Virginia’s rate of 5.9 deaths hovers close to the national number.
But Tennessee’s infant mortality rate? Seven per 1,000 births.
And a quarter of those Tennessee deaths are blamed on unsafe sleeping practices.
Because of the urgent need to promote safe sleep for infants across the region and lower the infant mortality rate, Mountain States Health Alliance has joined with the Baby Box Company to launch its Baby Box University program.
The program, officially launched Tuesday at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, is intended to provide every parent a free Baby Box, a safe sleeping space for babies made from durable cardboard and outfitted with a tight-fitting mattress covered with a breathable cotton sheet.
Each Baby Box also comes with free educational materials and newborn essentials, such as diapers and baby wipes.
“We are now the first health care system in the state of Tennessee and in the Southwest Virginia region to offer the Baby Box program. It is completely free for all of our babies and families, and it’s not only going to provide a safe sleeping environment, but also valuable health education,” Director of Community Engagement Heidi Dulebohn said.
As the program joins other state initiatives promoting safe sleep, Johnson City Mayor David Tomita proclaimed Nov. 28 Infant Safe Sleep Awareness Day at Tuesday’s press conference.
Dulebohn said the introduction of the Baby Box program was partly inspired by similar programs in Finland, which has some of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.
“I first heard about this program when I was getting my master’s in Belgium, and one of my colleagues is from Finland,” Dulebohn said. “She was telling me about this Finnish tradition that has been going on for nearly 80 years, where every baby born in Finland gets a ‘baby box,’ and how their infant mortality rate, which was once very high along with their poverty rates, has greatly decreased. Now they have one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world — 2.5.”
In addition to providing families a free sleeping space for infants, the program also has a crucial educational aspect, according to Dulebohn.
“At the heart of this program is education,” Dulebohn said. “The only condition to receive a box is the mother needs to join Baby Box University, which is a reliable, reviewed online resource.”
Families are strongly encouraged to make sure their infants sleep on their backs and in their own, enclosed cribs, according to Laura Hicks, a clinical specialist for the Mountain States Health Alliance Family Birth Centers.
“Babies should always be sleeping in these (safe) spaces, and some families don’t have the means to have a crib or a bassinet. That’s where this box can come into play,” Hicks said. “This can also serve as a secondary sleeping space for their baby.”
For more information on the Baby Box Company, visit www.babyboxco.com. Educational videos can be viewed at www.babyboxuniversity.com.