Friday, June 7, 2013

Baby In A Box

One thing you notice after looking at the news a while is that stories have a way of meandering around the various outlets. Not everything's going to get front-page blanket attention by everyone under the sun, but even the smaller stories- sometimes little more than factoids- get passed around a while. The news version of a retweet, basically.

You know that already. I just need a setup.

Anyway, this is one thing currently making that meander, as there's no real anniversary going (although it is 75 years at this point) and no particular reason this comes up now. It's just a thing someone noticed- it looks like this chain originated with Helena Lee of the BBC- and which has made its way around the past few days, and now comes here. What's being passed around... is a box. See, Finland has had a tradition going since 1938 that the government will provide every pregnant mother, regardless of background, a gender-neutral baby starter kit, containing things a new mother needs to get through the first stretch of time- the exact contents change with the times, but it's currently things like clothes, winter clothes, toiletries, a towel, bra pads, a teething toy, even a picture book (no formula or bottle, though, so as to encourage breastfeeding). The kit comes in a cardboard box with a little mattress at the bottom, as the box itself can be used as a starter crib. Originally, it was intended just for low-income mothers, but after the war it was expanded to all mothers, sending the message that every child deserves an equal shot in life. All you have to do to get it is to get to a doctor or a pre-natal clinic by your fourth month. (You can also take a grant of 140 euros, but usually mothers take the box because it's worth more. If you have multiple births, you get the money and the box.)

In the 1930's, Finland had an abysmal infant mortality rate- 65 per 1,000, around what Uganda's rate is today- and the box was created as a way to try and bring that rate down. To say the least, it's worked; the rate is now 3.38, 12th best in the world by 2013 estimates. The United States, at 5.9 per 1,000, ranks 53rd, and part of the reason this is getting passed around is that American commenters would like to get the US closer to Finland's number.

Paid parental leave would probably help get the number down too. You know, seeing as the US doesn't have that.

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