Here in the US, shopping for everything a baby needs is a rite of passage for expecting parents. Registries, baby showers, and long hours combing the internet, Pinterest, and baby stores are all part of the package for outfitting a household with everything a baby could possibly need.
No so for families in Finland. Instead, expectant moms get a gift from the government that gives them everything they need to start a baby off right. According to the BBC:
It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it’s designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life.
The maternity package – a gift from the government – is available to all expectant mothers.
It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress.
With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby’s first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box’s four cardboard walls.
Wild, huh? Back when this program began, Finland was a poor country with a very high infant mortality rate. The government established the maternity box program to give babies a healthier start. Not only do the supplies include warm clothes and a safe space to sleep, but in order to register for the box, moms need to visit a doctor for prenatal care. As a result, the infant mortality rate has dropped from 65 per 1000 births to less than 10 per 1000 births.
The contents of the box have changed with time. Cloth diapers came and went and came back again when environmental concerns trumped the convenience of disposables. Formula and pacifiers were recently dropped from the box in order to promote breastfeeding. The colors and clothing items change from year to year but they’re all deliberately gender neutral so they’re useful for all families.
Parents could choose to skip the box and take a cash grant equal to about $180 but most families prefer the box because it’s more valuable. It’s also considered a tradition and women look forward to receiving it:
Reija Klemetti, a 49-year-old from Helsinki, remembers going to the post office to collect a box for one of her six children.
“It was lovely and exciting to get it and somehow the first promise to the baby,” she says. “My mum, friends and relatives were all eager to see what kind of things were inside and what colours they’d chosen for that year.”
For Americans, the idea of a government issue baby kit seems foreign and possibly intrusive but Finnish moms are ranked as the happiest in the world. Maybe maternity boxes are the foundation not just for a healthy first year for a baby but also for a happy transition to motherhood.
Photo credit: BBC
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