Baby Boxes

(From left) Labette Health Advanced OB/GYN’s Dr. Roseanne Olmstead, Sharon Roberts, registered nurse/Obstetrics Department nursing director, and Kylie Gero, registered nurse/director of Baby Box Initiative, display the baby boxes the hospital will give to mothers to help reduce infant mortality rates in Southeast Kansas, which are higher than most other areas of the state.

Labette Health is working to decrease higher than normal infant mortality rates in and around Labette County through its new Baby Box Initiative that will begin in the near future.

Mothers giving birth at Labette Health will leave the hospital better equipped to care for their newborn when they return home, thanks to the hospital gifting them with a Baby Box. 

“The Baby Box is basically a ‘safe sleep’ box for babies so parents don’t put the baby in bed with them or they can place the box with the baby anywhere near them to protect them from pets, etc.,” Labette Health marketing director Kerri Beardmore said. “Every new mom will receive one upon delivery. We are donating the box as well as a bunch of items inside the box.”

Each box purchased by the hospital includes a mattress and fitted sheet, baby bottle, tub thermometer, a pack of 24 diapers and refillable clutch with 32 wipes. The hospital, thanks to a donor to the program, is throwing in an extra fitted sheet, thermometer, bottle brush, diaper cream, a five pack of onesies, a four pack of mittens and a sleep sack. A sticker is also placed on the front of the box to recognize donors who make the program possible.

The idea originated in Finland, which in the 1930s was a poor country with a high infant mortality rate. To address the matter, there was a state-led initiative to provide mothers of newborns the tools to care for their infants properly. The Baby Box program was created, and it worked. 

“Finland’s infant mortality rate went from 65 deaths for each 1,000 children born in 1938 to three deaths per 1,000 born in 2013,” Dr. Roseanne Olmstead, obstetrician and gynecologist, said. “By pairing together education and expert medical support with a box full of newborn necessities that doubles as the child’s first safe sleep space, the country now boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates worldwide and is considered one of the best countries in the world for mothers to live.”

The idea has since spread to other countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, India and South Africa as well as to South Asia and most recently the United States, where boxes are being provided in some hospitals in Ohio, New Jersey, Alabama and Pennsylvania.

Th Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 15% of infant deaths result from unsafe sleeping environments, Olmstead said.

“Bed-sharing is the unsafe practice in which parents sleep in the same bed as their babies and it is associated with sleep-related deaths in infants, including sudden infant death syndrome and accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed,” she said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommend room-sharing without bed-sharing, a firm mattress, breastfeeding, baby sleeping on their back and avoidance of exposure to smoke, alcohol and other drugs.”

A study conducted by Temple University in Pennsylvania that consisted of 2,764 moms who received a Baby Box showed bed-sharing was reduced by 50% for breastfeeding mothers, and 59% of mothers who exclusively breastfed who used the box as a sleeping space for their infant said it made breastfeeding easier.

Olmstead said given 66% of moms who delivered at Labette Health in 2019 breastfed their infants, and 79.5% of those exclusively breastfeed, she believes the Baby Box can have a significant impact on infant mortality rates in Southeast Kansas, which are 30% higher than most other areas in the state.

Olmstead noted there is a barrier to some parents being able to provide a safe sleeping environment, in part due to poverty rates in Southeast Kansas, which are the highest in the state. In Labette County, the percentage of children living below the federal poverty guidelines is  27%. Montgomery County is near the same at 28%.

Around 67% of patients receiving OB care at Labette Health’s Advanced OB/GYN are Medicaid patients who are below or near the federal poverty level.

Based on reviews, the box, while helping some mothers who are at or below poverty level, is also being widely adopted for use by portions of the populations that are highly educated and high-wage earners based on the studies they’ve read regarding the Baby Box. 

A lot of people on the East Coast who live in small apartments and don’t have a lot of room for a nursery find the box very useful in the beginning because of space issues, Olmstead said, so a lot of people outside the demographics in Southeast Kansas are buying the box because they see the value.

“This program is still up and running in Finland,” Olmstead said. “It’s just part of their culture now.”

The Baby Box can not only be used as a safe bed for sleeping, but also can be used for travel. If parents take their baby out to see Grandma and Grandpa, they can pack things into the box. Then when they arrive, they have everything ready for the baby and can set it aside and use the box for sleeping.

Olmstead said parents are also using the box like a portable bassinet when they have other things to do around the house, so the baby can be in a safe place nearby while parents complete tasks such as cooking or laundry. 

“After the baby outgrows the box, they can put memorabilia in the box,” Olmstead said.

Each box, filled with the mattress, sheets and other items, costs about $150. Last year the hospital delivered 178 babies and the year before 199.

Parents receiving the boxes will be asked to help Labette Health to know how well the Baby Box is helping, and if it is serving the purpose for which it was intended.

“We are going to do a followup survey to see what contents they are using, what they like and what they don’t like. What I don’t want to happen is for people to be getting something and not be using it,” Olmstead said. “So, I don’t want to waste my donors’ money. We want to get feedback about what they do like in the box and what was helpful and what wasn’t helpful, so we can fine tune the contents of our box. We will do that followup survey at their six-week postpartum visit.”

Donations to get the program off the ground came from the Independence Presbyterian Church and the Labette Health Foundation.

Olmstead said Krista Postai of the Community Health Clinic of Southeast Kansas was a key collaborator in getting the project started. When Olmstead was searching for sponsors for the box, Postai spent time looking for  grants and was able to secure funds from a local women’s group in Pittsburg.  That validation of interest in the box helped Olmstead to secure funds from the foundation and church to run the program for one year. 

The CHC in Parsons refers its patients testing positive for pregnancy to the Labette Health clinic and helps them start the process of filling out paperwork to enroll for Medicaid.  Postai has helped secure funding for an in-house social worker who will be situated in the OB/GYN clinic to help patients not fall through the cracks with their limited resources and education. 

Right now the hospital has all of the inventory to start the program except the boxes themselves, which are on backorder. They are hoping to kick off the program in the next couple of months.

Olmstead said they are hoping for more donors to the Baby Box program to keep it sustainable. To make a contribution, she said to contact Anthony Vaughn at Labette Health Foundation. Donations to the Baby Box program will be set aside in their own account, and are tax deductible.

“Hopefully it will be its own selling product. We will get it out into the community and we can get other people on the front of that box,” Olmstead said. “You are reinvesting back into your community. That’s it, you have to reinvest back into our youth and it starts very young.”

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