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A Layette from the Government? 


One of my twitter friends passed along a link to an article in The Atlantic about Finland's "Baby Box" and I was fascinated. Apparently new parents can choose either to receive a box of baby goods from the government or a cash grant of 140 Euros. The box, however, is seen as the better deal. The full contents of the box can be seen on the page announcing the 2011 maternity package. It includes:

  • outfits in different sizes, shoes, gloves, hats and a winter suit

  • toiletries

  • cloth diapers

  • a sleeping bag

  • toys and books

  • nursing pads

  • condoms ...only 6 of them though!

  • the box itself which, along with a mattress and bedding that is provided, doubles as a bed for the newborn as needed for the first few months

I have to admit that I'm impressed. This seems like a measure that would help ensure that all newborns have the essentials that they need to get a good start in life. But I'm sure others will see it as "rampant, baby-coddling, anti-capitalism" (not sure if that was intended to be tongue-in-cheek or an entirely serious comment, but either way I'm sure someone thinks that).

Anyone notice what is NOT in the box? That's right, the exact thing that the government hands out to low-income mothers in the United States -- infant formula and bottles.

To think, I was impressed when the Quebec government gave me a free copy of their book From Tiny Tot to Toddler, which is updated each year and is almost as good as the Dr. Sears Baby Book (and I would argue better than What to Expect...).

What do you think? Is a state-sponsored universal baby shower a great way to get families off on the right foot or too much of a "nanny state"?
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Reader Comments (38)

LOVE this. I'd argue that it's even less like a nanny state than here. After all, here the government pushes the acceptance of a particular form of child-rearing (formula vs. breastfeeding) by giving free formula and making it easy. They could provide free lactation consultants, but they choose not to because, whether for outdated medical reasons, ideological concepts that I can't fathom, or just really good lobbying by formula companies, this is the path they've chosen to offer to new moms.

With the Finland basket I'd say the stuff inside is more universally usable no matter what the parents' personal views on child-rearing might be (other than maybe the condoms). It doesn't feel as though the government is attempting to voice a particular course of action over another.

Am I making any sense? :)

I think this is great. Just the right amount of "nanny state" in my opinion!

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara in NZ

Plus because the government buys wholesale it costs less than each family purchasing this stuff. The well being of children (and their development into competent adults) is a societal concern, I'm all for supporting families.

In the US there is a lot of opposition to programs like these, and I think racism is a huge factor. Racists are concerned that if the government provides support it would help people of color succeed. White people have a lot of privilege, so the support isn't needed as badly. (I'm not saying there aren't white families in the US who need support and help, just that poverty disproportionately affects minorities).

Oh yes, you also have the latest rhetoric: any government support of families diminishes the support men are required to provide their families, which results in fewer 2 parent families and destroys the concept of the American Man. Combined with women working and feminism, gender norms are changed and society will collapse. END SNARK.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

Meg --> YES. Beautifully articulated.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersharah

I think that this is fantastic. I don't think that this is a 'nanny state' thing. I think that this says to the citizens of Finland that children aren't a luxury (which is what the tax structure says about children in North America), they are an essential part of a functioning society and economy and families that will bear the burden of providing the benefit of children to society should be supported.

I also noticed that for multiple births, the grant increases on an exponential scale. So, twins get 3 grants and triplets get 6 grants. Which I suppose means that if you are having twins, you can ask for two packages and one grant in cash so that you can purchase the extra and/or larger equipment that twins need such as an extra carseat and a larger stroller.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTina

That looks awesome! And I bet the contents could be easily subsidized by the makers similar to how the formula bags are in the U.S.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I love the idea and HELLO USA take note you suck at truly helping families. I really believe that the USA sets itself up to have more and more on assistance by not helping families the real way they should help. Many countries have classes on teaching families how to grow food, cook meals, manage finances, as well as how to watch their energy consumption. Sure we have these classes but many of them cost and they are not a requirement to take before you can get assistance.

