Insights and Impact

Goodnight, Sleep Tight


Photo­graphy by
Jeff Watts

Meena Nutbeam

How many of us have read a news story about tragedy, injustice, or disaster, and thought someone should do something about that?

Meena Nutbeam, CAS/BS '19, is that someone.

In 2014 Nutbeam happened on a BBC article about maternity packages presented to women in Finland. The cardboard box that held diapers and wipes was itself a gift: a portable baby bed, complete with mattress. It was a cost-effective solution to a public health problem plaguing the 17-year-old's hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

And with that, Stork and Company was born.


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 3,500 babies die annually in the United States from sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome, sudden unexpected death in infancy, and something that's entirely preventable: bed sharing. In Milwaukee alone, 15 infants die each year from accidental smothering by pillows, blankets, or worst of all, their exhausted parents.

The city has the ninth-highest infant mortality rate in the country, says Nutbeam, CAS/BS '19. "That's simply unacceptable." A series of emails, including some to Finnish government officials, led her to the California-based Baby Box Company, which offered a discount on the sturdy and stylish boxes that typically accommodate babies up to six months of age.

Armed with a $5,000 grant and several hundred dollars in donations, Story and Company distributed 500 boxes to families and organizations in 2016. This year Nutbeam expects that number to double.

Although the program doesn't have any income requirements, moms-to-be must complete a 25-minute, online education program, which covers prenatal care, safe sleep, and more. Boxes are stuffed with diapers, breast pads, onesies, and information about daycare and other community resources.

"We've gotten great feedback," Nutbeam says. "People like that they're portable—even more so than a Pack 'n Play—and they can fit in small spaces. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that babies sleep in their parents' room for six months. This is a safe, easy way for them to do that."

Nutbeam, a public health major, hopes to expand the program to the entire state—and perhaps even to DC, which has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation, with 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

"This has sparked something in me," says Nutbeam, who works as a program and development coordinator at Evermore, a Washington nonprofit that helps families who've lost a child. "I like building connections with people and seeing what I can do to help."