A new maternity program funded by the Rita J. Bicknell Women’s Giving Circle draws from a Finnish tradition designed to give all children, regardless of background an equal start in life.
It’s a starter box of clothes, sheets and toys with a mattress in the bottom so the box becomes a baby’s first bed.
The boxes are being filled for distribution by CHC/SEK pregnancy case managers to the area’s most vulnerable population – mothers from Crawford, Bourbon, Cherokee and Labette Counties under the age of 19 who often lack stable housing and resources to care for a newborn. In 2019, 158 teenagers gave birth in these four Southeast Kansas counties – most of them patients of CHC/SEK or Labette Health. CHC/SEK has partnered with the hospital to provide an in-house family resource specialist who will provide educational, vocational and parenting support throughout pregnancy and parenting.
The Finland baby box dates back to the 1930’s as a national initiative to give expectant mothers the tools they need to raise a healthy baby. Some credit the concept with helping Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates by pairing education with medical support through a box full of newborn necessities that doubles as the child’s first safe sleep space up to the age of six months.
“Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop,” according to University of Helsinki Professor Panu Pulmain. “Including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them.”
Since then, the concept has been incorporated into Sleep Awareness programs in the U.S. to reduce bedsharing, the leading cause of infant mortality in the first eight days of life. The boxes include a waterproof sleeping mattress, sheets, diapers, wipes, clothing, thermometer, a parenting book and other baby basics, including a HALO SleepSack. This program is the first of its kind in Kansas and is part of a maternal/child health initiative which pairs CHC/SEK case managers with young women during their prenatal care and for a year following delivery.
“The health care system is a hard enough place to navigate, and having an advocate to help you get through and a bridge to help you connect all of the resources together are proven to make families healthier,” said Patient Education and Support Manager Julie Laverack.
The Baby Box is one component of a larger program designed to provide a safe sleeping option in less than an ideal environment, discourage bed sharing, and encourage breast feeding. It is one step toward CHC/SEK’s larger goal of reducing the impact of generational poverty and lower the rate of neglect and abuse in the southeast Kansas region.
About Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas
Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK) is a non-profit Federally Qualified Health Center dedicated to providing affordable, high quality medical, dental, behavioral health, and pharmacy services to everyone, regardless of income or insurance status. For more information, visit www.chcsek.org.