Nunavut adopts Finland's baby box program to reduce infant mortality

Nunavut is giving out more than 800 baby boxes to parents of newborns in an attempt to reduce the territory's high rate of infant mortality.

The box packed with supplies given to new parents doubles as baby's first crib

Two-week old Rachel Ipeelie Shoapik sleeps well in her baby box, according to her mom, Emily Shoapik. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

​Nunavut is giving out more than 800 baby boxes to parents of newborns in an attempt to reduce the territory's high rate of infant mortality.

The territory's birth rate is the highest in Canada and about 850 babies are expected to be born in Nunavut in 2016-17. Nunavut also has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country, with a rate five times higher than the national average.

"It's an issue that any mom or any parent would take to heart," said Tara MacAskill, the mother of a two-year-old and the Department of Health's lead on the baby box program.

The baby box program started in Finland in 1939, and helped reduce the infant mortality rate to less than two in 1,000, from 90 in 1,000.

The baby box has an assortment of baby goods, children's books in Nunavut's four official languages, as well as a few items for mom and dad such as condoms to help with family planning and brochures to educate new parents about infant care and the risks of smoking. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The box is packed with an assortment of baby goods, such as diapers and a onesie, as well as breastfeeding aids, and children's books in Nunavut's four official languages.

The box also doubles as baby's first bed and comes equipped with a mattress and sheet to create a cosy crib, which is approved by Health Canada for infant sleep. It can help reduce sleep-related causes of infant deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome.

Emily Shoapik is the mother of a two-week-old baby girl, Rachel Ipeelie Shoapik. She was given a baby box to try out this week.

"She slept good in there and I felt safe for her in there," said Shoapik.

She added that the supplies in the box are useful and any little thing helps when you're busy with the exhausting task of caring for a new life.

'It’s an issue that any mom or any parent would take to heart,' says Tara Macaskill, mother of a two-year-old and the health department lead on the baby box program. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The baby box even has a few items for mom and dad such as condoms to help with family planning and brochures to educate new parents about infant care and the risks of smoking.

The contents would retail for more than $500, although most of the items — including the breastfeeding aids and the books in Inuktitut — cannot be found in Nunavut and are special ordered for the boxes. 

The Department of Health is handing out boxes in 25 communities through health centres in 2016-17. If successful, the program may continue.

The program, delivered jointly by the Nunavut departments of Health and Education has been piloted in Alberta and is running with donations from companies in Ontario.

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.