Helping Women and Children on the Cheap


For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.

It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it’s designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life.

The maternity package – a gift from the government – is available to all expectant mothers.

For the past few years, our local health department has been working to cut down on co-sleeping, the leading cause of death for healthy infants under 1 year old. I doubt we can have such a nice thing for the mostly poor Moms who co-sleep, because Europe. Plus it has condoms in it, which are from the Devil.

Also, too: In India, the use of vinegar as an agent to help women self-identify cervical cancer has cut the death rate by 31%. PAP smears are better, but this is better than nothing, and it is going to be tried in other poor countries.

49 replies
  1. 1
    negative 1 says:

    Yes but the government probably only offers at most two colors of blankets, while here in the U.S. we’re free to not be able to afford all sorts of colors. Suck it, soshulists.

  2. 2
    aimai says:

    I know that there is a significant push against co-sleeping with infants but, speaking as someone who did plenty of it, it seems to me to be so wrongheaded. We are pushing women to breastfeed, and even so babies frequently nurse much of the night and need bottles during the night–Parental exhaustion is a big factor too. Cosleeping with your baby enables you to meet the babies needs while conserving your own energy. Its true that people who cosleep on couches or with improper bedding can be a danger to the baby but people can’t always afford to heat the baby’s room safely, either and people make mistakes with baby bedding in cribs as well as on their own beds. I’d need to know more about the situations in which “10 babies a year” die of co-sleeping before I really believed it was a danger and not, say, drunken parents, or parents sleeping with a gun in the bed, or smoking in bed.

  3. 3
    PurpleGirl says:

    …which are from the Devil.

    The real crazies would say “of the Devil.” They have a funny way of phrasing things, but then they are “funny” in how they think. (Not a good way of funny either.)

  4. 4
    mistermix says:

    @aimai: I knew that was going to be controversial. I think the health department here is pretty good and under advice from the U of R med school, which is also good. From what I’ve heard, the issues are a combination of obesity, bad sleeping arrangement (too small/saggy bed) and perhaps some substance abuse (hopefully the dad not the Mom). So if there’s a clean, neat, comfy little box next to the bed where the mom can lift the baby in and out to breastfeed, perhaps lives can be saved.

  5. 5
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Same sort of thing here. People with newborns get visits from people to make sure they have everything they need, information, medical care, food, etc. Transplanted Americans who have kids here are astonished.

  6. 6
    MomSense says:

    Oh my, I was just reading about both of these stories after seeing them posted by a friend who works in public health.

    I did co-sleeping with all three of my boys mostly because they were giants and nursed around the clock. I did have a crib/bassinet that connected to my side of the bed but I must confess that I did fall asleep all the time while the boys were still nursing so they didn’t always go right back into their crib.

    The instructions for how they should sleep also changed significantly from the first baby to the others. With my oldest we were instructed to put them on their stomachs. I can’t remember what they told me about my middle son (typical!) but I think it may have been on his side because I seem to recall rolling up blankets to put behind his back and purchasing a little wedge thingy. For my youngest the instructions were to place him on his back.

  7. 7
    aimai says:

    There’s a lot of debate about this co-sleeping thing. Dr. Sears argues that cosleeping at night, mother to infant, is a good thing:

    Co-sleeping helps your baby rouse himself: New research has shown that in most cases, SIDS is caused by a baby’s inability to arouse himself from sleep. Normally, when something occurs that threatens your baby’s well being, such as difficulty breathing, he will automatically wake up. For reasons that are still unknown, in some babies, this protective mechanism does not go off, and so these babies are more at risk for SIDS.

    This is where the positive aspects of co-sleeping come in. Dr. James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, has conducted numerous studies of mothers and babies who were co-sleeping and night nursing. His group of researchers found that mom and baby share similar patterns of sleep arousals, what we call “nighttime harmony.” They drifted in and out of sleep stages in a similar, but not always identical, pattern. Some SIDS researchers believe that this is a factor in baby’s protective arousal mechanism. This harmony may also be related to a psychological synchronicity between co-sleeping mothers and their babies: The co-sleeping mom is more likely to subconsciously sense if her baby’s health is in danger and wake up.

