Recently, I’ve seen some Reels and TikToks about how Nordic babies nap outside, even during their famously cold winters. I was intrigued by this sleeping practice, which I’d never seen promoted in the United States, and decided to investigate.
So why do Nordic babies take their naps outside?
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Outdoor Naps in Nordic Countries
If you’re traveling through Denmark or Sweden, you might be surprised to see babies left outside in their strollers to nap alone. It’s not uncommon to find unattended prams at parks or outside of cafes, the babies inside sleeping peacefully while their parents step away to run an errand or drink a coffee.
This is practically unheard of in the United States, but it’s ubiquitous in Norway and Finland. In fact, a study from 2008 found that outdoor naps were so common in Finland that they were taken for granted by parents there. That is to say that Finnish parents on the whole don’t consider not having their babies nap outside.
This study explored Finnish parents’ opinions about children sleeping outdoors during the winter through a questionnaire. The majority of the parents had positive experiences with the practice and hadn’t encountered any dangerous situations. They started leaving their children to nap outside around 2 weeks old and were comfortable with winter temperatures between -27 and 5 degrees Celcius (between 16.6 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit).
The parents reported that their children napped longer outside than inside. They said their children would sometimes have red cheeks and cold nose tips. Less frequently, the parents reported that their child’s fingers might feel cold.
Benefits of Napping Outside
Another study from 2013 examined the cultural significance of outdoor naps in Finland. Through interviews with Finnish mothers, the researchers found that having their children nap outside strengthened family well-being, helped children adapt to the northern winter environment, and facilitated a cultural knowledge-building process.
This cultural knowledge-building process is a way of saying that outdoor naps are deeply rooted in Finnish culture. By having their children participate in this practice, Finnish families are initiating them into the culture they’ll grow up in.
All of these benefits are predicated on taking notice of security perspectives. These include ensuring that babies and toddlers are properly dressed for an outdoor nap in the cold.
Differences in Cultural Values
Some Americans are shocked to learn that Nordic families leave their babies to nap outdoors. But when you consider the cultural differences at play, the choice makes more sense.
First, citizens of Nordic countries tend to value time outdoors more than Americans do, with the goal of being able to “master the outdoors” no matter what season it is. Children start getting comfortable with nature at an early age, going on excursions to lakes and forests starting in kindergarten. Cold weather isn’t considered an obstacle to enjoying the outdoors. A proverb credited to Norway says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Another reason many Americans wouldn’t consider letting their child nap outside unattended is because of the public anxiety around abduction in the United States. This fear is out of proportion with the likelihood of child kidnapping, which is low.
Crime rates in Nordic countries are much lower than in the United States. Perhaps this is why Nordic citizens are some of the most trusting in the world. In Sweden, Finland, and Norway, 60% of people believe that others can be trusted. In the U.S., that number drops to about 32%.
A Real-Life Example
On Facebook, the account GrowingupwithIsabella shared a Reel about her Danish toddler’s winter outdoor naps. Before her nap, Isabella’s mother dresses her in a wool oversuit and hat with earflaps to keep her warm. With her pacifier in her mouth, Isabella happily climbs into her trolley (stroller). She gets zipped into a tiny sleeping bag, and her mother gives her a bottle and tucks her doll in with her.
Isabella’s mother parks her stroller on a porch outside their home. She leaves a digital monitor in the stroller. It connects to one she takes inside with her, which will let her know the temperature and if Isabella wakes up or starts to cry.
On this particular day, Isabella’s mother said that she slept for 2.5 hours. She seems perfectly content when she wakes up from her outdoor nap and doesn’t show any signs of feeling cold.
Nordic Parents Respond
The comment section for GrowingupwithIsabella’s revealed some of the cultural differences around sleeping practices between Nordic countries and the United States. Some American commenters were concerned that babies would get too cold napping outside during the winter.
But commenters from Nordic countries assured them that this is a common practice and children are safe during their outdoor naps. One person wrote, “All my three sons slept outside. Daycares and kindergarten does it all year round until -10 degrees. It’s very common and normal here [in] Denmark.”
A Swedish preschool teacher commented, “In Sweden, too, it is very common for children to sleep outside when they take their midday nap. fresh air is good and they sleep so well. I am a preschool teacher, I work with 1-3 year olds at work, [and] all children sleep outside at my work.”
Other American commenters wondered if Nordic parents sleep outside, too. Viewers from Nordic countries explained that only naptime happens outside. “No, they only do it for a nap. The child sleeps indoors when it comes to [bedtime]. But during nap time, the child sleeps outside in a warm [and] safe place. Nordic people strongly believe that it boosts a child’s health.”
All in all, I find different parenting practices – especially sleep methods! – from around the world fascinating. There is a multitude of ways to care for our children, and finding the ones that work best for your family is what’s most important.
Would you ever try letting your little one nap outside? Tell me in the comments!
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