10 Jun

Baby Boxes or Tickboxes?

This lovely article was all over twitter on Tuesday Why Finnish Babies Sleep In Boxes:

For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.

The box contains baby clothes, breastpads, nappies and other essentials for the first few weeks, and comes with a mattress that fits in the bottom so it can be used as a crib. A graphic in the article shows the dramatic drop in the infant mortality rate since the box was introduced in 1938, attributed to, amongst other things, the decreased rate of unsafe bedsharing* and increased rate of breastfeeding that the box has helped bring about. 99% of Finnish mothers initiate breastfeeding, compared with 81% in the UK. While these are quantifiable factors that are known to have positive health outcomes, the underlying message to parents that they and their offspring are valued and important must surely also have some impact on early parenting.

Compare this with the pitiful situation here in the UK. Our equivalent state-sponsored freebies come from an organisation called Bounty, which promises free samples in return for your personal details, and then inundates you with adverts and misinformation in the form of a chatty little booklet called Emma’s Diary. New parents receive a small sample of nappy cream, one nappy, and a sachet of detergent (or something similar). The government pays Bounty £90,000 per year to distribute the freely-available Child Benefit Form in amongst all the adverts. Bounty reps collect new parents’ personal data and sell it on to other advertisers.**

What message does this send, in contrast to the Finnish government’s warm welcome to new babies? That mothers and babies are only worth their economic value. That they should be encouraged to buy the nappies and creams and household products that appear to have government, and by reason of being brought to you at your hospital bedside, NHS-approval. That love for your newborn baby can be measured by your willingness to buy a photograph from a stranger. That parents must hurry back to work in order to keep the economy afloat, and can do so thanks to lowering the standards of nursery care but probably not the cost.

The social impact of the Finnish baby box undoubtedly goes beyond impressive breastfeeding rates to make parents feel cared for:

This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life.

Both giveaways are aimed at improving outcomes by bringing families into contact with health services. It would be interesting to compare the social return on investment in Bounty Packs, taking account of their negative messages about birth and breastfeeding, with the investment in a few articles of baby clothing and a nice blanket.

*That is, sharing a bed in unsafe conditions; not bedsharing per se.
**The petition against Bounty reps on maternity wards is here.

Further Reading
Come for the box, stay for the life saving services
Alice Roberts: Why are Bounty reps allowed on maternity wards?
Profits from pregnancy: how trusted organisations sell out women to commercial interests