'˜No evidence' baby boxes reduce deaths say Finnish government

Claims that Nicola Sturgeon's baby boxes can reduce infant mortality have been undermined by the Finnish welfare agency that pioneered the temporary cribs.

The scheme, which sees every Scottish new born issued with a box containing baby items, is a flagship Scottish Government policy, which was inspired by the Finnish example.

Ahead of the 2016 Scottish elections, Ms Sturgeon told the SNP conference: “This simple but powerful idea originated in Finland. It provides practical help for parents and has reduced infant mortality and improved child health.”

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Similar claims were made by Angus Robertson when he was SNP depute leader.

Baby boxes are assembled before being sent off to Scottish mothers. Picture: SWNS
Baby boxes are assembled before being sent off to Scottish mothers. Picture: SWNS

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But Kela, the Finnish welfare agency behind the original scheme, told the Guardian newspaper last night that there was no evidence that the scheme had that effect.

A Kela spokesman said: “We don’t want to promote the idea that there is evidence the baby box as such has decreased infant mortality in Finland or that Finland has made such claims. Rather, it has been the improving of our healthcare system, of which the baby box is a part, that our low infant mortality can be attributed to.”

He added: “Empirical data on the effect of the maternity package on infant mortality does not exist, and we have never claimed that the boxes have helped to reduce cot deaths.”

The statement was published after Ms Sturgeon defended the scheme at Holyrood after concerns were raised about their safety by one of the Scottish Government’s own advisers.

Dr Peter Blair, a specialist in medical statistics at Bristol University, said babies should not sleep in the boxes unless it was an emergency or on a rare occasion.

He said the high-sided nature of the boxes meant parents have to be directly above their baby to ensure they are safe and added that unlaminated boxes could be a fire risk.

Responding to Kela’s statement, a spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “The First Minister has not claimed that there is a link between the baby box and a reduction in cot deaths or SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

“In Scotland the baby box is accompanied by other improvements to the support available to new and expectant parents and offers health professionals the opportunity to engage with parents at timely intervals throughout pregnancy.

“This is an important step in encouraging the small number of expectant mothers who do not currently register for ante-natal services to do so, and to receive appropriate support and health care for themselves and their baby.”