Supplying baby’s needs: Newborn kits alleviating stress for parents

The Biden administration says it hopes to get all babies off to an “equal start.” Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services rolled out Newborn Supply Kits filled with necessities for babies and parents, including high-ticket items.

The pilot program tested in Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico also gives new parents information on mental health, government resources and postpartum care.

The states were chosen due to high rates of poverty, maternal mortality and postpartum depression with hopes of easing some of the burden.

Some 3,000 kits are being distributed through hospitals, community organizations and via caregivers, like doulas.

“Knowing that this kit is coming to you, that gives you some of those basic necessities you would need right at the time of birth, will hopefully alleviate some of that immediate stress, both from a financial and emotional perspective that you’re feeling,” Caryn Marks, director of strategic partnerships with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told Scripps News.

Early data released in December shows 64% of recipients so far agree the kits made them feel less anxious; including 78% of Spanish speakers. They also say the kits were helpful in letting recipients know about government resources that might be available to them.

The concept isn’t new. For example, Finnish families have been given similar boxes for nearly 80 years. That Scandinavian country boasts some of the lowest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. 

While that doesn’t necessarily mean the kits are the reason, U.S. groups are hoping they lead to similar results.

“The lack of isolation, how isolation contributes to mental health outcomes, making you feel like you’re part of something bigger and your community is there for you when you need them,” said Maya Mechenbier, project manager with the U.S. Digital Service.

The nonprofit organization Baby2Baby was among the many groups that helped HHS design the kits.

“It’s a very difficult time in a new mother’s life and it is exacerbated by not being able to provide the most basic items for children,” Baby2Baby COO Jen Armstrong told Scripps News.

In addition to helping with this program, Baby2Baby has given away more than 375 million items to families over the years, helping those in need after disasters as well as families living in places like homeless shelters.

“When you’re having a new baby, it’s already scary. But what’s scarier and what brings stress levels up and then in turn affects a mother’s mental health is not being able to provide diapers and not being able to have a onesie to put their child in,” said Armstrong.

The HHS kits were funded by Baby2Baby. The group says the program will continue into 2024 with hopes of expansion.