Safe sleep is No. 1 priority

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Americans are picking up the Finnish trend of using cardboard “baby boxes” as cribs, but local infant sleep experts are hesitant to embrace the practice.

Letting baby sleep in a cardboard box might be fine in Finland, but local infant sleep experts are hesitant to embrace this trend.

"It’s alarming to us," said Liz Montgomery, executive director of the Inland Northwest SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) Foundation. "It's coming to our region more and more. Initially, it looks like a safe place that keeps baby out of the adult bed, but it's still a box."

An Associated Press article in Monday's Coeur d'Alene Press caught Montgomery's attention. The article, titled "Cardboard boxes as cribs?" discusses the Finnish tradition of sending new moms home with "baby boxes" that are filled with newborn care items. Each box comes with a mattress and fitted sheet and doubles as a crib.

Montgomery said this practice is disconcerting for a few reasons, especially the safety factor.

"There are other options much safer that meet the safety standards for a safe sleep environment," she said. "A box doesn't meet that criteria."

Montgomery said the lack of data on this practice is troubling. Dr. Kathleen Webb, the medical director of the INWSIDS Foundation's board, said these "baby boxes" need to be properly evaluated before they can be deemed as safe.

"Finland does a great job in terms of their infant mortality rate, so it's good to look at what other countries are doing, but they haven't studied it in isolation," she said. "Is it fireproof? Will it break when you pick it up? What if it gets wet?

"The American Academy of Pediatrics hasn't made any determination on if it's a good or bad thing, it just hasn't been studied well enough."

Webb, who worked as a baby specialist for 30 years before retiring last year, said the box is better than having baby sleep in bed with parents, but she still thinks "we can do better than that."

"If you don't have the resources to buy a crib, we will buy one for you at no cost," Webb said.

Montgomery and Webb highly recommend portable cribs and bassinets that have met American safety standards. In January, the INW SIDS Foundation received an $8,700 grant for the next two years from United Way of North Idaho and $2,800 per year from Kiwanis of Coeur d'Alene to support the foundation's new Sleep Safe for Idaho Babies program. These funds are being used to purchase safe sleep survival kits that will be distributed with cribs.

This grant will provide the program with 150 kits per year for the next two years. When the cribs and kits are distributed, families will receive 45 minutes of safe sleep education from a trained INWSIDS Foundation partner. Partners include St. Vincent de Paul ICARE, Heritage Health, Venture High School, Mountain States Early Head Start, Hope Pregnancy Center in Kellogg and more. The grant serves partners in Idaho's five northern counties.

"There is always a need for the kits, so we are always applying for more grants to grow the program," Montgomery said.

Finland may have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world, but until empirical evidence proves the "baby boxes" to be completely safe, the local experts will not recommend them.

"They need to go through the Product Safety Commission," Webb said. "I hate to slam the box — because it's way safer than putting your baby in bed with you, which we know puts them at an increased risk for SIDS — but why not have them sleep in a portable crib, which we know meets safety standards and we know is safe to sleep in?"

For information about safe infant sleeping practices, SIDS prevention and more, visit www.inwsids.org.

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