    Researchers also believe that the carbon dioxide you exhale when you sleep close to your baby may help stimulate her breathing. Plus, co-sleeping infants tend to automatically sleep on their back, in order to have easier access to nighttime feedings. Back sleeping has proved to be one of the top risk-reducers for SIDS. Meanwhile, babies who sleep separately from their moms have been shown to experience a decrease in the amount of REM sleep, the state of sleep in which protective arousal is the most likely to occur.

    The cases reported in Milwaukee weren’t about co-sleeping per se but rather infants being left alone on adult beds or with other toddlers. The Finnish program supplies a place for the baby to sleep during the day when it is not co-sleepign with the mother. I think that’s a praiseworthy program since a lot of these cosleeping deaths seem to occur when the family is so impoverished and stressed that they can’t afford a crib, or an unbroken pack n play, for daytime naps.

  8. 8
    aimai says:


    Yeah, I know. I don’t object at all to a broad ranging discussion of public health initiatives and, in fact, I’m facilitating a new mom’s group and we are forbidden from talking about co-sleeping positively. But I think the indications are that we are globally forbidding a practice that is actually extremely positive for parent and child in the majority of cases, because we don’t have the time/money/social ability to address the problem cases directly: You and your husband are too obese, you don’t have a good bed, you have a temperpedic/foam top (these are dangerous), etc..etc…etc… Its easier to tell every parent they have to hew a hard line than to “discriminate” among parents.

    When you see how badly people (especially new parents) understand what they are told you end up sympathizing both with the “simplify, simplify, make it a straight rule” style of education and also regretting it. WE had a mother in tears yesterday, in my group, because her baby shrieks all through “tummy time” which, of course, is only necessitated because of “back to sleep.” The poor thing was riddled with guilt because she feared being “judged” by her pediatrician because she couldn’t get the kid to enjoy it at 2 MINUTES a pop. We had to hold her hand and reassure her that neither she nor her child were going to flunk tummy time.

  9. 9
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @aimai: Your argument sounds a lot like “I’d like to know more about seatbelts stopping people from being thrown out the window before I decide to take the chance on mine trapping me in my car,” or the “my uncle smoked 3 cigars and two packs of cigarettes a day and lived to 95.”

  10. 10
    MomSense says:


    It was the midwife at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who taught me how to nurse/sleep/nurse my oldest son. I think she took pity on me since I was young and my baby was enormous and he nursed all night and day when I was in the hospital.

  11. 11
    piratedan says:

    Americans adopting a program developed and successfully implemented outside of our country? Unpossible!

  12. 12
    mistermix says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): In fairness the whole issue of how babies should sleep has been debated for years and has changed over the years. The advice we got when our kid was a baby is quite a bit different now, and it’s been less than 20 years.

  13. 13
    NickT says:


    No trueborn heartland hardworking American would ever suggest such a thing.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    MomSense says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    I honestly do not think I would have survived without co-sleeping. Because of Dad’s work schedule, I was single parenting Monday – Friday every week and I didn’t have family to help.

  16. 16
    Cassidy says:

    @aimai: @Belafon (formerly anonevent): The problem with co-sleeping isn’t that it’s bad, but factors outside of it contribute to the death of the infant. Between the issues MM said (obesity, poor sleeping arrangements, intoxication) and the exhaustion you mentioned, the factors for healthy co-sleeping are not in place. Co-sleeping can be a great experience, but more often than not, the factors aren’t there.

    I think the biggest issue regarding the health and well being of infants has nothing to do with the specific methods of sleep or feeding, but the shaming involved against parents who don’t do it the way the midwives, breast feeding advocates, and doulas say you have to do it. I’ve seen a very distinct difference in how FM and OB Doctors treat the issue (this is preferred, but this and this will work as well) vs. the Midwife/ Doula side of (it has to be like this or you suck as a Mom!).

  17. 17
    Anoniminous says:


    That’s how the other Hominidae species do it: the older females help and teach the moms and younger females get some basic information by observation and, under supervision, doing.

  18. 18
    JPL says:

    When my sons were born, I was told to put them on their stomachs. They both were able to lift up their heads and roll over early. Is there any delay in development by leaving babies on their back? My youngest nursed a lot and often slept with me, so I have no problem with co-sleeping under the right circumstances.

