‘Baby boxes’ being rolled out to new parents may not be as affective at preventing cot death as they are promoted to be, as midwives are encouraged to advise individual cases.
A long-standing policy in Finland has been to issue boxes to every pregnant woman filled with items for their new baby. The box may also be used for the baby to sleep in and has been claimed to help reduce sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
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In Scotland, these boxes will be made available by the government to every baby born from 15 August. However, the Lullaby Trust – who specialise in cot death prevention – has warned that it is not possible for the boxes to comply with safety standards imposed on other sleeping facilities such as cots and Moses baskets.
The trust’s statement said: ‘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 than co-sleeping with a baby in hazardous circumstances, such as on a sofa.
‘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.’
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There were 230 cases of infants dying suddenly in the UK in 2014, which has come down from 330 in 2001 as part of an ongoing downward trend.
Lullaby Trust chief executive Francine Bates told BBC Radio 5 that Finland’s own ‘fantastic record’ on infant mortality was down to several factors and must not be conflated with the supposed effectiveness of the boxes.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) acknowledged that using boxes for babies to sleep in was not ideal, but options may be limited for some parents – their key function is to ensure babies do not roll over onto their fronts while asleep.
As the Lullaby Trust advised that the boxes only be used for daytime naps when babies are in full view of a carer, the RCM acknowledged they were valuable as part of ‘wider package of support for new parents which includes education about safe sleeping before and after the birth and good postnatal support and advice’.
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'Some parents may not have a suitable and safe place for their baby to sleep in this way,’ said an RCM spokesperson. ‘Ideally we would recommend parents use a cot or a moses basket for their baby to sleep in, but the RCM is aware that this may not be an affordable option for many families and baby boxes could help to fill this gap.
‘The safety of the baby is paramount and we would encourage all new mothers and their partners to discuss safe sleeping for their baby with their midwife and health visitor.’