Why is New Jersey giving new parents free baby boxes?

The baby box program is inspired by a famous nationwide program in Finland, which has been distributing the cardboard package for nearly 80 years.

Roni Rekomaa/AP/File
This photo taken in August 2012 shows the contents of a Finnish baby box in Helsinki, Finland. On Thursday, New Jersey became the first US state to distribute similar free baby boxes to new parents.

New Jersey became the first US state to give out free baby boxes on Thursday, gifting newborn essentials to new parents in a program inspired by a nearly 80-year-old Finnish tradition.

In Finland, the durable cardboard boxes have been credited with helping to significantly reduce the infant mortality rate over the past few decades by providing a bed, supplies, and educational materials on safe sleeping practices for babies. But the significance of the iconic boxes, which began as a scheme only available for lower-income families, goes beyond that. Now, the program is available to all Finnish families who participate in pre-birth clinics, making it a national symbol.

“What the box symbolises is that every child is equal and deserves an equal start in life,” Olga Tarasalainen, a spokeswoman for Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland that distributes the boxes, told the Independent in 2016. “The box is outside of class or wealth.”

The box, which comes with bedding and can be used as the child’s first crib, contains dozens of baby necessities, including clothes, blankets, and teething toys, which would cost about $150 in total.

New Jersey’s baby box program, a collaboration between The Baby Box Co. and the state, provides an integrated online educational program in addition to newborn essentials.

According to CNN, around 105,000 free boxes will be distributed to any expecting parent or parents of infants younger than three months old in the Garden State this year, starting Thursday.

In order to receive the kit, participants need to register online at “Baby Box University” and complete a 10- to 15-minute educational program about caring for infants, followed by a short quiz.

The lesson instructs parents in safe sleep practices, such as keeping pillows out of the crib and using a firm mattress – like the pad provided in the box. It also includes information on other parenting topics, from installing car seats to breastfeeding.

After completing the mini course, parents can pick up their kit at a hospital or request to have it delivered to their home.

"This program, at its core, is about getting education out to parents in a form that younger parents really love," Kathryn McCans, a physician at New Jersey's Cooper University Hospital, told USA Today.

The Baby Box company launched its first city-wide initiative in the United States last November, in San Francisco. Similar programs have also been introduced in other countries, such as Canada and Scotland.

Although the program originally meant to benefit families who might not otherwise be able to afford supplies or parenting courses, Finland's baby boxes have become a welcome tradition for parents across the economic spectrum. 

"The products inside as well as the box itself are clues to good parenting," Satu Korkohen of Helsinki, the mother of a 2-week-old daughter, told CNN. "So even if you could afford to purchase all the stuff, it's emotionally very comforting to have the essentials ready at hand and delivered to you."

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