Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes (and why English babies don’t)

The Finnish Baby Box

Finland’s expectant mothers are given a box by the state. It contains babygrows, a sleeping bag, outdoor wear, nappies, baby toiletries, bedding, towels and a small mattress. The box you can see in the top left of the picture doubles up as a crib for the baby.

Finnish baby box
The maternity package is a gift from the government and is available to all expectant mothers. I read the full story on the BBC website a few weeks ago when I was pregnant and it made me reflect on the difference between Finnish and English maternity services.

The English Bounty Pack

As an English expectant mother, I was given a voucher by my midwife early in pregnancy entitling me to travel to a high street shop to pick up a plastic bag full of junk mail called a Bounty Pack.

The garish plastic envelope and most of its contents went straight into the bin after removing the free samples. The best of the so-called bounty is:

  • A tiny pot of Sudocrem, suitable for losing straight away
  • A single Pampers nappy, presumably a ceremonial nappy
  • A trial pack of baby wipes, the sort of wipes that midwives advise against using
  • Two joyless decaffeinated tea bags

The Bounty bag itself does not become the baby’s first bed because babies do not sleep in large plastic envelopes. Each leaflet offers a fresh message of fear falling into one of two categories  – ‘buy this or you will suffer’ or ‘buy this or your baby will suffer’. To avoid a baby with a sore red bottom, a low IQ and a birth defect, you should drink decaffeinated tea, buy Sudocrem and pump breast milk. To avoid passing out in labour or pregnancy, you really ought to commit to a weekly delivery of snack boxes.

The Secret Purpose

The difference between the Finnish baby box and the Bounty Pack is not limited to the contents. According to the BBC story the Finnish box has a secret purpose:

” …in order to get the grant, or maternity box, they [pregnant women] had to visit a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy,” says Heidi Liesivesi, who works at Kela – the Social Insurance Institution of Finland. So the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, but it also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland’s nascent welfare state.

Wow – how clever! You get the box but you also develop a relationship with doctors and nurses who can help you.

A Not So Secret Purpose

Back to my experience. In order to get the Bounty Pack, you have to visit Asda or Superdrug to collect it. Unlike the Finnish baby box, the Bounty Pack provides nothing mothers need to look after their baby. Instead, it steers them into the arms of Superdrug or Asda. The contents of the bag invites pregnant women to begin a new relationship with the profit-making companies who pay to advertise in the pack, for example, the snack subscription company Graze Box, the supermarket Ocado and PG Tips. Call me cynical, but I don’t think Graze Box, the supermarket Ocado or PG Tips are concerned about the health and the wellbeing of new families. The not so secret purpose of the Bounty Pack is to make a profit; a profit from pregnancy.

How it Makes You Feel

So how do Finnish and English parents feel about their experiences? The BBC story features the experience of Mark Bosworth, a Finnish father. He says:

My partner Milla and I were living in London when we had our first child, Jasper, so we weren’t eligible for a free box. But Milla’s parents didn’t want us to miss out, so they bought one and put it in the post. We couldn’t wait to get the lid off. There were all the clothes you would expect, with the addition of a snowsuit for Finland’s icy winters. And then the box itself. I had never considered putting my baby to sleep in a cardboard box, but if it’s good enough for the majority of Finns, then why not? Jasper slept in it – as you might expect – like a baby.

We now live in Helsinki and have just had our second child, Annika. She did get a free box from the Finnish state. This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life. And now when I visit friends with young children it’s nice to see we share some common things. It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together.

My experience as an English mother is this:

My midwife gave me a voucher to collect my free Bounty Pack. We were looking forward to collecting our goodies. We went to Superdrug to collect it but unfortunately they hadn’t got any in stock. So my partner called in at the big Asda on the way back home from work. He presented the voucher at the customer service desk at Asda only to be told that the pharmacy closed at 7pm so he came away empty-handed. We eventually got a pack from Superdrug.

We couldn’t wait to open it. We tipped out the contents but were disappointed to discover we had brought a bag of junk mail into the house. The marketing messages made us feel ill prepared for the arrival of our new baby. And then the plastic bag itself.  We never considered putting our baby to sleep in a plastic bag. Instead, we put it the bag into the normal bin and we put all the leaflets into the recycling bin.

The Bounty Pack made us feel like consumers. It strengthened the feeling that we are simply new opportunities to sell to, not new parents who need help and support. The Bounty Pack brings bounty for the business called Bounty and its commercial partners. The pack brings no bounty for a  new family.

Which is better? The Finnish or English approach?

It depends on the purpose of maternity services. If the purpose is to help expectant parents prepare for the arrival of a new baby, the Finnish model is better. Not only do parents get practical items they can actually use in the short-term, they get a bigger prize; the confidence that the state, as Mark says, cares about them and wants their baby to have the best start in life.

