Friday, June 7, 2013

Saturday Short Subjects: Boxes for Babies

During a particularly bad public relations week for the US government, the BBC published a heart-warming tale about how good government can improve people’s lives. 

I was at the BBC site to read an article about the diet of our human ancestors. When finished with that I clicked on the link to the curiously titled “Why Finnish Babies Sleep in Cardboard Boxes,” which appeared under “Most Popular.” 

For 75 years, expectant mothers in Finland have been eligible for a gift from the state – an infant-sized cardboard box filled with all the essentials a newborn needs, including a mattress designed to fit in the bottom of the box, and cloth for the sides, which allows the mother to turn the box into a child's first bed. 

The box does not arrive automatically. But all an expectant mother needs to do to receive the gift is visit a doctor or clinic before the 4th month of her pregnancy. Those who do not wish to receive the box (some 5%) can opt for a cash grant, but according to the BBC article, the box is worth much more.

The contents are itemized in the “Dressing Your Baby” section of the document “Having Children in Finland,” which appears on the Finnish Ministry of Labour website.

“The Finnish state provides each new family with a box containing layette for your baby. It is called a maternity box. … You will find the following items in the box: shirts, rompers, stretch suits, headgear, pants, gauze nappies, socks, sleeping bag-quilt, zip-suit sleeping bag, a towel, sheet, quilt cover, quilt or blanket…You will find a changing mat, a cotton towel with plastic cover, cotton wool, moisturising cream, sanitary towels, a packet of condoms, a hairbrush, nail scissors, bath thermometer, a toy and a book in the maternity box…” 

In 1938, when the box was first introduced, only low income mothers were entitled to receive it. The infant mortality in Finland at the time was 65 deaths for every 1000 births.

The infant mortality rate in Finland has been falling steadily ever since 1949 when means testing was dropped and all mothers were eligible to receive the free box, if they obtained early pre-natal care.

According to the CIA, in 2013, Finland’s infant mortality rate was 3.38/1000 (rank 213 of 224 countries, with a higher number being better), while the US was 5.90 (174). The lowest infant mortality rate was Monaco (224) at 1.81.

The contents of the box has changed slightly over time. Fabric for making clothing was included in the early boxes, but now the clothes are ready-made. In 1969 disposable diapers were introduced; cloth diapers were re-introduced in 2006, the same year the baby bottle was eliminated to encourage breast-feeding. The baby clothes come in bright unisex colors and are updated each year.

Rich or poor, each child gets the same box, if the mother commits to giving the child a healthy start. 

Finnish Dad Mark Bosworth, interviewed by the BBC stated about the box they received for their daughter Annika, “This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life. And now when I visit friends with young children it's nice to see we share some common things. It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together.” 

So much good from such a simple thing…

Happy weekend! Hope you are doing something special.

Why Saturday Short Subjects? Some readers may recall  being dropped at the movie theater for the Saturday matinee — two action-packed feature films with a series of short subjects (cartoons or short movies, sometimes a serial cliffhanger) sandwiched in between. Often the short subjects were the most memorable, and enjoyable, part of the morning. That explains the name. The reason behind these particular posts is that we are all short on time. My Short Subject posts should not take me as long to write or you as long to read (or try).

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