Babies born at University Maternity Hospital, Limerick are the first in Ireland to take part in a new initiative aimed at reducing infant deaths.

Baby boxes are to be distributed to all mothers of newborns from today, to increase education about safe health practices for babies.

Baby boxes were first introduced in Finland over 70 years ago and are credited with reducing infant deaths there, which is now the lowest in Europe with 2.3 baby deaths per 1,000 births.

The rate in Ireland is 3.7 deaths per 1,000.

Doctors hope the introduction of baby boxes will give an equal chance of survival to all babies.

The hospital is the first to introduce the baby box scheme, and expects to distribute up to 5,000 in the first year.

Made of study cardboard, with a waterproof mattress, the baby boxes contain all the essentials for a newborn, and also acts as a crib for up to six months.

But essential to this initiative is an education programme for mothers to learn about the best ways to care for and keep their baby safe.

Consultant obstetrician Dr Naro Imcha - who is leading the project in Limerick - said the bay boxes provide a safe sleeping environment for baby, reduce the risk factors for sudden infant death, and give Mums access to all the information they need to keep her new baby healthy and safe.