A US company has partnered with Canadian provincial governments to provide parents with so-called baby boxes -cardboard boxes filled with baby items that can also serve as sleeping compartments for newborns.
But the program’s effectiveness in improving the health and well being of infants in Canada has not been proven and some are questioning the program’s corporate ties, saying that the “freebies” are more about selling baby products than improving infant health and mortality rates.
Now initiated in many provinces across the country including Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the three Maritime provinces, the Baby Box Co. program gives to new and expecting parents the free cardboard box as well as an assortment of goods such as diapers, a onesie and wipes as well as information on safe sleep practices for infants. The company promotes the boxes, which meet Health Canada’s bassinet regulations, and their contents as part of a wider parenting education program called Baby Box University, which offers to parents (those who sign up with their email and postal code, at least) a set of informational articles, videos and e-books on parenting.
Speaking on yesterday’s launch of the program in Nova Scotia, Theresa Moore with the Los Angeles, California-based Baby Box Co. said, “It really is about education and creating a support network for families, connecting them with local resources. We want to give them as much support as we can and this is just really the starting of it,” says Moore, in conversation with Global News. The province has provided a number of locations across the province for parents to pick up their boxes.
The company claims its program is modelled after a similar practice that’s been in operation in Finland for over 75 years, one which is said to have brought the country’s infant mortality rate from being one of the worst in the developed world to one of the best.
Yet, as reported last year by Carly Weeks for the Globe and Mail, the Finnish program began in response to the high rate of syphilis among pregnant Finns in the 1930s, with the baby box serving as a way to bring more expectant mothers in for testing and, where necessary, treatment. Weeks points out that the Finnish program’s aim of drawing more mothers into the healthcare system is a far cry from the Baby Box Co. model which, unlike the Finnish one, includes corporate-sponsored goods in amongst the free baby items.
“A corporate-sponsored giveaway of items will not accomplish the same goal and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the philosophy behind the famous Finnish program,” says Weeks. “And if such giveaway baskets include formula samples or other items paediatric experts recommend against, it could accomplish the opposite.”
In Canada, the Baby Box Co. is receiving government funding for its work but also makes its business through associated sales of baby clothes, linens and other items. And while the company asserts that its educational components are their raison d’être, there is little evidence that its baby box model will positively affect health outcomes.
Dr. Shaun Morris of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Kids stated that it’s important that people understand the baby box program for what it is -essentially, the giveaway of free products- saying that as it stands the program “is not likely to make any impact on important health outcomes like living or dying or [reducing] hospitalizations or severe infections,” said Morris to the Globe and Mail.
In Alberta, where a reported 7,000 baby box kits have already been distributed by the Baby Box Co., researchers at the University of Calgary are currently developing a research program to measure the health outcomes of the practice.