New mothers in the UK should all be given Finnish-style baby boxes to reduce the risks of unsafe co-sleeping, the Royal College of Midwives has said.
The cardboard boxes, which come with essential items such as clothes, books and blankets, can be used as beds.
They are provided for all new babies in Scotland and in some parts of England.
Extending the scheme would provide all babies with a safe space to sleep and particularly benefit those from deprived backgrounds, the RCM said.
The RCM said research had identified a number of risk factors for cot death or sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).
These include babies sharing sleeping surfaces with parents who smoke, drink or take drugs, and sleeping on soft or unsafe surfaces, such as a sofa.
It said these risk factors tended to be higher in more deprived or isolated communities, with a large proportion of SUDI occurring in homes with high levels of deprivation.
It is in these environments that baby boxes could be especially beneficial in providing safe sleep spaces for the baby, a new position statement from the RCM said.
In England some NHS Trusts have introduced pilot schemes or full baby box schemes over the past two years.
Wales and Northern Ireland do not have any baby box schemes.
The box tradition originates from Finland, where for 75 years every pregnant woman has been given a box, which also includes with things such as nappies, bedding and a mattress.
Gill Walton, the RCM’s chief executive and general secretary, said giving the boxes to all new mothers in the UK would provide a “more equal start to life for the baby”.
“Most importantly, by enabling parents to give their babies a safe sleeping space, baby boxes may reduce unsafe co-sleeping or babies sleeping in an inappropriate place such as a sofa,” she added.
The RCM did, however, acknowledge that there was limited evidence around baby boxes reducing deaths from SUDI.
It said that baby boxes needed to be safe, of high quality and the box and mattress should meet at least the minimum UK safety standards.
Decisions about what they contained should be made in discussion with health professionals, experts on SUDI and child safety, and parents, the RCM added.
The Lullaby Trust, a charity that aims to prevent unexpected deaths in infancy, said for those who did not have a cot or Moses basket, a baby box might be better than co-sleeping in “hazardous circumstances”.
But its chief executive Francine Bates said it was not currently possible for baby boxes to fully comply with safety standards.
She said: “Additionally, there is still no evidence directly linking the use of a baby box with a reduction in infant mortality or sudden infant death syndrome.
“Given current pressures on public health budgets, we question whether the call to introduce the scheme across the country is the best use of resources to reduce infant deaths.”