Ever since all new mums in Scotland started to get free baby boxes – as well as many new mums in other parts of the UK, including Greater Manchester and London – we’ve been troubled by headlines suggesting that using a baby box is a safer choice for your newborn than the more traditional cribs, Moses baskets or cots.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which is backing the rollout of baby boxes across the UK, has itself acknowledged that there is limited evidence suggesting that baby boxes reduce SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
And now, a group of experts, including statistics and paediatric professors and the Chief Executive of the Lullaby Trust, have written a letter to the British Medical Journal, airing concerns over other safety issues with baby boxes. These include:
- that the boxes can have pretty deep sides, meaning you may not be able to see your baby clearly in them if you’re in bed (so you might not be aware if your baby has stopped breathing)
- that, as they’re made of cardboard they may not be as durable as, say, Moses baskets, if they get wet or dirty
- that, if they’re not laminated, they could be flammable.
Here at MFM, we’re not convinced by the claims that putting your baby in a baby box can help to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) or cot death.
To get a full picture as possible, we spoke to UK’s leading authority on SIDS, the Lullaby Trust, and, now, the charity has not only agreed with us but said they’re so concerned, they’ll no longer allow hospital trusts to put Lullaby Trust leaflets in baby boxes.
‘There is no evidence that baby boxes reduce SIDS’
“We are concerned,” say the Lullaby Trust, “about claims that these cardboard boxes are being promoted as a product parents can use to help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“We acknowledge that for some parents, who do not have an enclosed space for their baby to sleep such as a cot or Moses basket, a box may be a better alternative… However, based on the evidence currently available, we do not not believe it is factually correct to directly link the use of a baby box with a reduction in infant mortality or SIDS.”
Furthermore, the Lullaby Trust has raised concerns about the safety standards for baby boxes, pointing out that, while many of the boxes are no doubt completely safe, there is no official safety standard all baby boxes must reach.
“It is not possible,” the charity says, “for baby boxes to fully comply with safety standards, as current British and EU safety standards for nursery furniture only exist for traditional cots cribs and bassinets and there is currently no specific standard for the use of a cardboard box as a sleeping place for an infant.
What’s a baby box?
The box is designed for babies to sleep in for the first 8 months of their lives, and comes with an array of baby clothing, shoes and bibs, a mattress, nappies, toiletries and bath essentials for mum and baby, a sleeping bag, a quilt, a popular children’s book and the bed box.
The first baby box initiative happened in Finland in the 1930s, when they were given to all new mums. Now, new parents receive them as standard there.
The boxes are also being rolled out in Scotlandand in various other UK schemes like the one in Manchester.
The link between reduced SIDS rates and baby boxes in Finland
Many parents in Finland in the 1930s, when the baby box scheme was rolled out, couldn’t afford to buy a separate cot / crib / Moses basket for their baby and so co-slept from birth.
After the boxes were issued SIDS rates began to reduce significantly in part because parents stopped co-sleeping with their babies – which we know is considered a major risk factor in causing SIDS. It’s important to note, it wasn’t the box itself, but the fact that babies came out of their parents’ beds.
But doesn’t this mean a baby box is the safest place for my baby to sleep?
No, it’s not. Before you ditch your crib or Moses basket for a baby box, you need to hear from Jenny Ward, Director of Services at Lullaby Trust. She told us:
“The safest place for a baby to sleep is on a firm, flat, separate sleeping surface in the same room as their parents.
“Using a box of some sort may help families to follow this advice, and for the recommended 6 months.
“There is no evidence that a box is any safer than a standard Moses basket or cot. However, at The Lullaby Trust we always advise that the safest place for a baby to sleep is on its back and in its own separate sleeping space such as a cot or Moses basket and on a firm flat mattress.“
In essence, getting a baby box is great if it means parents who might otherwise not have a separate sleeping space have somewhere to put their baby other than in their own bed. But they’re no safer than a cot, a crib or a Moses basket.
Do they stop babies rolling onto their tummies?
One thing we’ve read in several of the news reports is that the small size of the Baby Box prevents babies from rolling onto their tummy – where they’d might be more at risk of getting into breathing difficulties.
We’re not entirely sure where this information has come from and, as you can see from the picture, there certainly looks as though there’s enough room for a newborn to roll (the boxes do need to be big enough to accommodate babies up to 8 months).
When we asked Lullaby Trust about this, they told us they couldn’t answer the question as it would depend on the exact size of each box – which we totally get.
More research is being done on this claim which we’ll share any news on as we have it.
In the meantime, it’s also worth knowing that it’s very unusual for a baby under 3 months old to be able to roll.