Baby boxes aim to help keep babies alive

Island Health has created the Cowichan Valley Baby Bed Program to increase the awareness and practice of safe sleep for newborns.

Amy and Matthew Hamilton and their daughter Savannah join Tara Muckle

Amy and Matthew Hamilton and their daughter Savannah join Tara Muckle

Based on a 75-year-old Finnish program aimed at decreasing high infant mortality rates, Island Health has created the Cowichan Valley Baby Bed Program — an initiative to increase the awareness and practice of safe sleep for newborns.

Until supplies run out during the pilot project, all women in the Cowichan Valley will be eligible to receive the baby bed, a sturdy box chock full of essentials for baby’s first months.

Island Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback said the program gives the Health Authority the chance to educate moms to be about safe baby sleep habits.

“On the back and on a firm surface,” he said.

The box — a locally designed and custom made sleep space complete with a fitted mattress and sheet — is a safe place for babies to sleep close by, but not in bed with its parent(s).

“It’s not that new,” Hasselback said. “It’s been in Finland for 75 years and they’ve been able to demonstrate how wonderful it is to provide a safe, appropriate sleeping environment for a baby. Cribs are great but they are often in another room. This brings an opportunity to have something that parents can have in the bedroom and not in the bed.”

Inside the box is a mini baby shower for mom: blankets, diapers, clothing, towels, baby books, nursing pads and more.

“Everything is there to provide for that transition along with a whole bunch of other goodies in the box that mom can benefit from during what is a pretty stressful time with everything else going on,” Hasselback said.

First-time mom Amy Hamilton said the bed, and all of it’s included information and products reaffirmed what she and husband Matthew Hamilton had been learning about safe-sleep for infants.

“It was super nice, being a first time mom, I was like ‘I don’t even know what I need’ and when I got the box I was like ‘Oh, a little bit of everything, I’m good now!’” she said.

Six-month-old Savannah Hamilton has since outgrown the box but she used to nap in it, said the mom.

“I felt safe having her in there,” she said.

The box also came in handy when mom needed to use the restroom and when Savannah’s parents needed some place safe to put the baby while they ate.

Portable, it can be moved from room to room and even over to Grandma’s house or to a friend’s place.

Second-time mom Tara Muckle and first-time dad Jay Campbell received their bed shortly before their nearly-three-month-old baby Gabriel Modeste was born.

“I learned some stuff from my parents and friends but I learned some new things that you’re not supposed to do anymore,” Muckle said.

She said in addition to the new information, the contents of the box were also helpful.

“With all the stuff that’s in it, especially for a young mom that hasn’t had a baby before, it has the essentials that she may need and the baby may need,” she added. “There’s everything in there.”

Sharon McLeod is due any day with her fourth baby. It’s her first baby bed, however.

“I definitely already have a lot of stuff,” she said. But the one thing she’s borrowed in the past is an infant bed. This will fill that need.

“We did learn that it was much handier to have the crib right there so close to the bed,” McLeod said.

“We never had a bassinet, we didn’t think we needed one, but this is great for a newborn for sure.”

Hasselback said even if the box isn’t used for a bed, the project will be a success if the program gets parents talking about, and practising, safe sleep.

The infant mortality rate in the Cowichan Valley, and on Vancouver Island overall, has been higher than elsewhere in B.C., so the region was a good fit for the program.

“It’s really exciting that we can pilot it here,” he said. Cowichan accounts for 10 per cent of deliveries on the Island in a given year — about 600 new babies.

“It’s a reasonable test size,” Hasselback said. “If it works, which we kind of hope that if it does work, we can expand in the future.”