Finland's 'Starter Kit' for New Moms Is Brilliant

kela.fiFinnish mothers are crediting a simple cardboard box with saving their babies' lives and providing them with a hopeful future.

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The boxes, a 75-year-old tradition in Finland, are given to new mothers as they leave the hospital with their newborns, according to a story published Tuesday on the BBC. Dubbed a "maternity package" or a "baby starter kit," a typical box is lined with a mattress on which babies take their first nap during the ride home.  Mothers are also given the option to accept the box or a cash grant set at 140 euros (approximately $180), but most mothers opt for the box. Here's what's included:

Bedding:  An under sheet, mattress cover, duvet cover, blanket, and sleeping bag or quilt.
Clothing: A snowsuit, a hat, insulated mittens, booties, socks, mittens, leggings, knitted overalls and facemask, onesies, and a romper suit.
Bathroom products: A hooded bath towel, a hairbrush, a toothbrush, diaper cream and diapers, nail scissors, a baby thermometer, and washcloths.
Box: The box itself serves as a make-shift crib for newborns
Miscellaneous: A picture book, a teething toy, bra pads, burp cloths, and condoms.

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The tradition began in 1938 when low income families were given the boxes to help get them started on their journey as new parents. In 1949, however, that all changed when new legislation was introduced. Families could still receive the box, but there was a catch: Mothers had to agree to visit a doctor or prenatal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy. It was a win-win for everyone: Mothers scored the necessary gear to care for their babies and doctors saw that they received proper treatment.

A typical box (Photo by ©Kela/Annika Söderblom)A typical box (Photo by ©Kela/Annika Söderblom)This arrangement was essential in the 1930s because at the time, the infant mortality rate was high: 65 out of 1,000 babies died. "The boxes indirectly helped lower the infant mortality rate because women were forced to undergo prenatal care," Mika Gissler, a professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland told Yahoo! Shine. "Also, by providing a bed for the babies, parents would be less inclined to co-sleep or have the infants share a bed with siblings, which can lead to SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome]."

For context, in 2011, the infant mortality rate in Finland was 3.43 per 1,000 births, compared with 6.05 per 1,000 births in the United States that same year. According to the BBC, while the boxes have remained a constant throughout Finland's history, the contents have evolved along with the times. For example, in the 1930s and 1940s when women were mostly making their own clothes, the boxes came with fabric. During World War II, when cotton was in demand for the armed forces, some of the material was replaced by paper bed sheets and swaddling clothes. The '50s, '60s, and '70s paved the way for stretchier fabrics. And the late 60s introduced a sleeping bag and disposable diapers, which were eventually traded in for cloth versions due to environmental concerns.

"Condoms were also added to the box as a reminder to mothers that they should have safe sex to prevent unintended pregnancies," said Gissler. "The colors changed, too. When the boxes were first introduced, the theme was white. In the '70s, we divided the boxes into pink and blue categories. Now, everything is gender-neutral—usually brown, yellow, or gray. We also switch up the colors every other year."

Gissler said the boxes are so popular that almost 100 percent of moms choose them over the cash voucher, even women who already have multiple children. The exception: "If a woman gives birth to twins or triplets, she's given both the money and the box," said Gissler.


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