I was recently moved from a midwife center to a OB center for my "high risk" pregnancy care and they gave me a "New Mom's Breastfeeding Gift Bag". I mentioned to the nurse how I found it ridiculous that a breastfeeding bag included tons of formula coupons and only two tiny bottles for storing milk. I mentioned that I felt is was setting moms up for failure by providing formula instead of perhaps a hand pump and a booklet on breastfeeding and information on where to turn locally for help. Her reaction and response confirmed for me that they get something for promoting this brand of formula.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlaina Frederick

I love my copy of From Tiny Tot to Toddler! I got it from my midwife and it has been hands-down the best reference book I've found. I also love that they give me phone numbers for local resources and the coupons aren't unappreciated. ;)

I think it is another example of government doing something people ought to be doing themselves-we should be donating baby clothes and blankets to people who need them, not paying more tax dollars so the government can.
I think when charity becomes perceived as the job of the government, individual people are less likely to view it as their job as well.
Both my Grandmas sew blankets and baby hats to donate to the local hospital, and I'm starting to do the same. I really do believe neighbors should be helping neighbors, and I'm trying to practice what I preach!

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCrunchy Con Mommy

I don't care about the money spent on the program, but if someone is not going to use all of the products in the package...it would seem wasteful.

I'm confused about the wording of your statement "the government hands out to low income mothers in the United States-infant formula and bottles". Are you talking about the WIC ? The WIC program does have programs in place to support breastfeeding moms.

As far as the comment about having classes about gardening etc., I know we have some of these programs administered at the state level.

As far as the last statement by Meg....I think there are a lot of complex issues in how our government programs work. Perhaps this is less common than it once was(I think some laws have changed), but some women would rather have the government be solely responsible for any extra financial support for the baby instead of turning to the father. In some situations the father expects that the woman will turn to government programs first, before expecting him to contribute. While I don't think the government programs cause these dynamics..they do exist.

From what I understand the WIC program does provide more benefits to women who breastfeed and you can get assistance with getting a breast pump.

Alaina...so are you saying receiving assistance should be conditional on taking certain sorts of classes?

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Not everyone has the time or resources to that kind of thing. That's where government assistance comes in. Besides, if we leave it up to individuals a lot of people will still opt out of helping for a number of reasons. The only way to ensure the most people see the most benefit is thru an organization as large as the government.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I love this. I don't think any of it would go to waste as there is nothing disposable there so unused (or used) stuff could all be passed along. Cloth diapers and wraps! Nipple cream. Maybe if the US gave those out at the hospital instead of disposable diapers and formula I wouldn't have gotten such odd looks when changed our babies. We were fortunate to find a daycare willing (if a bit whiny :) to use our cloth diapers.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicol

What you don't know: I don't have cable or a dishwasher and haven't bought myself new shoes in 3 years (except a pair of $2 flipflops I bought last weekend).
It's about priorities; the only people who really don't have the resources to help others are the ones the rest of us ought to be helping.

Would there always be jerks in the world? Of course. But if everyone viewed it as their responsibility to help their neighbors, and everyone other than the occasional jerk actually did so, I really think almost everyone would receive the help they need.
And I'm not at all opposed to charitable organizations-I think non-profits are an excellent way to take advantage of bulk discounts etc. But I absolutely disagree that it is any business of the government to do charity.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCrunchy Con Mommy

My comment wasn't a judgement on what you give up or don't to be able to donate, and judging others won't make them magically be able and/or willing to give. The great thing about something like this being run through the government is that everyone contributes without judgement.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I mostly agree with Crunchy Con, though I'm not as gracious. I don't have a problem with the layette sets at face value. Fine, people need stuff they might should have planned on having before having a kid, OK, give it to them. What I do have a problem with is the mentality expressed in Olivia's comment that reveals just so much excuse-making "not everyone has the time..." to help, etc. so let's have the government do it. Not everyone has the time or the inclination to help, but they are more than happy to take MY money and use it to buy things for someone else? Gee thanks!

