Maternity Leave and the Finnish Baby Box

I'm a little obsessed with Scandinavian culture. I think part of it is their clean design aesthetic, part of it is their politics, and part of it is an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show where Oprah visits Denmark to find out what makes them so happy. So, I was very happy to learn something new about the region on this episode of The Mom Pod.

In this episode, host Emma Saloranta talks about the Finnish baby box. Emma is originally from Finland and says, "There are many things about my native country that I feel very proud of, but the thing I probably boast about the most to foreigners, and that causes the most envy in my mother friends outside of Finland, is the Finnish Maternity Package. Also known as the baby box."

The baby box is literally a box for the baby. It's a cardboard box filled with essential items all babies will need in the first months of their lives. Emma says, "It comes with clothes such as onesies, shirts, pants, rompers, hats, gloves, and of course a snow suit." It's cold in Finland! Beyond clothes Emma says it also includes, "Items like a sleeping bag, sheets, a towel, baby nail scissors, thermometer, toothbrush, hairbrush, nipple cream, reusable diapers, condoms, and more." What's more, the box actually doubles as a bed. It comes with a fitted mattress and Emma says the majority of babies in Finland spend, "A good number of nights sleeping in the box."

According to Anneli Miettinen from the Family Federation of Finland, the Finnish baby box originated in the 1920s. At the time, the number of families living in poor conditions was very high, so an organization started to collect gently used baby items from families who no longer needed them. The items were collected into a box and given to expectant mothers who couldn't afford to buy these essentials. In the '30s the program had grown large enough for them to write a law that would provide a box to all families living below a certain level of income. In 1937, the first law was initiated for low-income families, and in 1949 the practice expanded to include all Finnish babies.

On the political side, Anneli says this was easy to push through because all political parties were worried about Finnish population growth and the high maternal and infant mortality rate at the time. Maternity care became a huge priority for the country and because of the systems put in place in the '30s and '40s, Finland now has one of the lowest maternal and child mortality rates in the world.

Today, Anneli says most Finnish families don't need the baby box in the same way mothers in the '20s and '30s did. They have great health care, so the box is really a way for families to prepare for their first child. For subsequent children, many families take a money option as opposed to the actual box. The box becomes an ideological symbol for preparing for a family, but Anneli says that does not mean there is any kind of social stigma that goes along with using the items. She says most first time parents are, "Proud to use these things."

Bonus info: The baby box idea has spread outside of Finland. Emma speaks with Jennifer Weber from the Government of Alberta's Ministry of Human Services about the Canadian version of the Finnish baby box. You can read more about the initiative here.