Were you born in Finland? Are you under 60 years of age? Then you’ve probably spent a few good nights in a cardboard box – supplied to your parents by the Finnish government according to the Maternity Grants Act of 1937.
Putting your baby to sleep in a cardboard box is an odd but real part of Finnish culture. The special boxes are given to new parents by an organization named Kela and subsidized by Finnish Social Security. Each box comes with a snow suit, sleeping bag, hats, socks, booties, reusable diapers, bathing supplies, towels, a picture book, toys, a pacifier, a toothbrush, nail clippers, wash cloths and creams. The bottom of the box is lined with a soft mattress where parents can put their baby to sleep before it’s old enough for a crib.
This amazing gesture of social care provides new parents with everything they could possibly need for a new baby – whether they can afford it or not. The phenomenon has its beginnings in the 1930s, when Finland was quite poor and infant mortality was high. The government decided to institute laws and practices to help low-income families. Starting in 1949 however, any parent can qualify for a baby box; all they have to do is ask. Parents can choose to receive the cash alternative of the baby box (approx. 140 Euro) but not many do, since the items provided are worth a lot more.
The Finnish baby box is also a sign of the times for the people who’ve grown up in it and around it – the products provided change with the times. In its early days it included mostly fabric and sewing materials for mothers to make clothes and diapers for their babies. In the 1950s, ready-made clothing was introduced and became gender-neutral in the 1970s. While disposable diapers were part of the package for a time, they were eliminated because of environmental concerns. Similarly, bottles were skipped in order to promote breastfeeding.
Finland today has a normal to low infant mortality rate and takes pride in the care it gives to its young citizens.