These are external links and will open in a new window Close share panel Image copyright Milla Kontkanen For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates. It's a tradition that dates back to the s 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. The tradition dates back to To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in So the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, but it also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland's nascent welfare state.
In the s Finland was a poor country and infant mortality was high - 65 out of 1, babies died. But the figures improved rapidly in the decades that followed. Mika Gissler, a professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, gives several reasons for this - the maternity box and pre-natal care for all women in the s, followed in the 60s by a national health insurance system and the central hospital network.
But Milla's parents didn't want us to miss out, so they bought one and put it in the post. We couldn't wait to get the lid off. There were all the clothes you would expect, with the addition of a snowsuit for Finland's icy winters. And then the box itself. I had never considered putting my baby to sleep in a cardboard box, but if it's good enough for the majority of Finns, then why not? Jasper slept in it - as you might expect - like a baby. We now live in Helsinki and have just had our second child, Annika.
She did get a free box from the Finnish state. This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life. And now when I visit friends with young children it's nice to see we share some common things. It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together. Reija Klemetti, a year-old from Helsinki, remembers going to the post office to collect a box for one of her six children.
At that point she had little idea what she would need, but it was all provided. More recently, Klemetti's daughter Solja, aged 23, shared the sense of excitement that her mother had once experienced, when she took possession of the "first substantial thing" prior to the baby itself.
She now has two young children. It's nice to compare and think, 'Ah that kid was born in the same year as mine'," says Titta Vayrynen, a year-old mother with two young boys. For some families, the contents of the box would be unaffordable if they were not free of charge, though for Vayrynen, it was more a question of saving time than money. She was working long hours when pregnant with her first child, and was glad to be spared the effort of comparing prices and going out shopping.
We are very well taken care of, even now when some public services have been cut down a little," she says. When she had her second boy, Ilmari, Vayrynen opted for the cash grant instead of the box and just re-used the clothes worn by her first, Aarni.
A boy can pass on clothes to a girl too, and vice versa, because the colours are deliberately gender-neutral.
The contents of the box have changed a good deal over the years, reflecting changing times. During the 30s and 40s, it contained fabric because mothers were accustomed to making the baby's clothes. Most Nordic parents wouldn't give it a second thought.
And now when I visit friends with young children it's nice to see we share some common things. The cost of returning the item to us is your responsibility.
For them it's part of their daily routine. The 50s saw an increase in the number of ready-made clothes, and in the 60s and 70s these began to be made from new stretchy fabrics. In a sleeping bag appeared, and the following year disposable nappies featured for the first time. At the turn of the century, the cloth nappies were back in and the disposable variety were out, having fallen out of favour on environmental grounds.
Encouraging good parenting has been part of the maternity box policy all along. And, he adds, "It's happened.
And in addition to all this, Pulma says, the box is a symbol. A symbol of the idea of equality, and of the importance of children.
Finnish Maternity Grants Act introduced - two-thirds of women giving birth that year eligible for cash grant, maternity pack or mixture of the two Pack could be used as a cot as poorest homes didn't always have a clean place for baby to sleep s: Despite wartime shortages, scheme continued as many Finns lost homes in bombings and evacuations Paper replaced fabric for items such as swaddling wraps and mother's bedsheet Income testing removed, pack offered to all mothers in Finland - if they had prenatal health checks pack pictured above Fabrics and sewing materials completely replaced with ready-made garments Disposable nappies added to the pack s: With more women in work, easy-to-wash stretch cotton and colourful patterns replace white non-stretch garments Cloth nappies reintroduced, bottle left out to encourage breastfeeding Additional reporting by Mark Bosworth.
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