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

The WIC program nominally (and really, in some cases) supports breastfeeding, but implementation has great regional variation. And, even in places where the breastfeeding support side of it is good, it does give out piles of free formula, no questions asked (even when that formula is not wanted and was never requested by the mother). Statistically, women who receive WIC benefits are quite a bit less likely to breastfeed than women who are eligible to receive benefits but don't sign up. (Though this might be due at leat in part to women not signing up because they know they're going to breastfeed and don't want/need the free formula; I think it's also probably due in part to the same reasons that women who are sent home from the hospital with bags of free formula breastfeed less.)

In any case, some programs are much better than others, and some individual WIC peer counselors are truly wonderful people, who pass out their cell phone numbers and are available to help low-income families succeed in their breastfeeding goals even on their own time (because problems crop up at night and over the weekend, too)

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCrystal_B

I'd heard about this from a Finnish blog I used to read :) The box the layette comes in doubles as a moses basket/safe sleeping space for the new baby, too :D

I think the 6 condoms are meant to tide you over until your 6-week checkup when you can start hormonal/other birth control ... and it would have been 6 too many at our house!

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCrystal_B

Absolutely. :)

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I'm sure they would be happy to provide bulk purchase discounts.

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Yes, I was talking about WIC.

I know that they do provide some breastfeeding support (to varying degrees in different parts of the country), but I also think that it is perhaps too easy to get free formula.

I'd rather see moms get free products that are universally useful and do not have health risks and then let them buy their own formula if they need or want it.

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I love that the government helps support families in this way. Overall, while the USA purports to be "family friendly" and support family "values," there are many institutional barriers that continue to persist and make the rhetoric rather paradoxical. Current debates are going on about government in health care and mandates, etc, based largely on the idea that some feel it's not gov't place to pay for health care. And yet many of the same folks are trying to prevent access to family planning by making it oral contraception conditional (meaning NOT for actual birth control) to receive insurance coverage and also limiting access to abortions, etc. At the same time, employers are only required to provide job protection for up to 12 weeks for new parents - no pay required. The argument goes, if you can't afford kids, then don't have them. While many employers DO provide paid maternity leave - some miniscule percentage offer the same benefits to fathers.

Having just given birth a few days ago and having the good fortune to work for a company that provides full pay for the full 12 weeks (many offer reduced salaries, or full pay for a portion of the time) not just for mothers but FATHERS also, I am definitely aware of the impact of having to leave my job for any length of time without pay. My husband's employer doesn't provide any paid leave - unless you choose to use your accrued time off. Not only that, but on the 1 week we can afford he take, he still has to log in and work while I am taking care of the baby and our toddler. Exhaustion and stress don't begin to cover it...

On a related side note - I also happen to live in state that says it has a toll free 24 hour breastfeeding hotline. I called on Wednesday evening just after business hours, left a message, and have yet to receive the promised call back as of Saturday morning. So,free formula is readily available should I need it but free breastfeeding support is harder to come by (leaving the hospital with free formula would have been VERY easy). It is said that the overall success of breastfeeding is determined by the first few weeks home - where women don't have ready access to support to overcome challenges that inevitably crop up. I had a crisis and needed advice and yet no one was there to answer the call or follow up. If I were less dedicated, I would have turned to formula.

Bottom line, I don't feel like my government supports families and tends to leave many out on the cold. We DON'T live in a society where neighbors can rely on neighbors to help each other. We are too big, too mobile, and, frankly, most of my neighbors don't give a flying &%#@ about me and my family - it's hard to care about someone you don't know, never meet, and hardly see. There are some things that ONLY government has the resources to accomplish. Crunchy Con Mommy: Talk about disconnected from the reality of a capitalist economy in a highly mobile state with a population size in the hundreds of millions. Seriously - this isn't Little House on the Prairie America anymore.

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrosanne

Hmm... I think boxes like this would be a good idea for low-income families. However, under most circumstances I think parents, not taxpayers, should be responsible for buying these things. Just as I think the government (i.e taxpayers) should not foot the bill to feed children (whether they are breast or bottle fed) unless their family is having major financial difficulties.

