During her pregnancy, Herbanae Scott gave a lot of thought to where her new baby would sleep during the first few months. She considered a crib and co-sleeping, but ultimately settled on a cardboard box.

"At first I was like, 'Do I want my baby in a box?' " Scott, 18, said of her now 3-month-old son. "But my son actually preferred the cozy and confined space of the box over his crib, so he slept in the box for a whole month."

The box was a gift from Babies Need Boxes (babiesneedboxes.org), a Twin Cities nonprofit that provides maternity packages — including the cardboard box — to young, vulnerable mothers in Minnesota.

The goal is to equip new moms with the tools needed for a successful transition into motherhood while decreasing infant deaths caused by unsafe sleep practices.

"Every child coming into this world has a purpose and a place," said Babies Need Boxes founder Danielle Selassie.

The organization is modeled on a 75-year-old Finnish tradition in which the government gives every new mother a box filled with baby clothing and supplies. The boxes also come with fitted mattresses that have played a role in helping the Nordic country achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.

The locally issued boxes are charmingly Finnish — adorned with prints such as giraffes or black and white owls, containing essentials such as clothes, diapers, pacifiers and literature on safe sleep practices.

Dr. John Garcia, a sleep expert with Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, said the boxes are a "very creative and interesting concept" and "a good thing."

He said the box itself could play a role in getting out the "back to sleep" message from the American Academy of Pediatrics to decrease the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome.

The boxes are a natural fit in Minnesota, where Finnish roots are strong.

Much to the chagrin of his friends and family members, new dad Tim Gihring of Minneapolis ordered a box for his daughter from the Baby Box Co. (babyboxco.com).

"I think people felt bad for us at first — 'Your kid is literally sleeping in a cardboard box like a bum?' " he said. "There's something so charming and affirming in using a cardboard box as a bed. Parenthood can be so daunting, and here's something saying, 'No, it can really be this simple.'

"I wanted a box not only for its sweet simplicity, but to show some solidarity with Finland, a country with a lot less inequality, where everyone can get a good start in life."

Even the duke and duchess of Cambridge received a baby box from the Finnish government.

Simpler and safer sleep

After noticing an article on social media about Finland's baby boxes, Selassie, 37, of Fridley started Babies Need Boxes.

She hopes that by educating new mothers and providing them with a safe space to put their babies to sleep, the boxes will improve the infant mortality rate among teenage and minority mothers.

Babies born to teenage mothers have an infant mortality rate 1.5 times higher than that of older moms. And a recent Minnesota Department of Health report revealed that babies born to black mothers are more than twice as likely to die in infancy as babies born to white mothers — giving Minnesota one of the nation's widest infant mortality gaps.

"The baby boxes fill a need and show these mothers that the community cares," Selassie said. "We're all in this together, and we have to help each other to be successful, because we're raising the next generation of leaders, caretakers, businesspeople and mothers."

Selassie has given away more than 40 boxes since she started Babies Need Boxes in May, mostly to new mothers through Emerge Mothers Academy and to students at Longfellow High School in Minneapolis, a school for teen parents.

"This is a way to celebrate a pregnancy that isn't always celebrated," said Longfellow parent educator Melanie Faulhaber. "Without this program, we would never be able to give our students something like this."

Each box costs $41, plus the cost of filling it with diapers, wipes, clothes and other necessities. The organization takes donations through its website (babiesneedboxes.org).

An equal start

Much like the concept in Finland, where every new mother is given the same start, Selassie hopes the teen moms who receive the boxes view them as a sign of equality.

And while not every mother is sold on the idea of using the box as a bassinet, Selassie said, the new moms appreciate the symbolic message the box provides.

"Putting our babies to sleep in a cardboard box isn't something that's been built into our culture," she said. "We have this notion that babies have to have the most expensive and best things out there, but they don't."

Queen Turner, 16, of Minneapolis, also received a box, and while she uses the pacifier and swaddle blanket, the box is used for storing her baby's things.

"Who puts their baby in a cardboard box to sleep?" she asked. "But it does feel good to know that someone cares about pregnant teens."

While the contents of the box are significant and practical, even more important is the symbolism.

"It's a subtle message, but an important one," Garcia said. "The box says, 'The community is here for you.' "

In Finland, the boxes are inscribed with the line, "Every child matters. Every family matters."

"Maybe that's why Finland has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world," Garcia said. "They take protecting children seriously. Minnesotans do, too."

Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715