for cardboard bassinets some states are starting to follow suite. As of January 2017 New Jersey, Ohio, Alabama and Texas have started to distribute free cardboard boxes. In New Jersey the only requirement to receive the box is that you take a short online educational program. Like the Finnish version of the program this box also includes some newborn essentials.
The states are working in concert with a 501(c)3 non-profit organization named Babies Need Boxes. The non-profit's mission is stated as equipping "families with the tangible resources required for a successful transition to parenthood. We provide families with safe sleep education, a safe sleep environment, newborn care essentials to promote self-sufficiency and interactive items to foster positive parent-child interaction."
The non-profit organization was founded in 2015 by Danielle Selassie after reading an article regarding the positive impact that baby boxes has had in Finland from the perspective of social equality and infant mortality. The oganizaition's primary objective is to facilitate "the worldwide distribution of Baby Boxes, which are safe sleep spaces for infants up to 6 months of age".

Is there a commercial product available in the US?

Yes, there's a direct to consumer product available. The non-profit organization sources boxes from The Baby Box Co. which was inspired by the Finnish story. In addition to the state-wide programs that often provide free boxes there are also city, community, and institutional programs that also provide options for obtaining a box. To look for programs available near you visit the Active Programs page on the The Baby Box Co. website.
If there are no active programs in your area you still have the option of purchasing the box and its contents directly from The Baby Box Co. website. They currently have five options available ranging from $69.99 all the way to $225.00. The key difference between the price options is the contents of the box. The base option only contains 8 items while the highest priced option contains 23 items. Each box measures 26 3/4 X 16 3/4 X 11 1/2 inches and serves primarily as a safe, comfortable place for infants to sleep. The box provides similar functionality/usefulness to that of a bassinet so you can expect about 5-6 months of use from it.
Here's a picture of a Baby Box Co. box with the owl print...
Baby Box Co. Box
Source: The Baby Box Co.
Similar to the Finish program The Baby Box Co. places a strong emphasis on parent education. They operate Baby Box University which is a collection of online resources geared towards educating new parents. The purpose of the platform is "to provide expecting and new parents with universal access to educational resources and a support system. Developed in conjunction with leading medical experts, Baby Box University includes short form videos, articles, an 'ask an expert' feature, e-books and more."

Can I just use any cardboard box?

No, that's not a good idea. Before you consider turning your next Amazon Prime box into a bassinet consider this. The boxes Baby Box Co. sells are "proactively certified to meet all applicable tenets of the safety standards for bassinets set by the Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC), ASTM International (a global standards organization), as well as Health Canada and European Union (EN) Standard regulations. The Baby Box Co. further champions infant safety by emphasizing natural, predominantly organic products which includes none of the following: PBDE flame retardants, ozone depleters (CFCs), formaldehyde, prohibited phthalates, mercury, lead or heavy metals."
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