When we think of a baby’s bed, we tend to envision a small crib with a soft mattress, comfortable pillow, and a thick blanket. Finnish babies, however, may spend their first post-natal year sleeping in a cardboard box.
The box is plain, consisting of stiff cardboard, and padded with a thin firm mattress. The pattern on the box varies by year, but usually features cartoon drawings of adorable animals. The box, along with its contents, forms a maternity package that has been a staple for expectant mothers in Finland since 1949.
Finland’s maternity package, often affectionately called the “baby box”, consists of various items meant for a baby in their first year of life. Items include a sleeping bag, various bodysuits, leggings, mittens, booties, overalls, socks, hats, bibs, towels, blankets, sheets, a stuffed animal, picture book, personal care items, and last but not least, a padded cardboard box that doubles as the baby’s first crib. All expectant mothers in Finland are entitled to a baby box free of charge from the Finnish government, regardless of their socioeconomic status, as long as the mother seeks out prenatal care and parenting information. This incentivizes pregnant mothers to seek out healthcare, improving the health of mothers and babies alike.
In the 1930s, Finland was a very poor country with a high infant mortality rate, with 65 out of 1000 babies dying during that period of time. Today, Finland’s infant mortality rate is 2.5/1000, which is one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. Many people believe that Finland’s baby box plays a role in this. Young babies throughout the world often sleep in the same bed as their parents, or in cribs with many pillows and blankets. Both of these sleeping conditions are risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as “cot death”, whereby infant suffocation occurs during sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines recommends a firm mattress and no toys, which is exactly what the simple baby box provides. Furthermore, because expectant mothers in Finland must seek out prenatal care early in pregnancy in order to get a baby box, pregnancy complications can be avoided earlier. The contents of the box also ensure that babies in impoverished families will still have warm clothes and quality supplies.
To many families, bringing a new life into the world comes with many headaches, one of them being shopping for baby clothes. The baby box, in theory, provides all the clothes needed for a baby’s first year of life, saving new parents the arduous task and financial hardship of shopping for the baby. This, in addition to infant welfare, is why many governments around the world are now giving out baby boxes. Today, baby boxes can be found in Scotland, England, and Canada, as well as in the states of New Jersey, Ohio, Alabama, and Texas. Many of these governments partner with The Baby Box Company in order to provide baby boxes, free of charge to the parents. Eligible parents who wish to receive a baby box from The Baby Box Company must first complete an online course called Baby Box University, which has a number of educational videos that teach parents how to properly care for their baby. Such a model elegantly provides a safer crib for babies, infant supplies to alleviate the financial burden of early parenthood, and important parenting education.
It’s unclear how much the Finnish baby box actually contributes to the country’s significant decline in infant mortality over the years. However, the baby box has evolved to become a Finnish tradition: to mothers, the baby box is an exciting sign of the baby’s arrival, and a symbol of the value Finnish society puts on its newest citizens. Regardless of the family’s socioeconomic status, babies in Finland have an equal start to life with the same clothes and same supplies. Because the clothes’ styles change every year, mothers can recognize babies born in the same year as theirs just by looking at their outfits. This creates a sense of comradeship amongst the mothers, and confidence that their children are valued by the state. The Nordic model of social democracy emphasizes welfare for its people, and the Finnish baby box embodies this by symbolizing the government’s unwavering promise to look after its young.