In Finland, one of the greatest gifts an expecting mother receives is not from a friend or loved one — it comes from the government. Commonly referred to as a “baby box,” the Finnish government sends every mother a collection of basic needs for a baby’s first year, packaged inside a box that even doubles as an infant’s bed. What’s more, if a mother chooses to buy her own baby gear, the government provides grant money instead of the baby box. Not only is this public benefit essential for mothers who may find themselves unprepared financially, but it is also a positive encouragement from the government, giving a sense of security to a woman who may really need it.
Regina Yunghans of Odeedoh recently pointed to a post over on Mothering.com, in which Michele Simeon, a new American mother living in Finland, shares her experience of welcoming a baby into a foreign country. After learning about Finland’s baby boxes, Simeon eagerly awaited the delivery: “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.” Filled with breast pads for mom, bibs, snowsuits and towels, Hilla was well-prepared for her first 6-months, including the harsh, impending winter. Though she outgrew many of the items by the time she was seven months old, Hilla grew into other outfits, and continued to make use of the box’s contents on a daily basis. An inventory of the 2010 baby box can be found here.
I can’t help but be a little jealous of Finnish parents, not just because they get a free box of cool goodies, but that their government greets every one of its new citizens with a gift that symbolizes a commitment toward its future leaders. “While the box alone cannot create material equality for all babies born in [Finland], it is only one of many benefits designed to give children a good, fair start to life,” explains Simeon. For a new parent, such a vote of confidence from the government can do wonders in maintaining a positive attitude in child rearing. When I look around my own community, I do observe many public benefits for children, but nothing quite as unique as the baby box. Would such a gift from the government translate to other countries, and if so, what would it look like?