By Lauren Kubiak

Decorated with stuffed animals, pillows, blankets and a bumper, the crib awaits its newest addition yet is one of the most dangerous places for a newborn.

Camden, NJ distributed the first baby boxes in the state, but parent education about safe sleep is the main priority.

Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ. Photo by Lauren Kubiak.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), one type of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID), accounted for the largest portion of infant mortality in all races and ethnicities, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Native American and Alaska Native ethnicities were of the highest risk for SUIDs along with African Americans.

Kathryn McCans specializes in Pediatrics, Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Child Abuse Pediatrics. McCans is affiliated with Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford and is an attending physician at Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper.

McCans speaking about baby boxes and the importance of infant safe sleep. Photo by Lauren Kubiak.

“Child Fatality Review Board in New Jersey wanted to do something, an educational outreach, in order to help decrease infant mortality due to unsafe sleep,” McCans said.

There is a cultural shift from what was acceptable thirty years ago and what is acceptable now, in regards to infant care, according to McCans. A baby laying on the belly rather than back was most common. Pediatricians recommend that a baby should sleep on their back for a lower chance of SUID. However, different races and ethnicities may rely on cultural values.

“A lot of what parents do are through culture,” said McCans. A parent might be told to lay the baby on his or her back, but the grandparent might chime in and say that they always put the baby on their stomach, so it’s fine. In reality, studies have been done to prove it wrong.”

Baby Box University is meant to inform the parents through a website they can trust for useful information.

Gabrielle Garcia, 20, is from Mantua, NJ and recently gave birth to her son, Kristofer. Garcia makes sure Kristofer lays on his back when sleeping. He has a bassinet, but often sleeps in bed with Garcia. She holds the risk from cultural values.

“I just feel more comfortable with him right next to me,” said Garcia.

In 2015, there were a total of 3,700 infant deaths in the United States due to SUIDs. Of the 3,700 deaths, 900 were caused by accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In New Jersey, about four infant deaths occur in every 1,000 live births, according to America’s Health Rankings. New Jersey has one of the lowest rankings in the United States for infant death but still needs improvement, McCans said.  

About 1,200 infant deaths occured in 2015 due to unknown causes. Newborns sleeping in the healthiest possible sleep environment could potentially help researchers figure out what causes the unknown deaths, according to McCans.

Victoria McClain, Nurse Director at Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, New Jersey, attended a meeting to educate leaders of different organizations on the beneficial aspects of the baby box. The facility is hoping the organizations will buy-in to distribute baby boxes in the future.

McClain said  the baby boxes are great for travel, sleepovers and for families that do not have a safe place for babies to sleep.

The box includes a diaper bag, diapers, breast cream and pads for nursing, a onesie, some coupons and a little poster. Nevertheless, the education is the most significant part of the baby box. People like to get free things, and the box is a motivation for the online education, according to McCans.

Megan Heere, Medical Director of Temple Hospital Well Baby Nursery, has similar views to the baby box as McCans. Temple University Hospital was the first in the country to distribute baby boxes.

“The focus of our SAFE-T (Sleep Awareness Family Education at Temple) Program is safe infant sleep,” said Heere. “The box itself doubles as a tangible representation of a safe sleeping space the families learn about in the educational session.”

Although Heere thinks the education is important, she also said the boxes themselves are helpful. Parents have a second place for their child to sleep and is easily portable.

“The box is an incentive to do the education,” said McCans. “If you do the education, my hope, I think everyone’s hope is, you’ll make the best possible choices.”


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Infant laying in the baby box during distribution in Camden, NJ. Photo sent by Wendy Marano.