Perhaps the government could do something like CHIP in terms of providing a layette. Low-income parents could receive them for free or at a reduced price, depending on their income. And any family could order one at cost.

But no, I would not support giving every family expecting a new baby a free layette or cash. The money to pay for this does not come out of nowhere. Society as a whole pays taxes to cover it. So people who have no or fewer children are forced to clothe other people's kids (even when their parents could). I personally don't feel that's fair.

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElisabeth

That depends how you calculate things. If paying for these boxed results in a higher fertility rate and gives children a good start in life, there will be more taxpayers in 20 years to share the costs of welfare, health care for the elderly, and so on.

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Well yes, as members of society, people with no children do pay for many things for other people's children (health care, education -- I am speaking of and from Canada). I think that's fair considering healthy, educated children will grow up to take care of those childless people through their own taxes (or even directly taking care of them, perhaps in retirement or nursing homes). Plus, the people receiving these packages have also paid into the program with taxes, it's not really "free".

I am personally not sure of what I think of the boxes, on the surface I think, very nice! But as someone else said, it might be wasteful if everything wasn't used (I had two babies close to ten pounds, we didn't use a lot of newborn size anything! I also didn't stick to cloth diapering. And some people might just not "like" some items.) Yes, it could all be donated again either way. But perhaps the money could go towards a free lactation consultant visit for every new baby instead (for all I know this is already happening there -- the fact that the package doesn't include formula says a lot about the country's support for breastfeeding!)

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Mrs Rochester-I've noticed your comments on PhD in Parenting before and I think we'd get along very well. Do you have a blog or Twitter?

I didn't reply any further to Olivia because I hate to start a commenting war-at some point it just turns into trolling-but thanks for backing me up!

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCrunchy Con Mommy

This is my blog...http://mamameyeah.blogspot.com/
I will check yours out!

April 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I'm torn. It's a great idea, and there's no way that parents (or neighbours) buying all this themselves could get nearly the same deal. But the inclusion of the snowsuit looks like such a waste. (Not in a monetary sense, but in a resource one). How many of the babies will ever use that? My daughter was born this January, and I know it was a really warm winter (I've been out without a coat several times already), but she never once used the snowsuit she was given. And if the child is born other than in winter there's even less opportunity to use it - how on earth can you know what size to send if the child will be 6 months by the first snow?

Most of the other stuff seems fairly practical, but again: if it's not something that the parents have any use for, it's a waste of resources. I suppose that it's not entirely evil, but it definitely makes the box less of an anti-capitalist measure, which means I like it less. (I suspect that some of the items shown in that picture may have been donated by the manufacturers to get the parents hooked).

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

I don't see the snowsuit as a waste. It is Finland! With regards to size, they did say that they adjust the size based on the mom's expected due date. Maybe there are also possibilities to exchange in the case of the wrong size?

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree that a snow suit seems really useful. But I'd have said that it was really useful for Canada. Even if we had had winter this year, my daughter would have had very little use from it - babies don't move around on their own enough for it to be necessary. It's what I was saying about the box not actually being an anti-capitalist thing at all: it's a nice item, but not really a necessity.

Actually, if they're giving parents who have winter babies a snow suit for when the baby is a year old then I can see a use. And if they do have some exchange mechanism then that deals with the problem of babies growing so quickly that you can't predict size in advance.

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

No wonder Finland is one of the happiest countries in earth! I think these baby-essentials-turned-SWAG sends a great message about the value of children. They are thoughtful items, essential & socially responsible. And most wonderfully, NO FORMULA or formula sponsored products. Kudos to Finland!

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWolf_Mommy

Word. Your point about how disconnected our society is, is spot on. Sure it would be nice if we could count on neighbors, or guarantee we lived near family to fill in the gaps, but that just isn't reality for many, many people.