  19. 19
    greenergood says:

    Given the number of women in the US that don’t have health insurance, perhaps this vinegar/cervical cancer test should be publicised there as well as India, etc.?

  20. 20
    aimai says:


    The “back to sleep” movement has (supposedly) lowered the incidence of SIDS among infants who are too young to roll over on their own but has created flat spots on the heads of lots of babies and deprives babies of “tummy time” which they use to strengthen their shoulder, back, and neck muscles. That’s why parents these days are urged both to put the babies on their backs to sleep (preventative for SIDS) and also to encourage “tummy time” which is a certain amount of time spent on their tummies during the day when they are (theoretically) being watched by their caretaker. The “tummy time” requirement ends naturally when the baby starts to flip, roll, and crawl because then there are lots of natural opportunities to use those muscles. “Back to sleep” ends when the baby starts rolling and pulling up in the crib because you don’t need to worry about smothering against the mattress when they can roll over naturally on their own.

    Recommendations have also changed from bumpers to no bumpers or breathable bumpers for the same reason.

  21. 21
    Roger Moore says:


    Americans adopting a program developed and successfully implemented outside of our country? Unpossible!

    Spoken like somebody who’s never heard of enhanced interrogation. We’re perfectly happy to adopt stupid, destructive programs developed and implemented outside our country. It’s only ones that help the poor and vulnerable that we can’t have.

  22. 22
    piratedan says:

    @Roger Moore: hey come on now, I’m sure that torture in the name of freedom, and freedom that comes at the expense of someone else’s freedom is the sweetest freedom of all; is a perfectly acceptable excuse for adopting any and all means necessary to maintain our freedom. Besides everyone knows that babies aren’t important or have any rights, only innocent fetuses do regardless of their incubators.

  23. 23
    Mnemosyne says:

    The really smart thing that Finland does is make the box available to all new mothers regardless of income, so there’s no stigma to getting one. In the story, it sounds like the vast majority of first-time moms get the box because it’s become such a tradition, but some women take the cash payout for subsequent babies because they already have all of the basics.

  24. 24
    AHH onna Droid says:

    @aimai: Dr Sears is imo not a reliable source. My mother coslept even when obese and even on a couch and none of us got smothered. I suspect some adults have slept disorders like rolling around asleep that theyre unaware of. Babies die in cribs too. I think more research is needed (and less scolding of moms) . Sears likes to make sage pronouncements on issues where info is lacking OR where he as a clinician simply does not understand the relevant science, or how to read a flipping scientific paper.

  25. 25
    Steeplejack says:


    The story Mistermix linked doesn’t mention co-sleeping except in the headline.

    According to the Monroe County Health Department, unsafe sleep is the leading preventable cause of death in healthy infants under the age of one.

    That is different from saying that co-sleeping is the leading cause of death. There are other factors that can contribute to “unsafe sleep”: blankets, toys, crib rails, etc. Maybe co-sleeping is the leading cause, but the story doesn’t say that.

  26. 26
    Nicole says:

    @AHH onna Droid: In all fairness to Dr. Sears (and I have issues with him, too, particularly supporting his son’s anti-vaccine weirdness), he does say that whatever enables both parents and child to get the best sleep is the best option. And he recommends a sleeping thing that attaches to the bed so both parent and kid have their own space but are within easy reach.

    Speaking as someone who also co-slept, put me also in the camp of “it’s not the co-sleeping that’s dangerous; it’s the sleeping environment.” Because if you’re nursing the kid at night, you fall asleep facing the baby, and the odds of a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-obese nursing mother rolling over onto her stomach and not immediately waking up from the intense pain of squooshing those milk-stuffed breasts is pretty small. I don’t know if other moms had this experience, but my son’s and my sleep cycles got spookily in tune- we would wake up within minutes of each other, and that continued for awhile even after he moved to a crib that wasn’t attached to the bed.

    And I have friends who had their kids sleeping in a separate room almost from the start and their kids are fine, too. I even have ones who, oh noes, fed their kids formula and the kids are fine. How can it be????? ;)

    Co-sleeping is a very common arrangement in the rest of the world; if it really was a huge risk to children, I’d be inclined to think that most of humanity would have decided by now it was a bad idea. Here, more kids die every year from unsafe cribs than do in adult beds, but our reaction isn’t to get rid of cribs; it’s to make them safer.