If the purpose of maternity services is to make a profit, the English model is better. According to Glasgow GP Margaret McCartney’s blog, the NHS and some royal colleges make large profits by selling commercial advertisers access to pregnant women through the Bounty Pack. Profits before people and profits before pregnancy. Not the best start in life.

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The story of public services in 7 slogans

1. It’s your fault

improving behaviour changing outcomes

A Department of Health slogan

It’s your fault that we are in this mess. You are too fat, too old and you expect too much from public services. Because you are selfishly getting older, lazier and fatter, you are getting more health problems that last longer. Not content with pestering your GP for an appointment, you insist on going to A&E when you could have called 111 or gone online.  You need to change your attitude and change your behaviour to improve our outcomes. If you must get ill, choose one condition and give us plenty of notice. Whatever you do, don’t turn up with a mixture of things such as a heart problem, obesity, drug dependency and loneliness. Remember, one thing at a time. It’s not that hard.

2. There’s no money left

No money left

The note Liam Byrne left for George Osborne

The government has no money left because you spent it all on flat screen TVs and holidays. They’ll be even less money in future as you gobble it up with your self-inflicted health problems, your inability to stick to one named illness and your unrealistic expectations. Because there’s no money left, we have to ration and cut services.

3. So we have to privatize

Balfour council partnership

A donkey and a tiger working in partnership

We have no choice but to privatize everything because there is hardly any money left and the private sector is more efficient. Only profit-making organisations can be trusted to run public services. You might not like it but remember, it’s your fault. We wouldn’t have to do this if you’d kept the weight off and been happy with your old television.

4. Public services will have to compete

best in careOnly the best public sector organsiations will survive. Competition will weed out essential services that the private sector can’t make a profit from. If you rely on an unprofitable public service, unlucky for you. You might want to consider a hip operation or minor surgery instead. Whatever you do, make sure your needs can be easily categorised and parcelled up. This is not the time to be a complex human being and whatever you do, stick to one named condition.

If you have been a victim of crime, remember that crimes come in categories. The category determines the response. Anything outside the category does not exist. For this reason, you might choose to report a category instead of reporting what actually happened. It will save time in the long run.

You can find out which are the best hospitals and police forces to visit by reading their logos and other promotional material. Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, for example, delivers the best in care. Compare this to Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital. Their logo is ‘where everyone matters’. Would you rather matter or have the best in care? You decide.

5. You can choose where you go

choose ST

Out of how many hospitals in South Tyneside?

Just like choosing between B&M Bargains and Home Bargains, you can choose between public services. Browse comparison sites and reviews, written by members of the public, to decide which A&E to attend when you crack your head open and which fire service to ring when your curtains go up in flames. You can also analyse and compare performance data and league tables in the evenings and at weekends. If you can a) afford to travel b) have the skills to go online c) understand how to work the system and d) have plenty of spare time during the day to attend appointments at unpopular times, you will get a better and quicker service. It also helps if you are articulate, middle class and in good health.

6. Or you can look after yourself

self care

Another helpful bit of advice

Instead of relying on public services for help, you can treat yourself quickly and efficiently at home. Your first port of call should be using over the counter medications for health problems. If it’s more urgent you should see your GP. If you can’t get an appointment with your GP then you can ring 111. When you ring 111, a 19-year-old will ask you a series of questions very slowly and send you to your GP,  A&E or suggest you go online. Remember to have your doctor’s postcode handy because this is an essential part of your treatment.

Don’t be deterred if it feels like you are being passed from pillar to post. If you see your GP multiple times and ring the surgery to chase up referrals, test results and prescriptions, you have more chance of being helped. If that doesn’t work, turn up at A&E because at least you will be seen even if you have to wait all day. After all, a predictable 3 hours 58 minutes at A&E is nothing compared to a stressful 4 visits to the GP, 7 phone calls and an unecessary 2 night hospital stay.

7. Or go online

access online

Get your bin emptied online. Access our handy app to find out why your mum isn’t eligible for a care home place

It’s often easier to go online, even in an emergency. You can find the solution to most problems online. Anyone, except everyone who can’t, can go online at home or in the library. Mobile apps are particularly useful to access services on the move.  You can go online to find out which services are the best and rate them after you have used them. If you can’t find what you need online, there’s usually a number to ring.  Don’t be surprised if you are told to go online when you ring the number. If you can’t find what you need online, ring the number again and use different words to describe what you need. If you are told to go online for a second time instead of getting help, go straight to the A&E or police station of your choice. You might be wasting their time but so what? They deserve it.

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Added fat cheddar and vitamins removed

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