April 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Good point. A country's circumstances should be considered. A program like this might make sense in Finland. Fertility rates are a bit low (around 1.85 children per woman), and there is not much immigration. Finland is sparsely populated. There are economic implications when the population growth is too low. Overpopulation can also cause problems, (like food, water and housing shortages) but Finland does not appear to be in danger of that. So they may want to encourage people to have children.

The situation in the U.S. is different. Fertility rates are higher (about 2.05 children per woman). Immigration rates are much higher. I wouldn't call the US overpopulated, but I don't think we need to boost our fertility rates, either. Unlike Finland, the U.S has an out-of -control deficit. Therefore, I think it would be a bad idea for the U.S. government to spend money baby clothes right now.

You're right when you say government programs for children aren't free to parents, Andrea. It would be more accurate to say they receive disproportionate benefits (more than they paid in taxes) if they have more children than average.

April 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElisabeth

Came through another blog and as a Finnish can give some insight maybe ;) It's interesting to read how other people see something like this.

The snowsuit is seen as a necessity actually. Maybe it's one of those cultural things, but I can't imagine going out during the winter without clothing a baby properly, since even if you'd go by car it's still cold and if something would happen, at least there wouldn't be an immediate danger of freezing. It's good for sleeping the baby outside too, going for walks etc. The snowsuit is big-ish size, but it's easy to adjust, so in fact most babies born during the winter make their first trip home in it (in our family too!). All the items in the layette are useful and used and it's definitely more valuable than the money offered. A good snowsuit alone costs half of the money you'd get. There is some capitalism in there too, since the items end up there according to the best offers they get, but the items themselves are selected by what is deemed as needed.

There's also the Maternity And Child Health Clinics ( http://www.stm.fi/en/social_and_health_services/health_services/primary_health/maternity_clinics ) that provide health care for pregnant women, information and help if needed, like if you have trouble breast feeding or taking care of the baby, or other family related issues.

Like one of the above comments said, children are future tax payers. The better start they get for their lives, the better they do in the future too, though I think every child deserves the best by default of being a child. Also, I disagree on the stance that only wealthy people should have children (because anyone saying the parents should get these items and everything else by themselves are saying just that) and since quite a good portion of children are unexpected, government help has an effect on things like abortions and childhood poverty because it's not a catastrophe to have an unexpected child :)

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNanna

I think a major point that was missed is that the grant is given to EVERY child, not just ones that are in poor families, which in my opinion makes the whole welfare angle of the discussion less relevant, or irrelevant. This is less a hand out than a gift from the government to make parenting a bit easier, to show that children are a valued asset, and that has all sorts of positive implications.

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaural Out Loud

After reading the comments above.....I now know why are country (USA) is declining at a raped pace..AKA Selfishness..Good for Findland.

April 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa M

Ah, well, there's the big difference.

In America, people don't bring/put their babies outside to sleep, nor even open the windows.

June 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterConuly

Something interesting...

Each dollar invested in the "Early" years (conception to start of school age) has an 800% return... This layette IS an investment - a financial investment in the future.

It is too bad that here in North America (I am from Canada, too), this doesn't happen. Frankly, I also think that it is wonderful that Finland does this for all children - only addressing the subpoverty line children misses out on the fact that not all parents are great at preparing for a birth or the reality of a baby... In fact - talk to any new mom, and most of what they thought was going to be essential was not particularly useful... it might be handy to have your initial layette picked out by a child development expert...

September 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

In NYC, our mayor has formula locked up with medications in NYC run hospitals to encourage or force breast feeding. The mother has to state why they don't want to breast feed in order to get formula. I am a breast feeding mother however, I think that it's a personal and private decision. No one has the right to judge a woman who choses not to. I do believe that the NYC Health Department enforcing this is a violation of the 4th and 14th amendments of the US Constitution.

The sad thing is that while Mayor Bloomberg has city hospitals treating formula like a drug, he wouldn't endorse the bounty box which is useful, especially to new moms or cash-strapped parents.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle from NYC

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