Becoming a new parent is surely exciting, not just for the parents-to-be, but also for everyone involved. Oh, and also the internet, if you decide to track your pregnancy in pictures and costumes like this young lady did.

However, kicking off parenthood also comes with its own challenges, like getting all of the necessary baby items and learning all of the proper methods of taking care of a baby before he or she actually arrives. And that is in addition to the physical challenges that mothers have to go through while pregnant.

Well, Finland’s government has kicked off a maternity package program that attempts, among many other things, to alleviate some of the stresses of becoming a parent.

The government of Finland has been providing new moms with baby starter packs since 1938

Image credits: Roni Rekomaa / AP

The maternity package, or the baby box, as it is colloquially referred to in many parts of the world, is a kit for new parents that contains all of the essentials that the baby will need during his first year on Earth. Bored Panda has reached out to Heikki Tiittanen, one of the founders of the Finnish Baby Box, the producer and distributor of baby boxes beyond Finland, to elaborate on this idea.

The state-issued maternity package contains a vast number of baby clothes as well as care products and materials. Among all of the clothing, there’s a snowsuit that doubles as a sleeping bag, lightweight overalls, caps and balaclavas, onesies and jumpsuits, tights, mittens, and socks, all of varying sizes to compensate for the baby’s rapid growth throughout the year.

The contents also include a separate sleeping bag and blanket, bedding and linen, pocket nappy, towel, feeding and drooling bib, a child’s first book, and a cuddly toy that doubles as a comfort blanket.

There are even personal care products for mothers, like bra pads, nail scissors, a toothbrush, a digital thermometer, talcum powder, nipple cream, condoms, lubricant, sanitary towels, a bath thermometer, and a hairbrush.

Best of all, the box that all of the environmentally-friendly baby essentials come in doubles as a bed lined with a cushion for comfort. This amounts to a total of around 60 items, which are updated yearly based on client feedback.

The idea was initially launched in response to declining birth rates and increasing infant death counts

Image credits: Kela

We’ve asked what inspired the Finnish Baby Box to bring this baby starter pack to the rest of the world: “Probably not surprising, but the inspiration to create the Finnish Baby Box was simply our own experience when expecting our first babies. We received the baby box provided by the Finnish government and felt such great relief. Especially to me, as a soon-to-be-father seeing all the baby clothing and accessories on our floor was truly the moment when I realized that there will be a baby moving in shortly.”

He continued: “Mothers experience the baby every day, but for fathers, there is no similar experience when expecting. The baby box somehow made it so much more real for me. Also, as first-time parents, we didn’t have a clue what was needed for the baby. It helped us tremendously to get a starter pack with everything useful and necessary already in it. We truly felt that we were much better prepared for the baby—both mentally and materially.”

Back in 1937, the Finnish government enacted the Maternity Grants Act in response to declining birth rates and increasing infant mortality. The act guaranteed financial and material aid to low-income mothers, either in the form of money or the maternity package. A bit over 10 years later, the benefit was expanded to include all new mothers.

Each kit comes with all of the essentials for the baby’s first year: clothing, care products, materials and toys

Image credits: Kela

The idea of the baby box has been around in Finland for over 80 now, but other countries have only now started adopting it, and most in limited capacities. Tiittanen explains: “Unfortunately, the reason is money. The baby box program, including a full set of essential baby products, is not cheap to provide and, therefore, the idea has not been realized in most of the countries.”

He continues: “However, now that many countries are seeing their birth rates dropping, interest towards supporting families with young children has definitely increased. In some countries, it is actually not a state level, but a municipality level thing, which is much more independent and agile enough to start these types of programs. We, for example, help municipalities and other organizations run their own baby box programs. I believe that these types of smaller-scale and localized endeavors will become more common in the coming years.”

Alternatively, instead of getting the baby box, new moms can also go for a €170 government grant

Image credits: Kela

According to Kela, around 60,000 maternity grants are given out each year, with about 40,000 being in the form of a maternity package. The remaining third choose the tax-free cash benefit, which currently amounts to €170 (almost $185 US dollars). Finland is currently one of the top countries that has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world with only 2.5 infant deaths per 1,000 births. In context, this number is at 5.7 in the US, 4.5 in Canada, and 4.2 in the United Kingdom. The world average infant mortality rate is 49.

“For us, the biggest advantage of the baby box is that it addresses the issue on a mental level,” elaborated Tiittanen. “Receiving a curated starter pack of useful baby items made us feel much better prepared for the baby and significantly reduced the stress level for both of us as parents. Also, opening up the baby box together with my wife was one of the most memorable moments in my life. I don’t cry often, but that really made me emotional and I felt much more connected to the whole process of becoming a father.”

Kela distributes over 40,000 maternity packages every year

Image credits: Kela

Several commercial baby box companies came under fire some time ago for a lack of proper health and safety certification standards. Besides that, they were seen as attempting to incorporate the concept of the baby box in countries that have different social welfare systems, while the original maternity package offered by the Finnish government is provided as an inherent part of the nation’s social welfare system and should be taken advantage of within its context.

While Finland is the pioneer of the baby box and has been providing its citizens with this service for over 80 years now, a number of other countries have started following in its footsteps. Parts of Australia, Scotland, and the US, as well as the earliest adopter in this list, Argentina, have all come out with their own version of the government-funded maternity package.

Since the maternity package changed over the years, we’ve asked the founder of the Finnish Baby Box what changes could we possibly expect in later editions, and he answered with an interesting concept: “The contents of the government-issued box in Finland have changed quite drastically during the years. After the wars, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the box only included a set of fabrics as most people still sewed their own clothing. So, maybe we could go a little bit back to this with a set of fabric and instructions to sew at least one piece of clothing yourself.”

The 2019 edition of the maternity package provided by Kela contains 63 items, which you can see in this video

Image credits: Kela

Lastly, we’ve asked about the greatest challenges in making these baby boxes, to which Tiittanen replied: “We believe in our Scandinavian roots, so the designs are always simple, colorful and playful. We also wanted to keep the original Finnish idea of gender-neutrality, so we don’t provide separate boxes for girls and boys. For us, working with the entire world, the challenge has been the different climate conditions around the globe. This we have, however, steadily tackled during the years and, nowadays, the content is always customized for the baby based on the climate as well as the due date information.”

What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below!