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Since 1938, Finland has issued a maternity pack to expectant mothers that includes clothes, sheets, and toys, and for many newborns, the box it all comes in is their first bed. The tradition is now “an established part of the Finnish rite of passage towards motherhood, uniting generations of women.” The box, says Panu Pulma, professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki, has become “a symbol of the idea of equality, and of the importance of children.”

To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in 1949.

“Not only was it offered to all mothers-to-be but new legislation meant in order to get the grant, or maternity box, they 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.

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