If Jennifer Clary has her way, soon every baby in Minnesota will be sleeping in a cardboard box. And be healthier because of it.
Clary is co-founder of Los Angeles-based Baby Box Co., which partners with organizations around the world to provide parents of newborns with a durable cardboard box full of baby products. The box can double as a safe sleeping space for a baby.
The nonprofit Babies Need Boxes started a pilot project in the Twin Cities in November 2015 to give maternity packages — including the cardboard box — to young, vulnerable mothers. Thanks to positive feedback, the statewide launch of what's called Baby Box University will take place Thursday.
Minnesota will be the seventh state to offer it.
"I'm really excited about Minnesota, because we've had so much support from parents in this community," Clary said.
After completing an online course offered by the program, expectant parents will receive a box containing products such as baby wipes, brain-boosting activity cards, personal care products, onesies and more.
Clary said a distinguishing feature of the Baby Box movement, initiated in 2013 to further infant health care and education, is accessibility. Eighty-five percent of parents who participate in the program access it through their mobile devices, she said.
"I think that our program really buys into what a lot of the public is feeling right now, which is that parenthood is troubling enough, why complicate it?" Clary said.
The incentivized and alternative option for infant care education that the program provides is unique and appealing to families, she said.
The movement is inspired by a Finnish initiative dating to the late 1930s. In Finland, every pregnant woman can get a box filled with baby clothing and supplies after receiving prenatal care and parenting information from a health care expert.
This tradition appears to be correlated with Finland's low infant mortality rate (2.5 death per 1,000 live births in 2017), and Baby Box University hopes to have a similar impact in Minnesota.
A Centers for Disease Control report released this month shows that from 2013 to 2015, there were about five infant deaths for every 1,000 births in Minnesota. The mortality rate for infants of non-Hispanic black women in Minnesota was about 10 infant deaths per 1,000 births.
Through partnerships with Minnesota health care and education professionals, the program will create resources for Baby Box University courses covering everything from safe sleep practices and breast-feeding to postpartum depression.
"I think it's a relatively simple intervention that can have huge impact, and that really excites me," Clary said. "I hope that the families in Minnesota really enjoy its mass introduction, and we're looking forward to it."
Expectant parents can register for the free course at babyboxuniversity.com. Once they've completed the course, they can pick up their box at a designated community event designed to provide parents with further education, or have the box delivered to their home.
Lauren Otto is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.