It's hard to believe, but Finland once had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. That rate has dropped considerably over the past several decades thanks in part to a government program that supports new moms. And it all started with a box.
In the 1930s, the Finnish government started giving pregnant and new mothers a baby box filled with many things a mom might need for her baby's first year. The box contains tons of supplies including diapers, onesies, a sleeping bag, coats and winter gear, bath supplies, books, toys and a small mattress. The box itself even doubles as a basinet if the need arises.
The baby box is given to every new mother in Finland regardless of age or social status. Finnish moms can choose to forgo the box and receive a cash grant instead — the equivalent of about $180 — but few moms do that because the items in the box are worth so much more.
New Jersey makes its own push
Now this concept is coming to the United States, with the launch of a baby box program in New Jersey. All new mothers or parents of infants younger than 3 months old in the Garden State will get the special box as of Jan. 26, 2017, according to Quartz. Other cities have started municipal programs, but this is the first statewide launch. The free box, which contains about $150 worth of goods, is the work of a partnership between New Jersey and the Baby Box Co. and it's funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As in Finland, the box isn't just a free giveaway; it's an opportunity to get pregnant moms and partners educated before the birth. In Finland, women must visit their doctor for prenatal care before their fourth month of pregnancy, ensuring that mothers are checking in for prenatal care early in their pregnancies. Experts credit those benefits with helping to support new moms and babies and help Finland drastically lower their infant mortality rate.
In New Jersey, parents must register at babyboxuniversity.com and include a valid contact information and New Jersey mailing address. They must watch a short program and take a quiz about parenting and pregnancy before getting the box.
And it can't come soon enough. Considering the U.S.'s economic might, it's stunning to realize that there are roughly 6 deaths per 1,000 live births, putting it much lower on this 2015 mortality rate list of countries around the globe than you might expect.
But if Finland's improvement is any indication, New Jersey may be on the path to changing those statistics.
This story was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated with more recent information.