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The Finnish Baby Box

by Christine Gross-Loh, author of the new book Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us

 

Hot Topic: Discuss Finnish Baby Boxes in the Community

 

      

 

 

I’ve long been fascinated by motherhood around the world. What is it like to birth in another country? What’s the lore on starting solids in another culture? How do children play in other countries? How do they sleep and who sleeps with them? How do cultural or societal supports ease the transition to new parenthood?


My friend Michele, an American new mother living in Finland, joins me here today to help satisfy my curiosity about motherhood abroad, in her guest post below.


The Finnish Baby Box


by Michele Simeon


In Finland, spotting babies with the same birth year isn’t just a matter of judging size. A famed national health care benefit of my adopted homeland is the maternity package, known as the ‘baby box’ in our household. Expecting mothers receive a large, cardboard box, itself designed to act as the baby’s first bed, full of gender neutral infant clothing and other essentials. Those who would prefer to purchase their own supplies instead receive a grant, and mothers carrying more than one child receive increased benefits on a graduated scale, so that e.g. families with twins can receive any combination of three grants or boxes.


The baby box is unique in the world and has been available in Finland to low-income mothers since 1937 and to all mothers since 1949. Each year, the designs and colors vary, creating allegiances of palettes and nostalgia for those special colors of infancy. You can view an inventory of the 2010 box here.


I pounced on my daughter Hilla’s baby box like it was the biggest, best Christmas present I’d ever received–that is, after hauling it uphill during a heat wave, eight months of pregnant belly weighing me down, much to the dismay of passersby. ‘It’s big and heavy,’ the kind postal worker had warned me. ‘That’s OK’ I beamed enthusiastically before realizing that my protruding middle prevented a conventional front carry.

But it was worth it. Hilla begins each day by kicking off her baby box bedding and exclaiming “boof!” At seven months, she’s outgrown the pajamas, still wears much of the box’s other clothing, and has yet to grow into a good deal more. There’s no sign of teeth in her gummy smile, so the toothbrush has gone unused. The teething ring and rhyme book, however, are part of an important morning ritual of toy and book mayhem. If we take the stroller out, Hilla will get bundled into the baby box snowsuit and sleeping bag–cleverly sized items that might just last until next winter if we’re lucky. Then there are the breast pads for mother, the bib for a messy little mouth experimenting with solids, and the towel that dries chubby baby bodies after the narrative of the day’s events has been washed away.  Hilla is tucked into her duvet until morning, when baby legs decide it’s time to start a new day.


While the box alone cannot create material equality for all babies born in this country, it is only one of many benefits designed to give children a good, fair start to life. There’s no shame in using public aid that everyone accesses and there’s no statement of consumerist individuality in the clothing that all babies are wearing. The box gives us lots of fun opportunities to play baby punch buggy and it spared us more than a few shopping trips and plenty of money, but its real value lies in its message of social justice for all children.

 

What public benefits are available to families in your communities? Which would you like to see?

 

 

Image credit top: Finnish Baby Box by Roxeteer

 

Image bottom: Two-month-old Hilla naps in her baby box outerwear. The bear & bee duvet plus cover were also a part of the package.

 

Michele Simeon is an American writer and editor living in Helsinki. Visit her blog A House Called Nut where she writes about living abroad in Finland and her experience of multicultural, bilingual family life.


Christine is a mother of four, crafter, journalist, and author. She wrote The Diaper-Free Baby (HarperCollins, 2007), a book about elimination communication, and a book and craft kit, Origami Suncatchers (Sterling, 2011). She’s now writing a book about global parenting practices to be published by Avery, a Penguin Books imprint, in 2013. Visit her at her blog.


