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  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 maternity package - a gift from the government - is available to all expectant mothers.

  It contains bodysom, the box becomes a baby's first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box's four cardboard walls.

  Mother and daughters look at a pack from 1947

  Mothers have a choice between taking the box, or a cash grant, currently set at 140 euros, but 95% opt for the box as it's worth much more.

  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.

  Contents of the box

  Contents of the 2013 pack

  Mattress, mattress cover, undersheet, duvet cover, blanket, sleeping bag/quilt

  Box itself doubles as a crib

  Snowsuit, hat, insulated mittens and booties

  Light hooded suit and knitted overalls

  Socks and mittens, knitted hat and balaclava

  Bodysuits, romper suits and leggings in unisex colours and patterns

  Hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, nappy cream, wash cloth

  Cloth nappy set and muslin squares

  Picture book and teething toy

  Bra pads, condoms

  Dressing baby for the weather: Finland's official childcare advice

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

  Reija Klemetti, a 49-year-old from Helsinki, remembers going to the post office to collect a box for one of her six children.

  "It was lovely and exciting to get it and somehow the first promise to the baby," she says. "My mum, friends and relatives were all eager to see what kind of things were inside and what colours they'd chosen for that year."

  Her mother-in-law, aged 78, relied heavily on the box when she had the first of her four children in the 60s. At that point she had little idea what she would need, but it was all provided.

  More recently, Klemetti's daughter Solja, aged 23, shared the sense of excitement that her mother had once experienced, when she took possession of the "first substantial thing" prior to the baby itself. She now has two young children.

  "It's easy to know what year babies were born in, because the clothing in the box changes a little every year. It's nice to compare and think, 'Ah that kid was born in the same year as mine'," says Titta Vayrynen, a 35-year-old mother with two young boys.

  For some families, the contents of the box would be unaffordable if they were not free of charge, though for Vayrynen, it was more a question of saving time than money.

  She was working long hours when pregnant with her first child, and was glad to be spared the effort of comparing prices and going out shopping.

  "There was a recent report saying that Finnish mums are the happiest in the world, and the box was one thing that came to my mind. We are very well taken care of, even now when some public services have been cut down a little," she says.

  When she had her second boy, Ilmari, Vayrynen opted for the cash grant instead of the box and just re-used the clothes worn by her first, Aarni.

  A boy can pass on clothes to a girl too, and vice versa, because the colours are deliberately gender-neutral.

  Infant mortality in Finland The contents of the box have changed a good deal over the years, reflecting changing times.

  During the 30s and 40s, it contained fabric because mothers were accustomed to making the baby's clothes.

  Continue reading the main story More from the Magazine

  Pram in snow Would you put your baby or toddler outside in the freezing cold for their lunchtime nap? Most Nordic parents wouldn't give it a second thought. For them it's part of their daily routine.

  "I think it's good for them to be in the fresh air as soon as possible," says Lisa Mardon, a mother-of-three from Stockholm, who works for a food distribution company.

  "Especially in the winter when there's lots of diseases going around... the kids seem healthier."

  The babies who nap in sub-zero temperatures But during World War II, flannel and plain-weave cotton were needed by the Defence Ministry, so some of the material was replaced by paper bed sheets and swaddling cloth.

  The 50s saw an increase in the number of ready-made clothes, and in the 60s and 70s these began to be made from new stretchy fabrics.

  In 1968 a sleeping bag appeared, and the following year disposable nappies featured for the first time.

  Not for long. At the turn of the century, the cloth nappies were back in and the disposable variety were out, having fallen out of favour on environmental grounds.

  Encouraging good parenting has been part of the maternity box policy all along.

  "Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop," says Panu Pulma, professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki. "Including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them."

  At a certain point, baby bottles and dummies were removed to promote breastfeeding.

  "One of the main goals of the whole system was to get women to breastfeed more," Pulma says. And, he adds, "It's happened."

  He also thinks including a picture book has had a positive effect, encouraging children to handle books, and, one day, to read.

  And in addition to all this, Pulma says, the box is a symbol. A symbol of the idea of equality, and of the importance of children.

  The story of the maternity pack

  Pack from 1953

  1938: Finnish Maternity Grants Act introduced - two-thirds of women giving birth that year eligible for cash grant, maternity pack or mixture of the two

  Pack could be used as a cot as poorest homes didn't always have a clean place for baby to sleep

  1940s: Despite wartime shortages, scheme continued as many Finns lost homes in bombings and evacuations

  1942-6: Paper replaced fabric for items such as swaddling wraps and mother's bedsheet

  1949: Income testing removed, pack offered to all mothers in Finland - if they had prenatal health checks (1953 pack pictured above)

  1957: Fabrics and sewing materials completely replaced with ready-made garments

  1969: Disposable nappies added to the pack

  1970s: With more women in work, easy-to-wash stretch cotton and colourful patterns replace white non-stretch garments

  2006: Cloth nappies reintroduced, bottle left out to encourage breastfeeding查看译文







  “政府不仅开始向所有的准妈妈们提供产科包纸箱,同时新的法案还规定要想得到产科包或者现金,准妈妈们必须在怀孕的第四个月之前去一次医院或者是当地的产前诊所进行检查,”在芬兰社会保障中心工作的海蒂(Heidi Liesivesi)说。


































  “过去婴儿都是和父母睡在同一张床上,但后来有专家建议父母们不要这么做,”赫尔辛基大学的帕努·普尔玛(Panu Pulma)教授说。“将纸箱子作为婴儿床来使用也意味着人们开始抛弃过去那种和宝宝睡在一起的做法。”


















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