If you have recently moved to Norway, I am sure you have come across many parents out strolling their babies in their prams (‘stroller armies’ is what I call a group of these parents) and prams left unattended with babies all bundled up and sleeping soundly in the cold.
Putting babies in their prams outdoors for a nap, even in freezing temperatures, is a norm for Norwegians. Leaving the prams outside a cafe while parents enjoy a warm beverage inside or outside a store while the parents shop inside is also a common sight (in some countries, this could get the parents arrested for child abuse!). The fear of someone pram- or kidnapping the sleeping baby never seems to be a problem. (My Singaporean mom made me promise never to do that when I had a baby of my own but lo and behold, I started doing that when my baby was born as well.)
Other than parents putting their babies to sleep outside, it is also common for the daycare centres (barnehager) to place their charges in their prams outside for their naps.
Why do Norwegians do that?
First and foremost is that it’s the culture here – many parents do it and so did their parents. It is also the norm for many daycare centres (barnehager) to put the children outdoors in their prams to nap (for many of these daycare centres though, lack of space for many cots or mattresses is a reason as well).
Some believe sleeping outside is healthier for babies since they are exposed to fresh air and this can translate to lesser bouts of illnesses in children. Other parents also believe that napping outside in the day leads to better sleep in the night.
Many parents also believe that or find that their babies/toddlers sleep for longer when they are outdoors. Some attribute this to the startle reflex being minimized due to the many layers of clothing covering the baby. Other parents believe that the natural sounds of the outdoors serve as white noise which can keep their baby/toddler asleep for a longer period of time.
Some parents also report that their children are more active after an outdoor nap and ate better.
Do note that all the above are subjective observations from parents.
For other parents, leaving the baby to sleep outside in the pram til he/she wakes up is simply a matter of convenience – if the baby has fallen asleep in the pram during a walk, most parents would rather let their baby complete the nap in the pram than move the baby indoors and having to remove all the outer layers of clothing, thus running the risk of waking the baby up in the process.
For children who have started attending daycare centres (barnehager), spending the entire day indoors with 10-20 other children is certainly viewed as unideal so playing and napping outdoors is integral to life in a barnehage.
How cold is too cold for babies to be sleeping outside?
It is recommended to not let babies/toddlers sleep outside when the temperature is -10°C and below, however do note other factors such as wind chill and precipitation which can make -8°C seem like -15°C.
Do note also that Norwegian/Scandinavian prams are solidly built to withstand the elements and protect the baby. They are also deeper than other prams so be sure to check that your baby’s pram is up to par if you would like your baby to nap outside in cold temperatures.
What if it is really hot outside?
The recommended sleeping temperature for babies is between 16°C and 20°C. Ensure that your baby’s pram is out of direct sunlight, your baby is not overdressed and there is good ventilation throughout the pram. Also use a light blanket instead of a thick one. If the temperature is really high, it might be better to have your baby nap indoors those days.
When can one start putting their babies outside to sleep?
One may gradually start going outdoors and letting the baby sleep outside when the baby is two weeks old.
When do you not put your babies outdoors to nap?
If you are unsure, it is always best to ask your doctor or your child’s pediatrician.
Generally, if your child is ill, it might be best not to put them outdoors for a nap, especially if they have a fever.
Depending on the type of asthma a child has, cold weather might be a trigger and cause asthma and other types of respiratory conditions. It might then be a good idea to not let these children nap outdoors if it is really cold.
Other children with serious injuries and illnesses might also not benefit from sleeping outdoors in the cold weather. As mentioned, it is always best to ask your doctor or your child’s pediatrician.
What kind of precautions should parents and caregivers take when putting children outdoors to nap?
- Bundle them up well if it is cold outside. See our article on Dressing Your Child for the Winter.
- If it is warm, be sure that the pram is out of direct sunlight, your baby is not overdressed and ensure good ventilation throughout the pram.
- Check babies and toddlers often, especially their head, neck and extremities. Ensure that they are not sweating due to overdressing or cold due to being underdressed.
- Shield them and the prams from direct sunlight, winds and other precipitation.
- Do not cover the entire pram with a thick or tightly woven blanket – this restricts air circulation within the pram.
- Do use the baby monitor if you are going to be inside your home and your baby is outside. Most baby monitors measure the temperature as well so keeping an eye on that will be advisable.
- Be sure to cover the pram with an insect cover to prevent insects, birds and cats from getting into the pram if you are going to leave your baby alone in the pram.
- Before putting your child outdoors for a nap, it might be a good idea to check that your neighbours are not smoking on their balconies as your child might breathe in the smoke.
What if you do not want your child to sleep outside when he/she starts going to a daycare centre (barnehage)?
Speak to the department manager or centre manager about your concerns. Depending on the institution, they might be able to find an alternative for your child. Or they might ask you to try letting your child nap outside for a day or two just to see if your child is able to get used to it.
About the author
Cynthia Myrnes is a Singaporean who has been living in Stavanger since February 2008 with her Norwegian husband. Cynthia can be contacted via email.