Why Do Finnish Babies Sleep in Cardboard Boxes?

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Most people say that having a baby is a gift. But, in Finland, having a baby also comes with a gift. How so? For the last 78 years, the government of Finland, through its social security system Kela, provides expectant and adoptive parents with a box full of products free of charge. The goal of the Maternity Package (called Äitiyspakkaus in Finnish) is to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life. Additionally, it encourages better prenatal care since, in order to get the box (or a cash equivalent of $160 US dollars), the mom-to-be has to visit a doctor or municipal prenatal clinic before the fourth month of pregnancy.

For an American audience, perhaps the most salient content of the Maternity Package is the box. It is made of recycled cardboard and is meant to be used as the baby’s first bed. The box measures approximately 28 inches in width x 17 inches in depth x 11 inches in height and it comes with a fitted mattress. Most Finnish babies, regardless of their social background, sleep in the box for the first three or four months. In 2016, one side of the box portrays a family of ducks waddling forward in summertime, while the other side shows them in the winter.


The box of the Finnish Maternity Package in 2016

The Maternity Package contains baby clothes as well as care products and materials. It is updated yearly in response to feedback from the population. While the range of items remains largely the same, the colors and patterns change, and some completely new items are added as well. There are altogether 50 different items in the box:

  • The Box (can be used as a crib)
  • Snowsuit / sleeping bag, insulated mittens and booties
  • Sleeping bag / quilt
  • Light quilted suit
  • Wool-mix suit
  • Knitted hat
  • Hat
  • Balaclava hat
  • Tights, socks and mittens
  • 1 small bodysuit, 3 large bodysuits
  • Small body and romper suit
  • Medium body and romper suit
  • Medium romper suit
  • Large romper suit
  • Stretch suit
  • Leggings (various sizes)
  • Body and leggings
  • Shirt and leggings
  • Mattress, mattress cover, undersheet, blanket, duvet cover
  • Bath towel, nail scissors, thermometer, toothbrush, hairbrush and bath thermometer
  • 1 set of reusable diapers (2 fitted diapers), 2 absorbing pads, bra pads, nipple cream, 10 sanitary towels and 6 condoms
  • Feeding bib
  • Drooling bib
  • Book titled “Vauvan kanssa” and a teething toy

Multiple-birth families get additional maternity grants.

How to claim the Finnish maternity package?

Only residents of Finland can claim the Maternity Package (or money equivalent). They have to scan or take a photo of supporting documents and send them over the Internet to a designated website. They must enclose with the claim:

  • A certificate showing that the pregnancy has lasted 154 days and that the mother has undergone a medical examination before the end of the 4th month of pregnancy. This pregnancy certificate can be obtained from the mom’s doctor or from the maternity and child welfare clinic.
  • Adoptive parents must enclose a certificate stating that the child has been designated for placement in the adoptive family.

About 95% of first-time mothers choose the package over a $160 US dollars cash grant.


The history of the Finnish Maternity Package

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

1957: Fabrics and sewing materials completely replaced with ready-made garments

1969: Disposable diapers added to the pack

1970s: With more women in work, easy-to-wash stretch cotton and colorful patterns replace white non-stretch garments

2006: Cloth diapers reintroduced for environmental reasons, bottle and pacifier left out to encourage breastfeeding

Diego Wyszynski
Dr. Diego Wyszynski is the Founder and CEO of Pregistry. He is an expert on the effects of medications and vaccines in pregnancy and lactation and an accomplished writer, having published 3 books with Oxford University Press and more than 70 articles in medical journals. In 2017, he was selected a TEDMED Research Scholar. Diego attended the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

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