The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Health Center, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is providing parents of Sault Tribe newborns and infants up to one year old with a safe sleeping alternative through their Family Spirit Program. In what is believed to be a first in the nation for an American Indian tribe, parents and caregivers will be offered a baby box, inspired by a long running Finnish maternity program.
The baby box is designed to eliminate sleep-related threats such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). According to information provided by the Sault Tribe Family Spirit Program, more babies die in unsafe sleep settings than motor vehicle crashes, drowning, house fires, electrocutions, falls, accidental poisoning, infectious disease and cancer combined. The most common cause of death to babies from birth to 12 months old is accidental suffocation, entrapment, or SIDS in an unsafe sleep environment such as a couch, adult bed, or chair.
Assistant Sault Tribe Health Director Joel Lumsden, said, “As far as I know we are the first tribe in the country to offer this program. Hopefully the community embraces it and new parents will use it. We felt the baby box program was innovative and the statistics that support the reduction in infant mortality rates were very significant. We feel safe sleep and infant mortality is something important for the health division to address within our community.”
The Baby Box program will provide expecting mothers or fathers a large specially designed box made of heavy duty cardboard to act as the baby’s first bed, full of gender-neutral infant clothing and other essentials. The program encourages parents and caretakers to keep sleeping infants in the parents’ room, close to the parent’s bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants for their first year of life.
With the mattress in the bottom, infants will have their first naps within the safety of the box’s four sturdy walls. Information is also included in the box about immunizations and well-child checkups.
Infant mortality rates among Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the State of Michigan remains three to five times higher than that of the non-Hispanic Caucasian population. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the second highest infant death rate in the United States. Native babies also have the highest rates of SIDS.
Family Spirit Counselor Debbie Sirk read about the Finnish baby box and thought it was a unique idea because it reduced infant mortality rates to record lows in Finland. “I thought it would be a great product for our program, so I talked with our administrators who worked on getting it included in our budget.” Sirk said that Health Center Clinic Manager Tony Abramson Sr. was instrumental in getting funding for the baby box program and is a strong advocate of the project.
“We want to make sure parents are educated right from the beginning. Having a safe sleep environment is just the first step for babies,” she said. To measure the effectiveness of the baby boxes, they will be doing research in the form of surveys at six and 12 months to see if the box is helpful for the parents and the health of the baby.
Contents of the box, which can double as a crib, include: A mattress that fits the box perfectly, mattress cover, and under sheet, snowsuit, hat, mittens and booties, light hooded suit and knitted overalls, socks and mittens, hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, washcloth, cloth nappy set, picture book and teething toy, bra pads, condoms and safety items such as electrical outlet covers, cupboard latches, and refrigerator/microwave latches.
New Jersey adopted a statewide baby box program in January, and is set to distribute over 100,000 boxes. Since then, Ohio has jumped onto the baby box bandwagon, along with hospitals in Philadelphia and San Antonio, Texas.
For a Sault Tribe expecting mother or father to receive the baby box, they will have to contact the Family Spirit Program and schedule a time to be educated on safe baby sleep. After the educational presentation, the expectant mother or father will be provided the baby box.
The Sault Tribe Family Spirit Program is a curriculum program designed to enhance parenting knowledge and skills and address parenting questions and concerns in an effort to help promote healthy and positive lifestyles within the local Anishinaabe community.
“I think people are going to embrace the baby box program, and when people embrace things they tend to work,” said Sault Tribe Health Department Operations Manager Joanne Umbrasas. “Our hope is that all Sault Tribe infants and babies will have a safe sleep environment and essential items to reduce the possibility of SIDS or any other sleep injuries.”