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How 'maternity box' gift helped lower infant mortality rates in Finland

Many Finnish babies spend their first nights nestled inside a cardboard box – and here’s why.

Image: Andriy Maygutyak via Shutterstock

FINLAND’S UNORTHODOX APPROACH to education has made the country’s school system one the best in the world – consistently coming at the top of international rankings for education systems.

But education is not the only area in which Finland is striking a home run. Seventy-five years ago, the Finnish government embarked on an other ambitious mission: giving every child, no matter what their background, the same start in life.

So, since the 1930s, expectant mothers in Finland have been given a maternity box containing everything they will need after their baby’s birth –including bodysuits, outdoor clothes, nappies, bathing products, a sleeping bag, a rattle, an illustrated book, bra pads and condoms.

The specially-designed box even comes with a mattress in the bottom, meaning it can double up as a crib, and many Finnish babies spend their first nights nestled inside them.

The innovative idea is thought to have contributed to Finland having one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. Before 1938, when the scheme was introduced, 65 out of every 1,000 babies in Finland died – however, the maternity box, a national heath insurance system and central hospital network has since improved infants’ chances significantly.

The contents of the box have undergone many changes since the initiative’s inception, in order to reflect the needs of a changing society. During the 1930s and 1940s, the boxes contained fabric as people were accustomed to making their own clothes, while paper bedding was provided during WWII when government funds were scarce. More recently, baby bottles and dummies were removed in order not to discourage breastfeeding.

Kela, Finland’s social security service, has even sent a box to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to congratulate them on their upcoming arrival. Not too shabby.

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Read: 16 surprising facts about Finland’s unorthodox education system

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