Could Nordic healthcare and welfare systems be any more thoughtful and innovative?
In Finland, the government provides every expectant mother with a box of supplies that doubles as a crib. While the 75-year-old tradition sounds like a ploy to treat babies like American Girl Dolls, it’s actually a display of the state's commitment to equality of opportunity — and a safe place for newborns to spend their first few nights.
Canadian researchers announced a baby-box pilot study for moms-to-be in Alberta. And San Antonio's University Hospital recently started giving out the boxes to new mothers. Will the U.S. ever roll-out a nation-wide program?
Finland's social security agency, called Kela, presents expectant mothers with a "maternity package." The cardboard box is stocked with supplies including newborn-care necessities like thermometers and diaper cream, all sorts of gender-neutral clothing (knitted overalls!), cold-weather accessories, a book, a toy and even bra pads and condoms — you know, for all that post-episiotomy sex. Additionally, the box comes doubles as a crib, complete with a tiny mattress pad and linens. Most Finnish babies spend their first nights in the box, a rite of passage that cuts across income lines.
The state started furnishing baby boxes in 1938 as a way to incentivize better prenatal care among low-income women. While Finland now has a very low infant mortality rate (less than 10 deaths per 1000), that wasn’t the case during the depression era, when 65 out of every 1,000 infants died.
"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 prenatal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy," Heidi Liesivesi, an employee at the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, told the BBC.
In its 75-year-history, the box has become more than a means of improving maternal health outcomes. Boxes are cultural keepsakes and time capsules, as the design changes slightly each year. And they’re instructive resources for new parents learning the ropes of childcare.
Would America embrace the box? Well, despite the presidential campaign of a certain democratic socialist, America doesn’t love one-for-all, uniform treatment.
U.S. hospitals do give supplies to new mothers, including diapers, pacifiers and those striped baby blankets that all newborns sport on social media. While most hospitals used to send moms home with formula, many have cut down on the controversial practice in an effort to promote breastfeeding.
Still, there's a difference between individual hospitals handing out pacifiers and a federal welfare agency doing it. What new moms in the U.S. receive varies by state and hospital. While mothers (particularly single mothers) have more access to subsidized health and hygiene products than most other populations, governmental gifts don’t come in a neatly packaged box. As with so many topics in the U.S., the hospital-gifting discussion highlights the degree to which socioeconomic level matters, from the cradle to the grave.
Plus, as state services go, baby boxes are sweet as shit.