The babies who sleep in boxes

Ready for baby ... Some of the items that come in the current baby box
Ready for baby ... Some of the items that come in the current baby box Photo: kela.fi

In 1938, the Finnish government began giving parents-to-be packages to help them care for their babies, supplying them with clothes, nappies, and a box that could be used as the child’s bed. Today, 75 years later, the tradition is still going strong.  

Originally created for families on a low income, the maternity package became available to all parents in 1949. Since then, it’s been a staple of new parenthood, and a sign that no matter what their background, all Finnish babies will get an equal start to life.

According to the website of Finnish government department Kela, parents can choose between taking the box and receiving a cash grant of AU $190. Two-thirds of parents choose the package, as its contents – which include gender-neutral bodysuits, a sleeping bag, a snowsuit, bath products, nappies, sheets and a mattress – are worth more than the cash.

Full of surprises ... The Finnish maternity box from Kela.
Full of surprises ... The Finnish maternity box from Kela. 

As BBC News magazine reported, the cardboard box the package comes in is more than just a receptacle for the items. “With the mattress in the bottom [of the box], the box becomes a baby’s first bed,” journalist Helena Lee wrote.

“Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box’s four cardboard walls.”

Interestingly, the introduction of the maternity package corresponds with the start of a strong decline in infant deaths in Finland, assisted by improvements to prenatal care and the hospital system.

"Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop," Panu Pulma, professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki, told the BBC. "Including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them."

There have been slight changes to the box’s content over the years: in its early years, it came with fabric for parents to make their own baby outfits, but during World War II much of the material was  replaced with paper bed sheets and swaddling cloths. Later, in 1957, ready-made clothes tookthe place of the fabric and sewing kits.

In keeping up with environmental concerns, disposable nappies were replaced with cloth nappies in 2006.

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The box now also offers parents six condoms.

Essential Baby members were unanimous in their support for the scheme when discussing it in the forum.

“Cute. I like the idea of all the babies born in the one year out in their matching snowsuits!” member treetree wrote.

“This looks brilliant, what a fabulous idea!” wrote YodaTheWrinkeledOne. “Practical and a great social/family/community tradition. Would be so helpful for so many families.”

The Kela website says the following items are now included in the box:

  • snowsuit, hat, insulated mittens and booties
  • light suit with hood
  • knitted overall
  • knitted hat and balaclava
  • socks and mittens
  • 10 bodysuits/romper suits
  • four pairs of leggings
  • shirt and leggings outfit
  • two cloth nappy sets, five muslin wraps
  • mattress, mattress cover, sheet, blanket
  • sleeping bag
  • hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, bath cream, wash cloth
  • bra pads, condoms
  • two picture books
  • baby toy

Join the discussion about the Finnish baby boxes in the Essential Baby forum, or comment below. 

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