Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes

Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes

December 2013

Did you know that for 75 years, expectant mothers in Finland have been given a box by the state? It's like receiving a great big ‘starter kit’ packed full of clothes, bedding and toys - and as it comes with a mattress on the bottom, the box can even be used as a baby bed! The interesting thing is that some people say it has helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.

It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life.  The gift – from the government – is available to every mum-to-be.

In fact, mums have the choice between taking the box, or a cash grant (currently 140 euros), but 95% opt for the box as it's worth much more.

The BBC News’ website explained more in this article in June 2013.

Reporter Helena Lee explains how it works:

The tradition dates back to 1938. To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in 1949.

"Not only was it offered to all mothers-to-be but new legislation meant in order to get the grant, or maternity box, they had to visit a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy," says Heidi Liesivesi, who works at Kela - the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.

So the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, but it also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland's nascent welfare state.

In the 1930s Finland was a poor country and infant mortality was high - 65 out of 1,000 babies died. But the figures improved rapidly in the decades that followed.

Mika Gissler, a professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, gives several reasons for this - the maternity box and pre-natal care for all women in the 1940s, followed in the 60s by a national health insurance system and the central hospital network.

At 75 years old, the box is now an established part of the Finnish rite of passage towards motherhood, uniting generations of women.