By David Raleigh
Thousands of "baby box" sleeping cots are to be provided free of charge to parents of children born in Limerick, in a first of its kind national initiative, aimed at reducing infant deaths.
Today, University Maternity Hospital Limerick (UMHL) - where around 5,000 babies are born every year - launched the Baby Box programme to also help educate parents on how to care for their newborns.
The programme will see mothers who complete e-learning modules provided with a free baby box for their infant to sleep in. The online training element is meant to be inclusive and accessible; easy to follow and available in 17 languages.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, is the sudden unexpected death of an apparently well infant, and for which there is no explanation. About nine out of 10 cases occur in the first six months of life, with a greater risk for premature and low-birth-weight babies.
The use of Baby Boxes has been credited with helping reduce infant mortality rates in Finland, where they have been in use for over 75 years. The programme has apparently contributed to reducing the infant mortality rate in Finland, from 65 infant deaths per 1,000 births in 1938 to 2.26 per 1,000 births in 2015. Ireland’s infant mortality rate is 3.7 per 1,000 births.
Other countries, including the UK, Canada and USA, have also begun to introduce the concept.
The Baby Box, made from a durable cardboard, can be used as a newborn's bed for up to the first eight months of their life. It is thought the small size of the box prevents babies from rolling onto their tummies, which experts think can contribute to SIDS.
The boxes also includes baby clothes, a firm foam mattress, waterproof mattress cover, cotton sheet - and advice on recorded tutorials made by UMHL staff on reducing SIDS risk; improving parental bonding; and making the transition to parenthood.
Speaking at today's launch, Dr Mendinaro Imcha, Consultant Gynaecologist/Obstetrician, UMHL, said the programme "is a proactive approach to improving the health and safety of the newborn child and parents".
"We are combining tradition with current technology and supporting the newborn child’s family with online educational material covering a broad range of essential topics on ante and postnatal care," he added.
The Baby Box has been rolled out by the Baby Box Co, and designed by Tipperary-based tattoo artist and expectant mum Karen Smith.
"The whole meaning behind the design is rebirth," she said. "I thought the butterfly was the perfect symbol for the Baby Box."