Shopping for Baby Gear: How Finland Saves New Parents Headaches

Jun 14, 2013

A recent BBC News Magazine article explored Finland's practice of providing expectant mothers with a baby starter kit, kicking off Canadian discussions on how our country treats new parents. Canada allows 12 months of maternity/paternity leave (if you pay into the employment-insurance program) and offers universal healthcare, but we pale in comparison to our Scandinavian counterparts.

Essentially, the Finnish government gives free baby-preparatory packages to expectant mothers. (They can forgo the package and take a cash grant instead - about  $190 Canadian - but almost every mom takes the box since the contents are worth so much more.) A similar concept to the hamster or goldfish starter sets at pet shops, the box contains everything you need to take care of your baby and adjust to new life. The exact items change yearly, but range from cloth diapers, snowsuits and sleepwear to bra pads, infant toys and condoms. Best of all, the box itself converts into a bassinet. This means the vast majority of Finnish infants begin their naps in these cardboard enclosures.The program has been in place for 75 years, so it's become a rite of passage; those pregnant know they'll get one, just as their parents did before them. Beyond the importance of ensuring everyone has access to essential (and often expensive) baby gear, there's a certain beauty to this Finnish initiative. The kits go out to every new mother, offering at least a superficial sense of equality - infants from all backgrounds, economic and cultural, sleep in the same sheets in the same bed.

This got me thinking. Three and a half years ago, when my wife and I were expecting our daughter, L, the Canadian government did not give us a bed-box or freebie pyjamas. It would've been nice, especially since a Google Images search reveals I actually like a lot of the infant fashion the Finns include in the box. My wife and I had to figure out which mattress to get (organic? dust-mite-proof?), which furnishings to buy (Canadian-made? glider with or without ottoman?), which infant car seat to special-order (the expensive one), and yes, which clothes, diapers and bottles to buy.

Still, I liked making these sorts of shopping decisions for our Great Unborn. There was something I enjoyed about choosing stuff for someone I was evolutionarily hardwired to protect at all costs. Whether it's bathing suits or books, bike chariots or teething rattlers, there's definitely part of us as parents that feel only we know what's right for our child.

Of course, I'm not even remotely picky when it comes to my own stuff, but when it comes to buying for L, it's different - not only now, but also before she was here. Once we knew a baby was on the way, I began lurking on multiple mommy message boards to determine the best breast-feeding cushion, and I'd quiz acquaintances on their thoughts about the best swing/rocker. I also researched infant bathtub styles and dissected specifications for room humidifiers and baby monitors.

To be clear: I think it's fantastic Finland provides far more than just the basic necessities to new families, but part of me liked the aspect of pre-fatherhood that felt like a giant scavenger hunt. It's also kind of important to note we were able to reap the benefits of having generous family and friends. And then there was the stroller. To say I approached its selection in the same way I would a vehicle is inaccurate - when we bought our car, it came down solely to price, and the fact we liked its colour. For baby buggies, however, I made multiple Excel spreadsheets, comparing and contrasting important variables like size, weight, wheel size and storage space. (Price was not a factor because my parents foolishly agreed to pay for our choice.) I would accost strangers downtown, asking their thoughts on the carriages they pushed, and I would take models out for spins around the block to ensure they fit in our trunk when folded flat. Our final selection doubled not only as a child convoy, but also as L's bassinet - a Finish box on wheels.

I've mellowed out a lot since then (and, it should be noted, my wife never went quite as insane). When L moved from her crib to her big-girl bed, we didn't spend weeks researching mattress brands - we picked the one she said she liked (and it was on sale). The car seats we bought for her grandparents' and abuelos' cars are very good, but not quite as boutique as her first one. And she now wears, and plays with, hand-me-downs. I still love that stroller, though.

Ultimately, I've learned you don't need to go quite so shopaholic when it comes to your little one. L has received high-end stuffed animals and dollar-store dolls and loves them all equally. Looking back, we could've saved a lot of money and mental anguish if Canada had just given us a bed-box like the Finns get.


Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock 'n' roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are collaborating on a three-year-old girl who may already be smarter than both of them. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario.


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