The inhabitants of Finland enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. But there was a time, in the years that followed the country’s independence that the Finns were extremely poor and the infant mortality was very high. So the authorities introduced in 1938 the maternity grants which soon turned into a Maternity Package, a box containing everything parents need to face the arrival of a new member in the family and guarantee the baby a dignifying start to life.
During the earliest years of its existence, the so called ‘Baby-box’ was provided only to families with fewer resources. However, in 1949 it spread to all mothers and became a symbol of that concept with which the universal declaration of human rights begins: that all people are born equal and have the right to a decent life.
The Maternity Package is offered nowadays by the Finnish Social Security (Kela) for free to all mothers-to-be, regardless their wealth or income. The 2018 edition, distributed since April 26th, contains 64 of the most needed articles for the first year of the baby's life. The colorful cardboard box itself is very useful beyond its role as an article container. It can be converted into a practical crib where the newborn might be put to bed during its first months of life.
A baby sleeps inside the Baby-box. Photo: Kela
The content of the box is updated yearly in response to the feedback that the Social Security managers get from the families. “While the range of items remains largely the same, the colours and patterns change, and some new items are added as well”, explains Kela at its webpage.
From snowsuits to condoms
Regardless those yearly variations that usually may depend just on fashion, the basics of the ‘Baby box’ remain stable. There is always for instance a child snowsuit, which is an indispensable garment considering hardness of the Finnish winter. Therefore, no baby has to suffer cold for been born in a poor family.
In the box there is also an extra insulated sleeping bag that can be used as a blanket, outdoor and indoor clothing like bodysuits, trousers, leggings, socks, towels, a feeding bib, a bath thermometer, personal care items like creams, sanitary towels, breast pads, and even condoms and lubricant for the parents. There is even a toy and the child's 'First book'.
A mother receiving the Finnish Maternity Package. Photo: CrumpyFinn
The fabrics included in the maternity package have been in neutral colours, to assure that the items are suitable for both girls and boys and more easily matched with other colours. Before the mid-1970s, the principal colour used in the package was typically white but with the time the clothes have become colourful.
The Maternity Package is not commercially available and the items it contains are sourced through a competitive bidding process complying with EU law. Kela claims that baby-boxes can be got “solely as a benefit offered under the Finnish Social Security system”. Though, there have been attempts to market the idea and even some private companies have started to sell their own baby-boxes all over the world based in the original public model. Other countries have tried to introduce similar benefits, but Finland remains the only country in the world where this is a universal right for all mothers.
Some of the articles contained in the Maternity Package. Photo: CrumpyFinn
The cash alternative
Kela points at its webpage that families who are expecting a child “can choose between a Maternity Package and a tax-free cash benefit of 170€” as a maternity grant. However, the value of the Finnish ‘Baby-box’ and the items it carries inside doubles, if not tripled, that 170 euros. For that reason and also for sentimental issues -it is a tradition and a national sign of identity deeply rooted in Finland- the vast majority of parents are inclined to request a Maternity Package.
The maternity grants can be claimed after 154 days (5 months) of pregnancy. In order to get it, mothers must go to visit a doctor or a maternity child welfare clinic for a health check before the 5th month. There they can get a certificate of pregnancy that must be submitted to Kela with the request for the maternity grant. Not only Finnish mothers can get it, also those women who reside permanently in Finland or who have moved to the country for work reasons.
Mothers who give birth to two or more children at the same time can enjoy additional benefits. Generally speaking, they can get the maternity grant multiplied by two for the second child, by three for the third child, etc. In practical terms, a woman who has two children can get the normal maternity grant three times, for triplets six times, etc… and it is up to them how they want to get it, they can combine baby-boxes with cash amounts at their wish.
60.000 grants per year
Kela considers that thanks to the maternity grant, “Finnish mothers gained access to public health services” and that allowed that “Finland has long had one of the lowest levels of infant and maternal mortality in the world”.
Nearly all first-time mothers nowadays choose the Marternity Package better than the money and “only a third of all expecting mothers opt for the cash benefit”, according to Kela.
Each year Kela awards around 60.000 maternity grants, of which 40.000 are provided in the form of a Maternity Package. The Finnish maternity package has for several decades been the only one of its kind worldwide.
To check all the items contained in the Maternity Package 2018, click HERE
If you want to know more about the Finnish ‘baby-box’, click HERE
For general information on maternity grants in Finland, click HERE