The first maternity packages (baby boxes) in Finland were distributed in 1938. The Maternity Grants Act had been passed the year before. The maternity package was hoped to reduce the high rate of infant mortality, increase nativity and relieve poverty among families with children.
The monetary value of the maternity package was 450 Finnish markka, which at the time corresponded to one third of the monthly salary of an industrial worker. The value in today's currency would, according to the money value converter of the Bank of Finland Museum, be about 155 euros. At first, the benefit was only given to mothers of lesser means.
There were originally three different maternity packages: one with products for the baby, one with products for the mother and one with products for both the mother and the baby. It was up to the municipal social welfare board to decide which type of package that would benefit each family the most. In order to get the benefit, the mother was required to undergo a medical examination before the baby was born.
Shortages during the war
During the first few decades, the maternity package used to contain fabrics for baby clothes as clothes were then usually made at home. During the war years of the 1940's, fabrics were reserved for the Defence Forces and the textile products in the maternity package were replaced by products made of paper. One of the substitute materials used was regenerated cellulose fibre. Despite the shortages, the government wanted to continue providing the benefit, as it was a much needed help and support for many families.
In 1949, the right to receive a maternity package was extended to all mothers resident in Finland and, at the same time, the requirement for receiving the package was tied even more closely to healthcare. In order to qualify for the package, the mother had to see a doctor or a midwife or visit a maternity clinic before the end of the fourth month of pregnancy.
The maternity package has reduced infant mortality and almost certainly also improved public health in Finland. Finland has long had one of the lowest levels of infant and maternal mortality in the world.
The maternity package reflects the past and the present
Industrialisation and the improved standard of living are reflected in the maternity package. Since 1957, all the clothes in the package have been ready-made. In 1969, disposable nappies were first included in the package, but 40 years later, in 2009, they were, for environmental reasons, replaced by reusable nappies.
The maternity package of the 2000’s still reflects old traditions as well as the present. The content of the package is to a certain extent renewed every year based on response from the recipients. The colours of the clothes are, for example, nowadays neutral and suitable for all babies regardless of gender.
The basic concept behind the package has remained the same ever since the beginning; supporting newborn babies and their families during the babies’ first months.
7 facts about the maternity package:
- One product has been part of the maternity package from the very beginning: the gauze nappy.
- For a long time, the textiles in the maternity package were white. Colours were introduced in the 1970's.
- In 1968, the duvet was replaced by a sleeping bag.
- The frilly bibs that protected the baby's clothes from splashes and spills were removed from the package in the 1970's, when washing machines became common.
- In 1990, bodysuits were introduced.
- In 1990, adoptive families obtained the right to a maternity package.
- In 1994, the administration of the maternity package was transferred to Kela. Until then, it had been administered by the National Board of Social Welfare (currently the National Institute of Health and Welfare) and the Government Purchasing Centre.
Päivi Okko. Kapalosta bodyyn. Tutkimus äitiyspakkauksen sisältämistä vaatteista ja tekstiileistä 1938–1997. 1998.
Piia Bogdanoff ja Ulla Hämäläinen. Bodyt, potkarit ja perhevapaat. Äitiyspakkauskyselyn tuloksia. 2011.
Ville Hänninen, Juri Nummelin ja Elina Teerijoki. Retrovauvat. Suomalaista lasten historiaa. 2008.