PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Doctors and nurses hope to lower the city's high infant mortality rate by distributing baby boxes that encourage safe sleeping habits for newborns and their caregivers.
Temple University Hospital this week began giving out the cardboard boxes that are lined with a mattress and function like a bassinet. They're meant to discourage parents from sleeping with their babies, which could lead to accidental suffocation.
The program is the largest effort of its kind by an academic health system in the U.S., hospital officials said, though that could not immediately be confirmed. It's based on a successful baby box initiative in Finland that began in the 1930s and lowered that country's infant mortality rate.
At Temple, Brianna Devero received the first box a few days ago after her son, Steven Tonzelli Jr., was born. The boy arrived two weeks early — before her house was ready for the new arrival.
"He loved it because it was like sleeping in the bassinet from the hospital," Devero said Friday. "And it was really just good because it was something that I could use just right then and there, and didn't have to worry about assembling anything."
Philadelphia, which has one of the nation's highest poverty rates, has an infant mortality rate nearly double the U.S. average — 11.2 deaths per 1,000 births compared with six per 1,000 nationwide, according to the city Health Department. The rate is even higher in some low-income neighborhoods that Temple serves.
Poor families sometimes don't have the resources or education to properly care for newborns. Temple's box initiative aims to reduce risky behavior associated with infant deaths, such as sharing beds or using unsafe bedding.
The hospital plans to give out 3,000 boxes for free over the next year — one for each woman who gives birth there, regardless of need. The boxes, which include clothing, diapers and educational materials, are worth $80 to $100 and were partly paid for with grants and crowdfunding, officials said.
"We have every hope that our patients will find this a useful tool in caring for their newborns," said Dr. Gail Herrine, medical director of the postpartum unit.
Temple patient Victoria Mack received a box Friday for her son Reign — who also arrived unexpectedly early.
"It's nice to know that you have something that you can go home with ... until when you finally have everything ready to go," she said.
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