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.
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.
- 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.