  27. 27
    cvstoner says:

    Not sure this would ever happen in the U.S., where one of our two political parties thinks the programs like WIC and CHIP are ideas spawned from the devil.

  28. 28


    The real crazies would say “of the Devil.”

    They do indeed. It’s been over four decades since I first encountered that odd phrasing, and I still don’t know exactly how ‘of’ is being used in that phrase.

    My best guess is that it’s a way of linking something to the Devil without getting too specific about the nature of the linking. That way nobody can tell you you’re wrong, because you haven’t said anything specific enough to be right or wrong.

  29. 29
    aimai says:

    @Steeplejack: Yes, I know, I either didn’t see the entire article or there wasn’t exactly an entire article. And yes, I know that Dr. Sears is not a particularly scientific source. I have a 16 year old and a 14 year old and was up on all the science of this at the time but recommendations have since changed. I am also facilitating a new mother’s group for Jewish Family Services and the City of Somerville so I’m up on the latest recommendations. I think its obvious that what Public Health officials say is aimed at a generic parent who may get very little good advice and have zero support from trained professionals–that makes generic recommendations both harsher/firmer than they have to be and also generally delivered in a way that is not respectful of working and single parent’s issues. At the outreach end of things we are faced with working with frightened and exhausted young parents who are bombarded with new recommendations all the time which they may not fully understand, or whose application to their lives is not necessary or relevant. Co-sleeping has benefits as well as risks, as do all baby care practices. Each family needs comprehensive information that teases out what makes it risky for one (obesity, bad bedding, smoking, drinking, chaotic multi family setting) and safe for another. Ditto breastfeeding and formula.

    This kind of careful assessment of the risk factors for individual families is also important when it comes to breast feeding. Breast milk is best but for a wide variety of reasons it may not be possible for some families or some women and people need to be helped to understand that a blanket recommendation from the WHO doesn’t supersede their family issues. In the majority of cases the baby will be just fine.

  30. 30
    aimai says:

    I didn’t mean to hijack this thread. I think its an important discussion because I see people get confused all the time by just the thing steeplejack pointed out: “babies die while sleeping in adult beds” or “while asleep” is very easily confused with “while co sleeping.” When you drill down under the headline (whatever it says) you find links to articles that accuse parents of “co-sleeping” with the baby when what they really mean is that the child was left on an adult bed alone at some point and died during that experience. That’s not co-sleeping. That’s improper bedding. It ought to be pointed out, as well, that you’d expect babies to die when they are unwatched/unattended because otherwise the parent is present and awake to attempt to revive them. So the causality doesn’t necessarily go: babies who sleep are at risk from dying in an adult bed. It might rather be that when babies are left alone they are more likely to be found dead. I’d really like to see the statistics about babies who die when an adult is present in the room/bed.

    Like other women who co-slept with my baby I found that my rhythms and that of the baby sychronized and I was no more in danger of rolling over on the baby than I was of rolling off the bed. People are not fully unconscious when asleep and routinely make adjustments for other people, the edge of the bed, cats etc…

  31. 31
    Steeplejack says:


    Sorry if it sounded like I was criticizing or correcting you. I pretty much agree with what you have said.

    I don’t have kids and at first didn’t know exactly what “co-sleeping” was. Went to the article to find out and was surprised that it wasn’t mentioned except in the headline.

    Full disclosure: I co-sleep with my five-pound cat and have (so far) avoided smothering her.

  32. 32
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @negative 1:

    Yes but the government probably only offers at most two colors of blankets

    And none of the clothes are pink or blue, and thus all Finns grow with gender dysfunction and an inability to adhere to marketing professionals’ plans.

  33. 33
    Cassidy says:

    @low-tech cyclist: It’s old school evangelical phrasing. You’ll also hear “the enemy” in that we’re always under attack by Satan and his minions. Basically, anything that’s considered bad is “of the devil” or “the enemy” to tempt us into sin.

  34. 34
    Joel says:

    I am pretty ambivalent about cosleeping. If people wanna do it, fine. Epidemiological data suggests that it’s a crushing/suffocation risk, but it’s minor. Cosleeping has its disadvantages from a comfort perspective, too. Do what you must.

