To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: would you put your baby in a house, with a mouse, in a box, with a fox? A lot of people are saying yes — to the box, that is. According to the New York Times, babies in boxes are all the rage in Finland, and there’s growing popularity here in the United States.
It makes sense. These days, it’s trendy to suggest Scandinavian countries are far superior to the United States in basically all areas of policy—from maternity and paternity leave to gay marriage, education to government corruption, and so on. So it’s no surprise that maternity wards in America are now adopting the Finnish style in how and where we put our newborns to bed.
According to the Times, part of the appeal is that Finland has a very low child mortality rate—a statistic some hospitals and public health groups say is due to the fact maternity wards in Finland give new parents a cardboard box filled with baby supplies that can double as a baby bed.
States Are Having Baby Box Giveaways
Now hospitals in several American states—New Jersey, Ohio, Alabama, and Texas—are planning to start their own baby box giveaway programs that, in addition to baby supplies like diapers and formula, will come with advice on safe sleeping practices for infants.
Of course, this isn’t anything new. When I brought home my firstborn son a decade ago, my father marveled at the supplies I had purchased. In addition to the crib, our son had a lovely, ruffled, and tufted bassinet to sleep in as well. My father chuckled at seeing these two expensive items. “Huh…two beds for this precious boy!” he noted. You should have seen his reaction to the diaper wipe warmer!
My father then adopted what’s best described as a grumpy “These spoiled kids these days!” attitude and reminded me that when I was a newborn, I was placed in a dresser drawer on the floor, adding, “it was good enough for you!”
Babies Are Now Big Business
He’s right, of course. But times have changed, and babies are now big business. In fact, the baby products industry rakes in billions of dollars each year. A 2015 Vox article on the baby market boom, asked an important, if not rather obvious, question: Are these companies serving parents, or just preying on them? Consider the money-making potential in this market before you answer. Vox reports:
Some of the market’s most dominant companies have hit record-breaking numbers over the last few years, further signaling that parents are indeed spending more money than ever before. In 2013, Graco, a popular supplier of strollers, car seats, and high chairs, pulled in $119 million in sales. But that’s nothing compared to Pampers, Proctor & Gamble’s diaper brand which also happens to be its largest; it brought in $10.7 billion this past year. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. has seen its sales double since it acquired BuyBuy Baby in 2007. Babies “R” Us has expanded its footprint to 224 stores, and currently carries more than 20,000 products; it brought in $654 million as of August.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with companies making money and understanding consumer demands and psychology. But it’s also interesting to consider what a cardboard box would mean to this thriving and booming industry.
The Government Wants To Regulate Your Baby Box
But the baby market need not worry. Their friends in the regulatory space are already sniffing around this (not so) new and affordable trend, and wringing their hands about the lack of regulation in the baby box industry. The Times article quotes one member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission—which is charged with pulling faulty, damaged, dangerous, or badly designed products from store shelves—wondering, “What is the box made of? How durable is it? If you use it through three different children does it deteriorate?” They add ominously, “those are things they’ll determine in the standards committee.”
Ah, yes, thank goodness for a government standards committee looking into these dangerous boxes and posing these tough questions. As usual, regulators think most parents are pretty stupid—unable to determine if a box has deteriorated to the point of being dangerous, or was somehow cheaply made and not durable enough to house a tiny infant for the night.
If I were to do it all over again, I’m not sure I’d trade my crib and frilly bassinet for a lowly box. But we should all be able to agree that parents should have more choices and price points in baby products—and trust them to make the right decision for their families.