A Baby’s Welcome in Finland

The Finnish maternity package ‘äitiysavustus’ is a tradition that welcomes new children to the world with a gift of life-enhancing baby supplies. Finland is a socially progressive country, and the government started supplying this box to new mothers in the 1930s to combat high infant mortality rates. The box has been a welcome tradition and a successful public health program ever since. The government combated the infant mortality crisis with the Finnish maternity package or baby box.  The initiative was wildly successful at decreasing infant mortality and changed the culture of the country to value family and children. The support provided by the government is crucial to developing families and children. Young mothers need to know that the government values every child and wants each child to succeed.

The Finnish baby box currently has a retail value of approximately $449 and is updated every year, but Finnish families receive this box at no charge. To meet the changing needs and advancements in the health of infants, the Finnish government makes adjustments to the box annually, such as taking the bottle out of the box to encourage mothers to breastfeed. All aspects of the infant’s health and family life are taken into consideration when preparing the box. The box contains over 50 items, including various sizes of clothing, a book, scissors, a thermometer, condoms, toothbrush, and nail clippers. Additionally, the box itself transforms into a safe baby crib with a foam mattress, a blanket, and a water-resistant pad.  

The supplies in the box started with one goal in mind: to lower infant mortality rates. When the Finnish maternity box program started, infant morality rates in the country were as high as 65 deaths per 1,000 live births in Finland. Currently, after generations of children benefiting from the box, Finland has infant mortality rates of 2.5 deaths per 1,000 live births, ranking them in the five lowest infant mortality rates in the world. The success of the program is undeniable in the goal of reducing infant mortality. Even though infant mortality is no longer a problem in Finland, the program has continued, as it is now a valuable part of Finnish culture.

Finnish families share the excitement of the arrival of babies, and are interested to hear what the latest box contains, as specialists, make changes to the box each year.  Reija Klemetti, a mother from Helsinki, reported, “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.” At the beginning of the program, the box included cloth for mothers to make baby clothes and blankets, and a few premade things. The box slowly progressed to the approximately 50 items families receive today, including a years worth of progressively sized clothes, warm coat, and medical supplies. It is typical in Finland that regardless of the financial situation of the home, new babies will sleep in the box for a part of their life. The box is comforting to families, and parents often say that their child will sleep in the box because generations before did as well.

The box started as a way to help support mothers of lower incomes, whose children were especially susceptible to infant mortality, but soon the program expanded to the advantage of every new Finnish baby. The benefits of the box start before the child is born with encouragement for mothers to receive prenatal care. In order to receive the box, the mother must go to the doctor within the first four months of pregnancy for a free prenatal visit. Some argue that the box is a bribe to get mothers into the doctor’s offices, but others express gratitude towards the partnership in the health and welfare of mothers and children. The box contents support the health of the infant.  It complies with the recommendations regarding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, in providing a safe sleeping area and clothing designed to keep the baby warm without excess blankets.  Panu Pulma, a professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki says, “Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop, including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them.” The Finnish government modifies the box according to current recommendations of doctors to help keep a child in good health during crucial developing years. 

The Finnish families wait in anticipation for the box, similar to the anticipation they have for their baby’s arrival. The box reduces the stress that new parents feel in providing for their child, knowing that their basic needs will be met in the first year with the help of the contents of the box. Heikki Tiitanen, a Finnish father that later created a company to share this experience with other families around the world, reported, It really helped us as first-time parents to prepare for the baby both mentally and materially as we knew most essentials were already waiting for the baby, I’m not ashamed to say it was a relief to know we were that little bit more ready.” Parents learn about basic baby care when reviewing the boxes contents, often discovering things they did not previously know. Receiving the boxes is an important part of the nesting process for new parents.

Mothers report bonding with other new parents over the content of the boxes. Mothers see the familiar items on other children, and know that the children were born in the same year, as the boxes are updated with new styles every year. The box is modified to anticipate the size of the infant during the coldest and warmest months. Fathers express that the box helps in the preparation for the baby’s arrival, and adds to the excitement of becoming a dad. Three Finnish fathers in particular saw the value of the box, in how prepared they felt, and through the touching memories of opening the box with their wife. They built on the feelings and support the box provided, and saw an opportunity to share this Finnish tradition by starting a business, The Finnish Baby Box, marketing to new parents in other countries. While receiving a box full of baby supplies is an incredible gift, Finnish parents know that the value of the box is more than just the useful contents: it is an investment in the future generations of their country.     

The box symbolizes that every Finnish child begins life equally, sleeping in a box in the same clothing, receiving the same medical care and welcome regardless of social class, or family circumstances. Panu Pulma says, “The box is a symbol of the idea of equality, and the importance of children.” Receiving the box is an expression of the value of human life, seeing all Finnish children with equal potential and providing a support to the new mothers and fathers.  Mark Bosworth, a father of two children, expresses his love for the box, “This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life.” Bosworth’s first child was born in London and unable to receive an authentic maternity box, so when his second child was born in Finland he was so grateful to see how the government supports families. The maternity box has not only reduced the infant mortality rate, it has provided a sense of national pride in each family that benefited from the program. Knowing the country is excited and supportive of families during this crucial time brings a sense of well being to parents. 

As a public health initiative, this project has remained successful for generations. The box continues to improve the lives of children and families, creating a positive and supportive environment to raise children, and demonstrates the Finnish commitment to family success. The program, while essentially the same since the 1930s, continues to remain relevant through annual updates and modifications. The emphasis that the Finnish culture puts on this undeniably successful program, and good will it provides guarantees that this program will continue to be a part of the Finnish tradition.

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Eleanor Ruth is a Colorado native. She has an interest in public health and plans to attend Regis University to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Nursing. In her free time she enjoys hiking, cycling and yoga.