If you are new to Denmark or have been here for some time it is clear that you might have seen already the shocking practice of putting babies and small children to sleep outside. And as we are approaching to the colder months of the year, this cultural behaviour might seem now even more exotic than when the warmer days were around.
In an older post we explained some of the most general aspects of this practice, at the time we assure that it is ok and that the vast majority of families in Denmark do put their babies to sleep outside due to the benefits it provides to everyone in the household. However, due to the fact that many international families still hesitate about the idea to do so and they are full of questions on how to do it, here is a practical guide in order to clear some doubts and give many the tools to give it a try, specially now that the fresh cold air is becoming a daily thing.
Recap about sleeping outside
The main unofficial reasons most Danish parents give when asked why they do this are:
“The fresh and cold air is beneficial for the lungs and general health of the babies”
“Sleeping outside allow the children to be more resistant to the cold”
“Children simply sleep better outside in their prams than inside”
Yet in case these motivations are still not enough for you to jump blindly in this train, a very recent academic research on the subject, that has been done by a group of Finish Ph.D students, found that the “family well-being was strengthened through outdoor sleeping of children, (…) families were adapted to the northern winter environment and cultural knowledge was built (…) and a fit was found between families, cultural child care practice, and northern winter environment constituting a coherent whole”.
So, why not doing it?
Getting ready to sleep outside
The practical matters surrounding this topic can be solved without a doubt faster than the emotional challenges international parents face when considering the possibility of leaving their precious babies sleeping outside in the pram, in front of a shop or by the entrance of a restaurant where most probably the temperatures vary between -10C and +10C. And even when there is no magical spell in order to surpass this, I can only say that they will be perfectly fine. Just give it a shot.
On the practical side of it, check the following recommendations before doing it. And remember, not all the boxes need to be checked and there’s not a perfect way to do it. Just think that as long as parents and baby feel comfortable with it then you are all doing it right!
1. The Pram
As obvious as it may sound, be sure that your stroller/pram is in good condition and that it has all the accessories needed for doing this such as a rain cover and a good back support or mattress . It’s not that common to see small children sleeping in small strollers or klapvogn due to the fact that they do not have good insulation systems like the big prams or barnevogn do, however in case you have the first one and want to give it a try, do not be discouraged, you jut need to gear up better on the next elements to ensure the child has the right body temperature in order to sleep well outdoors.
2. The layers
This will be without a doubt the most challenging part to master as it will always vary according to the child’s own body temperature, the external climate condition, the quality of the pram, the sleeping accessories used as blankets, duvets or sleeping bags and lastly the outfit the parents have chosen for that day. However, here some thoughts about those things to consider when dressing your baby/child in order to sleep outside.
- Thumb rule: The child’s neck should never feel moisty or wet, as this would mean he/she is too warm. Meanwhile the forearms and legs should not feel colder than the rest of the body as this would mean he/she is too cold. A red face and sweat or a pale face and blueish lips mean that they have reached limits either in warmth or cold respectively. In case the child is crying a lot or it is more difficult to put to sleep than normal, check this points as it might give you a hint on the reasons of his/her disconfortness.
- Sleeping bags vs duvets: Children placed inside sleeping bags or soveposer should not be over dressed as many of these, specially the good brands, have technologies that regulate the temperature. This means there is no need to add a full wool suit or extra layers to the child, since most probable they will be too warm. However, it is very recommended to put a thick sweater that protects the chest, hat, socks and gloves or mittens. On the other hand, for those sleeping with just duvets or blankets, be sure to layer them correctly with full wool suits or even a flyverdragt, when temperatures are near and below 0C.
- Rain cover: In case you have placed the rain cover while your child is sleeping note that this will create a ‘green house’ effect inside the stroller/pram, hence raising the temperature. If this is the case, first and foremost be sure that there is a good ventilation and air flow and secondly check regularly the thumb rule and make changes in the layers in case it is necessary.
- Accessories: As mentioned already, it is always a good idea to have most of the following items at hand when putting the baby to sleep outside, as you will learn their body temperature and the different outfits you shall use according to the external weather. A neck-and-head hat or elefanthue is very recommended as it protects the entire upper section including the ears, gloves and mittens also very useful as their reflex movements will most surely make the arms/hands be out of the sleeping bag or duvet in no time and finally warm or woollen socks or comfy shoes will do the trick to keep a good body temperature.
3. The alarm
Although purchasing a baby alarm is not strictly necessary, as it can be proven that many families do it without one, it is for sure one of the most practical advises given by Danish parents when learning how to put your child to sleep outside. This will enable you to keep yourself aware of your baby while doing other things inside your home, at a cafe or a shop. Although they will vary in price and models, you can find some that allow you to track specific elements such as the temperature of the pram for you to be ready to do any change.
Just remember mastering the sleeping outside is a process both for the parents and the babies, reason why you should take a calm approach to it as you witness the great results that come along, such as calmer babies and longer naps. However, if after trying it for sometime and realizing you are not confident about it, then drop it. In parenthood everyone has the perfect way to do it to their own particular case, so whatever it works for your, is indeed the best way to go.