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The story behind the Finnish baby sleeping boxes

Would you imagine that Finns are still using these boxes to secure a healthy safe sleep for their newborn babies?

But a whole state welfare policy is behind this 78-year old story. It’s more than a mere box, it’s a whole trousseau for the mother and the baby inside it which, in its turn, reveals a really complex, sustained social welfare process, a state policy used by Finland to come to the help of the mother and their babies, ultimately the future citizens of the country.

You wouldn’t believe in the first instance that such an advanced society as Finland, which ranks among first on hi-tech, innovations engineers, social welfare or education can still be so attached to traditional values.

However, tradition seems to have a deep-rooted healthy significance for the advance modern society in Finland nowadays. The sleeping boxes, actually the maternity kits, seem to be one of the good practice examples. Just like every success story that has a long history behind.

At least this is what I’ve learned from the event hosted by the Finnish Ambassador in Bucharest, H.E. Paivi Pohjanheimo at her residence on Monday, an event that was more than a live demonstration of the successful Finnish maternity package but that was rather like a round table debate, attended by the NGOs representatives, the Presidency, the association of midwives, who are playing a crucial part in the mothers and babies’ existence. Besides encompassing Finland’s ‘quality management’ on the baby’s trousseau issue, the debate was set to find out of such an example could be implemented in Romania, if there is domestic demand for this kind of package and how can it help cut the infant mortality rate for instance and help mothers deal with the maternity issue.

In Finland the package was designed in 1937 to give all children a more equal start to life and it continues to serve this purpose. Finland’s child mortality rate is among the lowest in the world, partly thanks to the maternity grant and associated health checks. Romania has the highest infant mortality rate in the EU: 9.2 per 1,000 while the European average was 73.7 per 1,000.

The lovely thing about the boxes is that the majority of us, born after 1949 used these boxes as their first bed, so did I. I slept in a similar box and, according to my mom, I was happy and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t have used the box for the baby in the first weeks or months of his/her life,” Ambassador Pohjanheimo confessed.

Every Finnish mother still receives a maternity grant when a baby is born. Mothers can choose between a cash grant or the maternity package containing good-quality clothing, the sleeping box, diapers and other baby-care products.

And yes, maybe you would think that it’s always about the money. But no, in Finland 95% of the women actually opt for the maternity kit instead of cash, as the Finnish ambassador to Romania told us.

Out of 60,000 maternity grants annually distributed by the Social Insurance Institution in Finland, two-thirds are taken as maternity packages.

The cash grant is EUR 150, but the box content would mount to more if taken separately.

In the beginning the Finnish state granted these kits only to poor women, but after 1949 the programme has been extended to all women who were Finland’s citizens, no matter of their social and economic background. With one condition, provided they went to the doctors, midwives or medical units to undergo regular pregnancy checking.matern pack

What does the kit contain?

8 bodysuits, 4 romper suits, 5 leggings, 1 strechsuit, 1 wool-mix suit, 1 light quilted suit, 3 caps, 2 pair of socks, 1 pair of mittens, 1 pair of tights, 2 gauze cloths, one set of reusable nappies, trousers and 2 absorbing pads, one bath towel, one undersheet, one duvet cover, one blanket, one sleeping bag, one snowsuit, one pair of insulated boots, thermometer, mattress, toy, toothbrush, hair brush, scissors, bath thermometer, nipple cream, bra pads for the mother’s breastfeed, sanitary towels, a baby’s first book, the box that can be used as a crib and even condoms, providing a good family planning hint.

The Finnish maternity kit has been improved year by year and the box containing it was redesigned in 2012 through a competition for design students. The winning design came into use in autumn 2012.

However, decisions on the contents of maternity packages are made annually by a social insurance committee following competitive tendering processes. The selections criteria for the items include the needs of babies and parents, gender neutrality in colour schemes and affordability.

As for the clothing, as they were largely homemade, early maternity packages contained fabric suitable for the baby outfit and nowadays they contain the high-quality clothes, 100% made in Finland.

At the same time, ecological considerations have gradually become more important. Cloth nappies were included in those kits from 2006 and disposable nappies were left out in 2009. This decision cut the number of disposable nappies ending up in landfill sites by 700,000 a year.

A national brand

According to the Finnish envoy in Bucharest, during the 80s there were discussions whether this kit is necessary at all because the people were far better off, but the kit was already so popular, it was already a part of the comprehensive programme of looking after a baby. “So it was decided to continue with the package and now, some years later, it is cooler than ever”, the ambassador said.

We organized this event to share our experience on that. Some other countries adopted a similar kind of tailor-made box and it could be very beneficial for many other countries that could adopt a similar programme,” she added.

While the kit’s content is updated every year following a thorough analysis by a special committee of the social and health sector, the most popular item by far remains the sleeping bag, for it’s very important for a baby.

The box has been following the needs of time, but as an example of the time change there was an ecological dimension added up, and the reusable napkins and nappies were introduced for instance. Another new element, introduced for about ten years, is the book. Of course babies cannot read by the parents can and they are supposed to spend time with the babies and the book encouraged the parents in this respect, not be ashamed to sing to the babies or tell stories, or talking with the baby,” ambassador Pohjanheimo explained.

With all this long, comprehensive story behind, the Finnish maternity kit seems to be still a must have in the modern Finnish society, maybe not all the time as a material, financial need, but mostly as a national symbol and a symbol for ‘an equal start to life’.

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About Alina Grigoras Butu