For decades now, every first-time mother in Finland has been handed a special box filled with the basic supplies to start parenthood. Now, for the first time in Canada, similar kits are being handed out to mothers in Alberta.

It’s all part of a research project to see if the boxes help improve the lives of babies and their mothers.

The Welcome to Parenthood Alberta (W2P-A) project is a broad study to test whether the supplies and the additional support that comes with each box results in better outcomes for children and parents.

Each box includes:

  • a sleep sack
  • a blanket
  • breast pads to encourage breastfeeding
  • diapers
  • a baby thermometer
  • and information booklets

Even the box itself is fitted with a foam pad and can be used as a portable newborn bassinet.

Finland started its program in 1938. Now, the country has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. At first, their program was available only to families on low incomes, but was opened to everyone in 1949.

The Alberta project is open to all new mothers as well. So far, 50 families have received the baby boxes, and the research team hopes another 1,450 families at 11 sites sign up as well.

Amy Johnson of Camrose, Alta., was among the first to receive one of the boxes for her baby Gabe, and says she was eager to join.

“When I heard about it, I jumped on the opportunity,” she told CTV Edmonton.

“I was quite impressed. There was quite a lot more than I thought there would be,” she added.

Karen Benzies, a University of Calgary nursing professor who’s the principal investigator with the study, says the project is about more than a box of baby supplies. She hopes the kits allow new parents to receive the extra support they often need.

“We hope to improve outcomes for the mothers and the mentors, but most of all, we hope we can improve the development outcomes for the children,” she said.

Each of the 1,500 families in the project must choose a mentor or have one provided for them. The mentor can be a friend or family member whose job will be to visit the mother and baby at least once every two weeks for the child’s first six months and answer any questions they can, while also providing emotional support when needed.

Amy Johnson chose her mom. She also says she has already used every item offered in the kit and that the boxes are a wonderful way to enter into motherhood.

The Alberta government has provided a $500,000 grant to support the two-year project. If Benzies’ study finds that the program is helpful, it could be expanded to support more vulnerable parents.

Johnson thinks that would be great.

“I’d love to be able to see every new mom get the basics to take care of their child,” she said.

“I really hope the research shows the usefulness of them and that they can become a standard.”

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Carmen Leibel