Finland has given expecting mothers a maternity package since 1938. These so called baby boxes have been a huge success story, and they lowered infant mortality in Finland significantly. Thanks to the program, all women have access to public health services and all babies get an equal start in life.
In the beginning the maternity package was intended only for low-income mothers. In 1949 it was made available to all mothers. At first the package contained just clothing, linen and towels. The box started to serve the function of a bed in 1942. The purpose of the box as a bed was to protect babies from infections in crammed war-time apartments.
Mothers-to-be are given the package provided they visit a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy. Parents can choose whether they want the maternity package or a maternity grant worth approximately 140 euros. Approximately 95% of the first time parents choose the maternity package. The box contains altogether 50 different items including clothes, blankets and other newborn necessities. The box itself, which is lined with a mattress, can be used as the child's first bed.
The content of the package has changed over the years reflecting changing times and new childcare recommendations. For example, the package used to contain a baby bottle, but it was later removed to encourage nursing. For several years now, the fabrics included in the maternity package have been neutral colors, making them suitable for both girls and boys.
The program is coordinated by the Finnish Social Security Institution Kela. It distributes approximately 40,000 maternity packages a year. There are no exact numbers about how many babies actually sleep in the cardboard box, but Kela assumes that the box is commonly used as a bed.
For several decades the Finnish maternity package was the only one of its kind worldwide. The baby box received a lot of positive publicity after the Government of Finland gave the package as a gift to Prince William and Duchess Kate when they were expecting their first child in 2013. When BBC wrote an article about the baby box in 2013 it became their most shared story ever.
Since then the baby box concept has spread in many different countries. There are dozens of baby box projects under way in countries such as Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, South Africa and the United Kingdom. In the U.S., many states and cities have adopted the concept. For example Texas, Alaska and Pennsylvania have started pilot programs handing out local versions of the baby box to new mothers. In January 2017, New Jersey became the first state to offer a universal baby box program to its residents.
Encouraging good parenting has been a part of the maternity box policy in Finland all along. The box itself is a great starter kit for the family, but the main emphasis is on promoting the health and well-being of the mother and the child.
You can order a Finnish baby box here: https://www.finnishbabybox.com/us/en/