Baby Boxes Are Getting Moms To Follow The ‘Don’t Sleep With Your Newborn’ Advice

by Valerie Williams
Image via Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A conversation with a nurse goes a long way toward teaching parents safe sleep practices

Baby boxes are a safe sleep space for infants that also come loaded with all kinds of baby-related goodies. As a growing number of states jump on the baby box bandwagon, giving them to new moms before they leave the hospital, a study confirms that they work — but only when combined with a face-to-face education session.

A study out of Temple University in Pennsylvania finds that when combined with personalized sleep education, baby boxes reduce rates of unsafe sleeping practices during the first week of a baby’s life. In the first eight days, the rate of bed sharing among participants in the study was reduced by 25 percent. The number is even higher for exclusively breastfed babies with a reported 50 percent reduction. Naturally, the bed sharing rates for breastfed infants tend to be higher because they usually feed more frequently.

The baby boxes, which come with a firm mattress and fitted sheet, aim to keep infants out of their parents’ bed in order to lessen the risk of SIDS and other unexpected sleep-related deaths. The Temple study discovered that they’re most effective when combined with face-to-face education with a hospital nurse before mom and baby are discharged.

The study was based on phone surveys of 2,763 new mothers within 72 hours of leaving Temple University Hospital. The control group was given the usual discharge information about shaken baby syndrome and other safety topics while the intervention group received a one-on-one discussion with a nurse about safe sleep practices. Nurses taught moms to put baby to sleep on their back and to use a tight-fitting sheet on a firm mattress. Moms were also told to share a room with their baby, but not a bed.

Dr. Megan Heere, medical director of Temple University Hospital’s Well Baby Nursery and the study’s lead physician tells NPR, “Parents … want the information, they want to do what’s best, and when it’s presented in this way, it’s not, ‘Let’s rush, rush, out the door, here’s the education and now you can go. It’s a nice, sit-down discussion.”

I remember the “safety” lessons my husband and I were given in the hospital, and the rush-rush thing Heere refers to is no joke. We were handed a folder full of forms to sign, a shaken baby prevention video to watch, and that was pretty much it. Luckily, we had already read up on safe sleep, but there are plenty of parents that might not. And plenty that do, but decide they’re so tired it doesn’t matter and bring baby to bed with them anyway. That’s what these education sessions aim to prevent.

Family members were also included in the sessions, which Heere says is very helpful in quashing old-school myths about baby sleep. We all have those relatives that think if it worked for them, it will work for you too. But the fact is, it doesn’t. Your loudmouth mother-in-law isn’t up-to-date on safe practices, but these nurses are. “Grandma thinks, ‘I put her on her belly, she should put her baby on her belly.’ So there’s a lot of discussion of why [sleeping on the back] back is best, and stuff like that. The whole family gets the message.”

Heere does admit that the boxes, which have their skeptics, aren’t the entire answer to the problem. Especially since the risk of SIDS peaks at between two and four months of age and the study only covered the first eight days. But it’s a start. “I agree with the experts from the AAP that have said there are no studies to show safety. There also are no studies to show a dangerous effect. So definitely more studies need to be done, that’s a certainty.”

While the initial study was small in scope, Heere’s group of researchers has plans to continue. “Clearly, this needs to be studied over months and that’s our next plan in the upcoming year, to follow up … to see the sustainability of the effect at three and six months.”