For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.
It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life. The maternity package - a gift from the government - is available to all expectant mothers.
It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress. With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby's first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box's four cardboard walls. Mothers have a choice between taking the box, or a cash grant, currently set at 140 euros, but 95% opt for the box as it's worth much more.
So the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, but it also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland's nascent welfare state. In the 1930s Finland was a poor country and infant mortality was high - 65 out of 1,000 babies died. But the figures improved rapidly in the decades that followed.
Contents of the box:
Reija Klemetti, a 49-year-old from Helsinki, remembers going to the post office to collect a box for one of her six children. "It was lovely and exciting to get it and somehow the first promise to the baby," she says. "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."
Encouraging good parenting has been part of the maternity box policy all along. "Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop," says Panu Pulma, professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki. "Including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them."
At a certain point, baby bottles and dummies were removed to promote breastfeeding. "One of the main goals of the whole system was to get women to breastfeed more," Pulma says. And, he adds, "It's happened." He also thinks including a picture book has had a positive effect, encouraging children to handle books, and, one day, to read.
|infant mortality rates||csecsemőhalandósági mutató|
|no matter||nem számít|
|equal start||egyenlő kezdés|
|cash grant||készpénzbeli támogatás|
|insulated mittens||hőszigetelt kesztyű|
|be eager to||alig várni, hogy|
|encouraging good parenting||a jó szülői szerepvállalás bátorítása|
|sleep separately||külön aludni|