If you were born in Finland in the last 60 years, chances are good that your first naps were taken in a cardboard box. That box you slept in was also probably given to your parents by the government. That might sound strange, but it’s true and is all part of the Maternity Grants Act from 1937.
Today, expectant parents eagerly await the day their cardboard box arrives. Not because these parents are poor, but because this box provides an essential start to life for Finnish babies and has become an important part of their culture. But it isn’t all about the box—it is what is in the box that is most important.
Each box is given to parents—whether biological, or those who are adopting—by Kela and the Finnish Social Security system. Inside each box is everything a baby needs to get the best start in life.
Packed tightly inside is a snow suit, sleeping bag, hats, socks and booties. There are gender neutral rompers and onesies, reusable nappies, bathing supplies and towels inside the box. Also included is a picture book, teething toy, toothbrush, nail clippers, wash cloths and creams. At the bottom of the box is a soft mattress where parents can leave their baby to sleep next to their bed until he or she is ready for their crib.
For Finnish parents there is no need for a baby shower because every essential product is delivered right to their door. For parents having multiples, their package is multiplied to match. These “baby boxes” provide new parents with everything they need and include things that they might not even know they needed like a thermometer and a gentle toothbrush.
In the 1930s, Finland was a poor country and had a very high infant mortality rate of about 65 for every one thousand births. In order to change that, low income families were given access to maternity grants. This grant came in the form of a cardboard box filled with necessary baby supplies such as cloths to make clothing and diapers.
In 1949, the criteria to receive a box changed. Instead of only being provided to low income families, expectant mothers who wished to receive this gift were required to visit a doctor or municipal prenatal clinic in order to qualify. That practice continues today in order to ensure proper prenatal care for the babies and to help parents get prepared for the next steps that they need to take. Once they have met that criteria, the maternity grant is given and ensures parents have everything they need for the baby’s first year. Parents can choose to accept a monetary payment instead of the box, but less than one third opt for the 140 Euro payout because the value within the box is so much more.
Over time, the contents of the Maternity Grant Package have changed. In the earliest days, it contained mostly cloths and sewing materials for mothers to sew into outfits and diapers for their babies. Fabrics changed and then in the 50’s ready-made clothing was introduced. Clothing was kept mostly white until the 1970’s when gender-neutral colored clothing and blankets were introduced. Disposable diapers were included for a short time, but were removed for environmental concerns and baby bottles were taken out to encourage breastfeeding which officials say has worked.
These boxes may seem like a luxury, but they were crucial in helping lower the mortality rate. Now, instead of having one of the highest, Finland has one of the lowest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the world. Not only do these kits provide essential care products, they ensure that parents are prepared for baby before he or she arrives. This level of care has dramatically changed how prepared and happy parents are, surrounding the birth of their children.
Giving every baby the same head start allows parents to feel connected to one another and to other generations. Many people say that comparing the new colors and products to what they received versus what their grandparents received for their children is fun to see. But make no mistake—there is no competition. This box is about more than the essentials that it provides. It is a symbol of equality for all and the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child.