(NEW YORK) -- Expectant parents often get plenty of presents from friends and family members, but in Finland, even the government sends a gift.
The Finnish government regularly distributes maternity grants to help expectant parents care for a fussy newborn. Parents can pick between the maternity package, a colorful box that is filled with baby-related goodies such as reusable diapers and colorful onesies, or a cash grant of 140 euros.
The maternity package wasn’t designed just to be a fun gift; it started as a way to help promote healthy habits for new parents.
The grants started in 1937, when the Finnish government passed the Maternity Grants Act to help counteract a high infant mortality rate. Before the act was passed, the infant mortality rate was extremely high, with 65 deaths for every 1,000 births, according to the BBC. Today, it is 3.38 for every 1,000 births, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Mika Gissler, a research professor for the Finland National Institute for Health and Welfare, said nearly all first-time moms take the maternity package over the cash.
In total, the Finnish government dispenses approximately 60,000 maternity grants every year. According to Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland that dispenses the grants, 40,000 of these grants are in the form of maternity packages.
Gissler said that even the small cardboard box, which can be used as a crib, was designed to promote good health by providing a safe sleeping environment.
“The maternity box promotes [having a separate] bed for the newborn instead of sleeping in the same bed with other siblings and/or parents,” said Gissler in an email.
While having a baby sleep in a box may seem hazardous, Dr. Dennis Rosen, the associate medical director of Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s hospital said the maternity package box can help promote healthy sleep habits, which can lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“One thing we know about baby’s sleep patterns [is that] there’s a connection between [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome] and sleep environment,” said Rosen. “You want to keep the baby on relatively firm bedding. You don’t want to cover the baby up too much…you want to keep the baby on their backs.”
Gissler said at first the act helped by providing low income mothers with supplies and encouraging women to seek prenatal care. By 1979, 100 percent of new mothers were receiving prenatal care in the country up from 20 percent in 1940.
“[The box] can be seen as a symbol of transformation from a poor agriculture country to a [richer] industrial, welfare state,” said Gissler. “It also highlights that the government’s will to increase the fertility in Finland and thus it can be seen…as a guarantee for future of the country.”
On top of providing new mothers with key essentials, the box also provides items key for living in Finland, including a tiny snowsuit and sleeping bag perfect for a newborn’s first winter.
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