How politicians and experts reacted to roll-out of baby boxes

Scotland's new baby boxes have made plenty of headlines over the last week, even before an SNP Minister gave TV presenter Jeremy Kyle a very public biology lesson live on Good Morning Britain.
Minister Mark McDonald with the baby boxMinister Mark McDonald with the baby box
Minister Mark McDonald with the baby box

The Baby Box, which contains over £100 worth of vital items for a new born baby, and will be sent to all expectant mothers in Scotland following a trial scheme.

Finland’s example has inspired the Scottish Government after the Scandinavian country celebrated over 60 years of their ‘äitiyspakkaus’ being delivered to mothers.

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Scotland’s roll-out of a similar scheme has been controversial, with debates over how much impact the move will have on reducing instances of cot death.

The box itself is also designed to allow a baby to sweep in it, saving new parents money on cots or cribs.

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Unsurprisingly, SNP politicians have universally backed the new policy, with the aforementioned Mark McDonald, as the Minister responsible, having a his star turn on TV hailed by his party colleagues.

Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader, did share a sceptical take on the baby box from a poverty adviser earlier this year, but otherwise hasn’t been particularly outspoken on the issue.

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Labour’s criticism of the baby box have been largely cosmetic, but no less sharp because of it, with particular angst in Kezia Dugdale’s party over a lack of promotion of breast feeding among the materials in the box.

Given the country has one of the poorest breastfeeding rates in the world, and Labour Inequalities spokesperson Monica Lennon slammed it as a missed opportunity.

She told the Scotsman in advance of the rollout: “This looks like a massive missed opportunity to promote breast feeding - with breast feeding, babies get natural immunities and fewer infections and are less likely to be obese in later life.

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“Labour supports the aims behind the baby box but what it actually delivers is essential. Missing basic support like this makes it look like a PR exercise rather than a good piece of public policy.”


Some charities and children’s groups expressed their support for the scheme, which has also attracted controversy over its cost to the public purse.

Jean Carwood-Edwards, Chief Executive of charity Early Years Scotland, told the Common Space website: “Early Years Scotland welcomes the new Scottish baby box, which signals that every baby born in Scotland is valued equally and should have an equal start in life.

“We hope that as parents open the box, this also opens the door to a suite of services, opportunities and support available to them as they step into parenthood.”

However, the support was far from universal.

Cot death charity The Lullaby Trust still believe that they box was incorrectly marketed as a way to halt cot death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

A statement from them said: “We acknowledge that for some parents, who do not have an enclosed space for their baby to sleep such as a cot or Moses basket, a box may be a better alternative than co-sleeping with a baby in hazardous circumstances, such as on a sofa.

“However, based on the evidence currently available, we do not believe it is factually correct to directly link the use of a baby box with a reduction in infant mortality or SIDS.”


Public health experts are also split on the efficacy of the boxes.

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Finland’s infant mortality rate is notably low, but it is not always ascribed solely to the baby box scheme, which was first introduced in 1949.

Ivy League Professor Emily Oster has said that it is perhaps more likely Finland’s overall approach to newborns that has resulted in the low mortality.

She said: ““What often comes along with the boxes is some additional contact with somebody,”

“It may be the healthcare assistant, a nurse, or a social worker - the box alone doesn’t seem likely to matter.”

Panu Pulma of the University of Helsinki had earlier told the BBC: ““Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop.

“Including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them.”