HELSINKI, Finland, June 4 (UPI) -- A simple cardboard box reduced the number of Finnish newborn deaths, increased pre-natal care for mothers-to-be and encouraged breastfeeding, officials say.
Mika Gissler, a professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, said in the 1930s Finland was a poor country and infant mortality was high -- 65 out of 1,000 babies died -- the BBC reported. Today, Finland's infant mortality rate is 3.4 deaths per 1,000 births -- half of the rate in the United States.
Seventy-five years ago, the baby box was given to low-income Finnish parents. Many in Finland had no bed for a baby and they placed the infant in the same bed as the parents. Health officials have long warned parents not to place their infants in adult beds because it can put babies at risk of suffocation or falling in between the headboard and the mattress.
The box also contained crib sheets, blankets, diapers and fabric for mothers to sew clothing for the new baby. A complete snowsuit, booties, hat and mittens were later included.
In 1949, the baby box became a gift from the Finnish government to all new parents if the mother-to-be visited a doctor before her fourth month of pregnancy. Many ready-made clothes were also added. Later a teething toy and a picture book were included.
Disposable diapers later became part of the package, and later still, they were replaced with cloth diapers because they were considered less of a burden on the environment. At first baby bottles were included, later the bottles were removed to encourage breastfeeding.
At first, Finnish mothers looked forward to getting their "maternity pack," because it provided many things a baby needed that they might not have been able to afford. During the Depression two-thirds of Finnish mothers qualified as low income.
Later, the baby box provided everything a baby needed the first year and mothers -- who were often working full-time -- not only appreciated the free items, they appreciated the time they saved from having to comparison shop for the baby items.
Today, Finland ranks as the best place in the world to be a mother based on five indicators: maternal health; the mortality rate of children age 5 and under; number of years of formal schooling a woman receives; gross national income per capita; and the participation of women in national government. The United States ranked 30th. Finnish students rank No. 1 in the world in both mathematics and sciences despite having fewer school hours and no standardized tests.
Panu Pulma, a professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki, said the box is a symbol -- a symbol of equality and of the importance of children -- that children are a priority to the government and the taxpayers.
One mother told the BBC, the maternity packs were still something all pregnant women anticipated not only to see what the box contained -- each year's maternity pack was slightly different -- but because each child began his or her life with an equally good start.