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as a baby i slept in a cardboard box...

Posted by on Jul. 24, 2013 at 5:14 PM
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Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes


By Helena Lee

BBC News

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.


The tradition dates back to 1938. To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in 1949.


"Not only was it offered to all mothers-to-be but new legislation meant in order to get the grant, or maternity box, they had to visit a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy," says Heidi Liesivesi, who works at Kela - the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.


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.


Mika Gissler, a professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, gives several reasons for this - the maternity box and pre-natal care for all women in the 1940s, followed in the 60s by a national health insurance system and the central hospital network.


Contents of the box




Mattress, mattress cover, undersheet, duvet cover, blanket, sleeping bag/quilt

Box itself doubles as a crib

Snowsuit, hat, insulated mittens and booties

Light hooded suit and knitted overalls

Socks and mittens, knitted hat and balaclava

Bodysuits, romper suits and leggings in unisex colours and patterns

Hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, nappy cream, wash cloth

Cloth nappy set and muslin squares

Picture book and teething toy

Bra pads, condoms


At 75 years old, the box is now an established part of the Finnish rite of passage towards motherhood, uniting generations of women.


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."


Her mother-in-law, aged 78, relied heavily on the box when she had the first of her four children in the 60s. At that point she had little idea what she would need, but it was all provided.


More recently, Klemetti's daughter Solja, aged 23, shared the sense of excitement that her mother had once experienced, when she took possession of the "first substantial thing" prior to the baby itself. She now has two young children.


"It's easy to know what year babies were born in, because the clothing in the box changes a little every year. It's nice to compare and think, 'Ah that kid was born in the same year as mine'," says Titta Vayrynen, a 35-year-old mother with two young boys.


For some families, the contents of the box would be unaffordable if they were not free of charge, though for Vayrynen, it was more a question of saving time than money.


She was working long hours when pregnant with her first child, and was glad to be spared the effort of comparing prices and going out shopping.


"There was a recent report saying that Finnish mums are the happiest in the world, and the box was one thing that came to my mind. We are very well taken care of, even now when some public services have been cut down a little," she says.


When she had her second boy, Ilmari, Vayrynen opted for the cash grant instead of the box and just re-used the clothes worn by her first, Aarni.


A boy can pass on clothes to a girl too, and vice versa, because the colours are deliberately gender-neutral.


The contents of the box have changed a good deal over the years, reflecting changing times.


During the 30s and 40s, it contained fabric because mothers were accustomed to making the baby's clothes.

But during World War II, flannel and plain-weave cotton were needed by the Defence Ministry, so some of the material was replaced by paper bed sheets and swaddling cloth.


The 50s saw an increase in the number of ready-made clothes, and in the 60s and 70s these began to be made from new stretchy fabrics.


In 1968 a sleeping bag appeared, and the following year disposable nappies featured for the first time.


Not for long. At the turn of the century, the cloth nappies were back in and the disposable variety were out, having fallen out of favour on environmental grounds.


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.


And in addition to all this, Pulma says, the box is a symbol. A symbol of the idea of equality, and of the importance of children.

  • 1938: Finnish Maternity Grants Act introduced - two-thirds of women giving birth that year eligible for cash grant, maternity pack or mixture of the two
  • Pack could be used as a cot as poorest homes didn't always have a clean place for baby to sleep
  • 1940s: Despite wartime shortages, scheme continued as many Finns lost homes in bombings and evacuations
  • 1942-6: Paper replaced fabric for items such as swaddling wraps and mother's bedsheet
  • 1949: Income testing removed, pack offered to all mothers in Finland - if they had prenatal health checks (1953 pack pictured above)
  • 1957: Fabrics and sewing materials completely replaced with ready-made garments
  • 1969: Disposable nappies added to the pack
  • 1970s: With more women in work, easy-to-wash stretch cotton and colourful patterns replace white non-stretch garments
  • 2006: Cloth nappies reintroduced, bottle left out to encourage breastfeeding


by on Jul. 24, 2013 at 5:14 PM
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Replies (1-10):
12345abcde54321
by on Jul. 24, 2013 at 5:26 PM
1 mom liked this

that's kind of neat. i don't think that would go as well here for the masses, since most people seem to like to choose their own stuff and make a fancy nursery and all that. good read.

Master_Debater
by on Jul. 24, 2013 at 5:26 PM

That's pretty cool and an interesting read!

tonesofhome
by ASSBANDS! on Jul. 24, 2013 at 5:41 PM
1 mom liked this

most people in america would probably take the cash and run!!

Quoting 12345abcde54321:

that's kind of neat. i don't think that would go as well here for the masses, since most people seem to like to choose their own stuff and make a fancy nursery and all that. good read.


muzzyh
by Perfect 10 on Jul. 25, 2013 at 12:05 AM
That's super cool!
tonesofhome
by ASSBANDS! on Jul. 25, 2013 at 12:17 AM
1 mom liked this

right. Finland is awesome, we have dual citizenship, so  one day we will go back.  until then, i will homeschool dd (27m). she slept in the box i slept in as a baby until 13 weeks, when she got too big and we moved her to a bassinet. at 8 months she went into a crib (she was 22lbs! shes 32 now. lol). she can fall asleep anywhere now. i never heard of sids until i got pregnant and went on bbc, 18 yrs after coming here...

infant mortality is foreign to me, as is the american government and school systems. 

i won't put on my tin foil hat right now, but if you ever catch me, and i say i have been drinking, ask me, that will be an interesting post, quite so. 

Quoting muzzyh:

That's super cool!


ThatSkinnyGirl
by HugeGreasyDump on Jul. 25, 2013 at 1:01 AM
That is awesome!! I love that idea. I think that is great, and unfortunately you are right it probably wouldn't be as well recieved in America.
hisemma
by on Jul. 25, 2013 at 1:40 AM

My youngest slept in a little basket... kinda the same thing. It had handles, so I could take it wherever I was, around the house. I forget what it was called, but it was handy. :)

I never had a proper "nursery" for either child, & they've turned out just fine. lol

tonesofhome
by ASSBANDS! on Jul. 25, 2013 at 1:48 AM

something to do with moses i think? dunno not christian but know what you're talking about. 

Quoting hisemma:

My youngest slept in a little basket... kinda the same thing. It had handles, so I could take it wherever I was, around the house. I forget what it was called, but it was handy. :)

I never had a proper "nursery" for either child, & they've turned out just fine. lol


hisemma
by on Jul. 25, 2013 at 2:08 AM
1 mom liked this

yeah! a moses basket. :) I wasn't a christian at the time, but that's what it was. best thing ever! it had handles & we bought the additional rocking thing so we could turn it into a rocking crib-type-thing. it was awesome! :)

hell, i'm sure our parents or grandparents slept in dresser drawers for all we know! they, for the most part, turned out fine! i know mine did! ffs, some parents these days... so hoity toity *smh*

Quoting tonesofhome:

something to do with moses i think? dunno not christian but know what you're talking about. 

Quoting hisemma:

My youngest slept in a little basket... kinda the same thing. It had handles, so I could take it wherever I was, around the house. I forget what it was called, but it was handy. :)

I never had a proper "nursery" for either child, & they've turned out just fine. lol



AMedicsPixie
by on Jul. 25, 2013 at 2:39 AM
That is really cool.
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