Comments (33)

If my memory serves me correctly, we did receive something similar in England; although I'm pretty sure it was nowhere near as jam-packed as your baby box! How wonderful to get you all set up :-) Now we look forward to our regular book bags that we have received since she was a tiny baby... Great article, Michele!
This is just wonderful. I, too, am fascinated by how different countries and cultures do things, so I enjoyed reading this very much.
For those of you interested in cross cultural child rearing practices, you may want to check out "A World of Babies: Imagined Childcare Guides for Seven Societies" (Gottlieb, DeLoache), written by an anthropologist and psychologist. An excellent read.
wow!! im dead impressed- great post! love that there is not a baby bottle of formula can to be seen!- breast pads and condoms- how truly excellent! how humane.
wow. i want to move to finland now. this is excellent.
They used to have disposable diapers in the box, then they added a set of cloth diapers. I believe this year is the first year they completely took out all disposable diapers and only have cloth ones in there - love it! I'm a Finn and had my son over there, and I, too, got the baby box. We are now expecting our second child (abroad) and plan to use most of that old box's clothes with this one, too. They're very good quality and still in excellent condition.
I enjoyed this because my mother in law is from Finland. If that country didn't have such deplorable weather and a winter of darkness, I would consider moving there. I love its government. This box is a great idea.
Great article. I'm first gen. Greek-American. Many of my families traditions and baby gifts made it to America from my great-great-grandparents. Love reading about other cultures. :)
I enjoyed reading this. I birthed my babies in France. In France, we received Euros, Francs back then, for each additional child, and a bonus at 3. (I stopped at 3.)
I so enjoyed reading this ~ fascinating. I lived in Sweden during my elementary school days and we enjoyed a free hot lunch each day, with milk and bread. It left a last impression.
In the U.S. the only things I was given after the birth of my son were free samples from corporations trying to sell me stuff (like formula or disposable diapers). Nothing from the government. To make up for that it is traditional in the U.S. for your friends, family, coworkers, and/or religious community to throw a baby shower and provide you (hopefully) with many of the things you will need. At the babyshower we were given a stroller, lots of clothes, practical things (burp cloths, swaddling blankets, bathing supplies, fingernail clippers, etc.), several toys, a few books, etc. And my folks gave us a wonderful crib. It's wonderful knowing that when the government does not provide the kinds of social welfare perks I believe would be ideal, at least the society is set up so that our friends and acquaintances help out as best they can. Hurray for friends and family!
Alyce, I've never heard of A World of Babies. Thank you very much for the recommendation! If you haven't read Meredith Small's two books on parenting worldwide, those are very interesting too. Sandy, it would be interesting to hear what traditions survived from Greece! My father was the first of his Greek family to be born in the US, but we haven't carried on many (any?) of his family's cultural traditions. My mother is Japanese-American and that culture has had a much stronger impact on us (e.g. co-sleeping). Nancy, it's the same in Finland! In Helsinki, playgrounds even offer free, hot meals for kids throughout the summer.
I agree! My impression is that the culture of charities and community organizations is actually stronger in the US than some other places for precisely this reason.
It's a nice gesture for sure but what is the income tax rate in Finland. Socialist policies have to be supported financially somehow. Is the trade off worth it?
Kel, There used to be pacifiers and a (water) bottle included in the baby package but a lot of hard work done by some dedicated people in the breastfeeding support organization here in Finland finally resulted in their removal. Unfortunately the breastfeeding booklet included in the package is now slated for removal. The breastfeeding support organization is currently working to reverse this decision.
Karen, speaking from experience, it's now low but it's not anything we can't live with and YES, it's worth it!!! In Finland we also have almost a year of paid maternity leave and you can take up to 3 years off and still keep your job. If you have another baby, the leave starts over. Fathers get 9 paid weeks in the first 18 months. These are only a few of the family related benefits we have.
Fascinating! What a wonderful way to welcome babies into the world. It all seems so kind and celebratory. This has really gotten me very curious to learn more about how different cultures and countries view childbirth and childrearing.
Yes, it is absolutely worth it! The tax rate depends on one's income of course, but the cost of living in many European countries is arguably less than in the US. Plus of course we have about 4-6 weeks of annual holiday as well as years of paid parental leave, and free access to excellent education and health care. That's not to say that Europe is somehow 'better' than the US, but in many ways--and especially as a family--it is simply easier to live here. I really recommend this article for comparison of benefits received for tax paid in the US versus Europe: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/apr/15/tax-day-us-europe
That is very interesting! I hope they will be able to save it. I got extremely good support from the hospital where I gave birth, but I've met many mothers here who haven't been so lucky. The breastfeeding rate is great, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
what if you are poor and so are all your friends and family? showers only work when you have friends with money to spare.
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