Since 1949, Finland’s baby box program has provided new parents with parenting essentials. It continues to inspire similar programs worldwide.
The Finnish maternity grant, colloquially known as the “baby box”, is one of the most enduring Finnish social innovations. Since 1949, the Finnish Government has provided expectant parents with a box containing the basic essentials for raising a baby. The boxes had their origin in a 1922 volunteer initiative to reduce infant mortality, and over time, they have become symbolic of Finland’s effort to combat social inequality, and of the belief that all children—regardless of family circumstances—should have the same start in life.
Parents can opt to take the maternity grant as a fixed sum of money, but nearly two-thirds choose the box. It comes packed with basic necessities like clothing, bibs, hygiene products, and blankets. The box itself doubles as a baby bed (when fitted with the included foam mattress). Finally, it encourages expectant parents to access educational and health information—a prerequisite for receiving the box.
There are other eligibility requirements: a recipient must be over five months pregnant, have had a medical exam before their fourth month of pregnancy, and be covered by the Finnish social security scheme. According to the Kela, the Finnish Government’s social insurance agency, the 2023 baby box will include 38 mostly unbranded products (12 less than last year – due to the rising cost of products) and for the first time, the congratulatory letter outlining parental benefits will be available in the Sami languages, as will the included children’s book.
Some Australian state governments have pursued similar schemes—both New South Wales and Victoria have provided “baby bundles” to new parents since 2019—but no unified, federal scheme exists. Other countries have also implemented similar policies: Scotland launched a pilot baby box scheme in 2017, which has expanded to all Scotland. Similar publicly-funded initiatives have been launched in parts of Canada, India and South Africa, often with the aim of reducing infant mortality rates in areas of relatively low socioeconomic status.
Reid and Swann stress the need for critical and cultural sensitivity when transplanting the Finnish concept to other contexts: “appropriation of a significant cultural and social tool for infant health and wellbeing risks the material object—the box and its contents—being used to develop western, normative parenting practices whilst maintaining power relations.” They point to the example of Zambia, where the “chitenge”—a multipurpose garment—demonstrates a local solution that is a more appropriate alternative to the baby box.
Closer to home, the Wahakura is a woven flax basket used as a traditional infant sleeping place in New Zealand, inspired by the Porakaraka cradles used in Maori families. A six-year pilot program has distributed similar baskets—made of plastic, rather than flax, and referred to as “Pēpi Pods”—to Maori and Pacific communities. Research has found the initiative helped encourage safer infant sleeping while also utilising culturally familiar crafts and materials.
There have been calls to introduce similar programs in Australia—most notably in Queensland, where Pēpi Pods are provided to babies with weakened breathing responses. At its core, the Finnish baby box is both symbolic and practical–upholding the principle of equality, while providing basic essentials and encouraging parents to access antenatal services.
 Nasi and Koskenvuo (2022) The Finnish baby box; From a volunteer initiative to a renowned social security benefit, in Successful Public Policy in the Nordic Countries—Cases, Lessons, Challenges, Oxford University Press
 Info Finland (2022) Support during pregnancy, https://www.infofinland.fi/en/family/financial-support-for-families/support-during-pregnancy#heading-d0efe4b4-110b-4f10-8836-1e228ba874cf
 YLE News (2022), Shrinkflation hits Finland’s baby box, https://yle.fi/a/74-20008446
 NSW Health (n.d.) Baby bundle, https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/kidsfamilies/MCFhealth/child/Pages/baby-bundle.aspx
 Victorian Department of Health (n.d.) Baby bundle, https://www.health.vic.gov.au/maternal-child-health/baby-bundle
 BBC (2017) Scottish baby box pilot scheme launched, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-38470905
 NHS (2023) Ready Steady Baby!, https://www.nhsinform.scot/ready-steady-baby/pregnancy/preparing-for-parenthood/baby-box
 Reid and Swann (2019) Decolonising the Finnish Baby Box: A sociomaterial approach to designing interventions for infant and maternal health and well-being in Zambia, in Journal of Early Childhood Education Research 8(2):312-331
 Watson and Reid (2021), Material Appropriation for Infant Mortality Reduction in Journal of Material Culture, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/13591835211049042
 Queensland Children’s Health (2022) Queensland Pēpi-Pod program, https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/pepi-pod-about-the-program-and-who-is-it-for.pdf
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