Doctors, Safety Advocates Have Unanswered Questions About Popular ‘Baby Boxes’

Image courtesy of Baby Box Company

Reducing the rate of infant mortality in the U.S. is an admirable cause, but some health and safety advocates say they aren’t yet convinced that placing your baby in a cardboard box to sleep is the right or safe way to achieve that goal.

All around the country, states have already handed out hundreds of thousands of so-called “baby boxes” — cardboard containers that not only come with helpful supplies for a newborn, but which can also be used as a bed for the infant. The hope is that the simple, flat-surfaced box — used for decades in Finland — will help to reduce sleep-related deaths, but The New York Times reports that the growing popularity of these boxes has also raised concerns.

For instance, unlike cribs and bassinets, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has no set minimize standards for these boxes. That brings up questions about whether or not a baby should be carried in the box, whether they can be held onto and reused for multiple babies, and where the box should be placed in the home for maximum safety.

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“If you look at nursery products in general, they’re highly regulated,” Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairwoman for the CPSC, tells the Times. “So there is an abundance of caution until we can make a determination.”

The CPSC posted a statement on its website in March noting that it, along with manufacturing and safety standards organizations ASTM, and other stakeholders, are working to answer these questions and create safety rules for the boxes.

“Cardboard boxes for babies are currently not subject to any mandatory safety standards.  These products do not meet the federal definition of a crib, bassinet, play yard, or handheld carrier.  CPSC staff is participating with a leading standards development organization, baby box manufacturers, child safety experts, and other stakeholders to include requirements for cardboard baby boxes within the bassinet voluntary standard.  As with all other infant sleeping areas, it is extremely important for parents and caregivers to remember: ‘Back to Sleep’ and ‘Bare is Best.’”

The Times reports the process likely won’t be complete for some time.

In the meantime, officials with Baby Box Company, which sells the boxes online and is supplying containers for hospitals in New Jersey, Texas, and other states offering them, says it has conducted independent testing of the products that has purportedly shown they meet standards similar to a bassinet, the Times reports.

Despite this, healthcare experts caution that until more is known about the standards and safety of at the boxes, parents should probably stick with traditional spaces.

“The safest place for a baby to sleep is a crib meeting CPSC standards,” Joan Muratore, the babies and kids test program leader for Consumer Reports, tells Consumerist. “The baby box idea may reflect safe sleep principles—namely, that a bare sleep surface is best, and that you should always place a baby on his or her her back to sleep. But we caution parents and caregivers about using any product that doesn’t meet strong safety standards.”

Dr. Rachel Moon, chairwoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ task force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, tells the Times that she’s been surprised at the excitement surrounding the boxes’ debut in the U.S., adding that assuming something that worked in Finland will work here isn’t the best way to go about things.

In fact, the Times reports that experts in Finland don’t believe the boxes are the specific reason infant mortality is lower in the country. Instead, doctors say providing free, high-quality maternal and child health care services and more education to new mothers likely contributes more to the low infant mortality rate.