    The Finnish box is awesome, FWIW.

  35. 35
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Anoniminous: It also happens in large families where kin live close together. I’ve seen it here in North Central Florida in the African-American community. Generally first time moms already have a lot of baby knowledge and have a lot of support. (Including flexible childcare! The ones who don’t end up in shitty relationships with shitty men b/c the male is providing some childcare so other deficits–like using your car to pick up other women–are overlooked.)

    A lot of my white friends seem perplexed because they came from small families and are far from mothers/aunts/sisters/grandmothers. I was hanging out with my godson who is hitting the terrible twos and I started making deals with him to modify his behavior (he likes to play a game–get mommy to chase me and freak out, giggle giggle) and his parents were absolutely gobsmacked. One was the youngest from a Mormon family, so never saw a younger sibling get raised, the other came from a tiny family. And both of their parents are many states away.

  36. 36
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Joel: I don’t see why we can’t do that in the states. It’s a brilliant idea.

    Finland absolutely crushes us on development metrics so they must be doing something right.

    Btw, when did “American exceptionalism” go from academic pejorative to a term of tribalistic pride? America: exceptionally weak-fu on infant mortality. America: our Gini index can beat up your Gini index. America: unrestricted guns–what, me worry?

  37. 37
    kc says:

    My impression is that it’s mostly well-off, upper middle class moms who “co-sleep.”

  38. 38
    Mnemosyne says:


    A lot of the danger seems to come from what aimai’s saying — it’s not necessarily dangerous that someone is co-sleeping with their nursing infant, but that there’s no safe place for the baby to sleep at other times. If (just guessing) one of the parents is sick, co-sleeping is probably less safe, but people who don’t have a safe crib or other baby bed available don’t have any other choice but to continue co-sleeping.

    I was kind of fascinated with the Finnish thing saying that the box is also used as a makeshift baby bed (it comes with a little mattress that fits in the bottom of the box), but I can see that being very handy if you co-sleep most of the time but occasionally need an alternative.

  39. 39
    Mnemosyne says:


    I think it’s only well-off, upper middle class moms who call it “co-sleeping.” Lower-class moms do it a lot, too, but they say they’re “taking the baby to bed” or whatever. I doubt it’s the upper middle class moms who can’t afford a crib and put the baby down for a nap in the middle of the parental bed because they don’t have another place to put them.

  40. 40
    kc says:


    Full disclosure: I co-sleep with my five-pound cat and have (so far) avoided smothering her.

    I co-sleep with a 20 pound cat. I fear he’ll smother me.

  41. 41
    kc says:


    I think it’s only well-off, upper middle class moms who call it “co-sleeping.”

    Yeah, that’s probably true.

  42. 42
    MomSense says:


    I didn’t have a name for it at the time. It was just nurse baby in bed at night, fall asleep, wake up with baby during the night, nurse baby, fall back asleep with baby and morning.

  43. 43
    Paul in KY says:

    @low-tech cyclist: I think it’s more an archaic way of phrasing. Brings you closer to the Old Testament prophets with their theeing & smiting & such.

  44. 44
    Paul in KY says:

    @Steeplejack: I co-sleep with an 18 pound cat & so far he hasn’t smothered me.

  45. 45
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Paul in KY:

    That’s only from a lack of will on his part. ;-)

  46. 46
    Gretchen says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): no, it sounds like “I am a mother who successfully implemented a childcare strategy that cultures all over the world have been doing for centuries.” I had twins and would have died of exhaustion if I hadn’t been able to nurse in my sleep. We should be asking what are the risk factors rather than banning the practice.

  47. 47
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @low-tech cyclist: It’s mimicry of the King James Bible. “Of” meaning essentially “belonging to.” Compare “birds of a feather,” meaning essentially “birds belonging to a category of similar plumage.” BTW, “birds of a feather flock together” seems like a hella racist expression.

  48. 48
    Paul in KY says:

    @Mnemosyne: True dat :-)

  49. 49
    terraformer says:

    What a fascinating idea. Amazing that we can’t even consider something like that here in the States because of knee-jerk soshulism. You’d think things like this and, perhaps, universal health care might be things “the greatest country in the world” would want to be proud about. But no, can’t have that here in crazytown.

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