Depending on where you live, the idea of leaving your baby out in the snow might seem like a nightmare. On the flip side, many parents find that keeping their children outside as much as possible, even napping infants in freezing temperatures, has enough benefits to assuage any fears. Particularly in Northern European countries such as Sweden, outdoor napping — even in negative degrees Fahrenheit — is not frowned upon. Granted, the United States is another story, as one Danish woman found out the hard way. Here’s why so many parents are leaving their little ones out in the cold.
Many Scandinavian Parents Prefer Naps In The Snow
According to Time magazine, many parents in Scandinavia are hard-pressed on the notion that their children should get as much fresh air as possible. In this part of the world, it is the norm to have infants and toddlers take their naps outside.
Even in the freezing temperatures in winter, these parents feel that the benefits are worth keeping the little ones outside. The bundled-up babies are kept warm while reaping the benefits of fresh air.
Outdoor Naps Can Start As Young As Two Weeks Old
A study published by the University of Oulu in Finland found that the common practice of allowing children to nap outside typically started when the infant was a mere two weeks old. The study also discovered that children who napped outside slept for a longer period of time as compared to children who napped inside.
Researchers discovered that temperatures typically ranged from -16 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit while children were left outside for their naps. Common physical symptoms of the little ones being out in the cold were a sweaty neck, cold fingertips, red cheeks, and a cold nose.
Fresh Air And Sunlight May Be The Key
The practice of letting children nap outside dates back generations in many northern countries. The belief among Nordic mothers is that their children will achieve deeper sleep out in the cold. However, science has begun to backups the old wives tale.
In a study conducted by Liverpool John Moores University, researchers found that babies who slept well at night were exposed to twice as much sunlight between noon and 4 p.m. as babies who struggled to sleep. Researchers speculate that light exposure may aid in the child’s formation of their biological clock, which fosters melatonin secretion.
Cool Temperatures May Help Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the body decreases in temperature in order to initiate sleep. They recommend a temperature setting in the 60 degrees Fahrenheit range for optimal sleep and warn that going far below this may have adverse impacts on sleep.
For the babies sleeping outside in freezing temperature, it may seem counterintuitive to these findings. However, given how bundled the children are the temperature they actually feel would be much warmer than their surroundings. Additionally, bundled feet help dilate blood vessels, which mediates the internal thermostat.
The Tradition Travels Through Generations
A mother from Stockholm, Lisa Mardon, told BBC News that the winter is actually an ideal time to have children sleep outside, because that’s when diseases are most prevalent. Mardon says that the children seem healthier when they spend the additional time outside.
Her children have slept outside since they were born, and Lisa’s mother did the same thing with her when she was a baby. For many families in these snowy areas, the tradition is passed down over generations.
Daycares Do It, Too
BBC News reports that most daycares in Sweden will sport rows of strollers with napping children outside. One such daycare in Förskola Orren upholds a standard that children nap outside until the age of three.
Daycares in particular house germs that can easily be passed around children. For some toddlers, their time napping outside is the only time they aren’t in direct contact with other children. Even simply being confined to a space where airborne germs persist can cause children to transmit illnesses to one another.
Children Stay Outside As Much As Possible
Some preschools in these Nordic countries strive to keep the children outside for the primary part of the day between the hours of 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. These institutions, along with the parents who bring their children to them, believe that being in a room with dozens of other children is worse for their health than being in cold weather.
Thus, most of the activities that would be done indoors are simply done outdoors, with the exception of mealtimes and when days are exceptionally cold.
Restriction May Help With Sleep
Researcher Marjo Tourula says that the heavy layers of clothing may restrict the child’s movement during sleep, which can prevent them from waking themselves up. Additionally, the cold environment prevents the child from overheating while they are swaddled.
Tourula’s research concludes that 23 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for outdoor naps. However, some parents will put their napping children outside in temperatures as low as negative 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Those parents must have some penguin genes!
How Does The Cold Impact Catching A Cold?
The Swedish Environmental protection agency has found that preschoolers who spent most of their time outside tended to take less sick days from school. However, other studies have shown little difference between children who spent most of their time outside versus those who remained inside.
Martin Jarnstrom heads a preschool that advocates outdoor naps, but emphasizes that the child must be kept warm. In order to do this he recommends keeping a wool layer closest to their body, warm clothes, and a sleeping bag.
Parents Sometimes Leave Their Children Outside In Public Places
In countries where outdoor naps are common it is also normal for parents to leave their infants in strollers outside coffee shops and other public places so that the child can remain in the fresh air.
While it may seem crazy that a parent would be willing to leave their child out in the cold, Fatherly lists benefits that, though not yet backed by research, parents swear by. These include children being happier, more energetic, better sleepers, and able to sleep in any environment.
Outdoor Babies Are Versatile
It is common practice in Nordic countries to leave babies out on a busy sidewalk or in front of the house while visiting a friend. Particularly because the practice is so common and has been passed down through generations, parents are confident of their ability to bundle their babies in weather-appropriate clothing.
Writer and mother Kerri Svenneby also notes that children who nap outside can go on adventures such as skiing, hiking, and snowshoeing trips.
Don’t Leave Your Baby Out In The U.S.
Back in December of 1999, Anette Sorenson, a Danish mother who had moved to New York, was arrested and accused of endangering her 14-month-old for leaving the infant in a stroller while Anette went into a restaurant.
While the Anette claimed that she could see her daughter, Liv, through the window of the restaurant the entire time, it didn’t help that she’d gone in for a drink. A restaurant patron called the police, and after a long trial charges were dropped.
Nature Has Calming Effects On Babies
According to Norwegian Pediatrician Gro Nylander, exposure to nature has a calming effect on babies. Babies who sleep outside are lulled to sleep by the sound of swaying branches while looking up at the expansive sky.
Additionally, the practice of napping outside creates an outdoor culture that children can carry into adulthood. Children who are able to nap outside enable their parents to have a more active lifestyle outdoors. Being physically active can also support mental health in each member of the family.
More Benefits Of Being Outdoors
A 2014 study published in the European Journal of Social Sciences Education and Research found that being outdoors provides more sensory information to process, which promotes early language development.
The study also found that being outside helps children develop their motor skills. Even while bundled up in a stroller, seeing others walk, run, and perform other activities allows babies exposure to activities that they’ll one day try to perform. By comparing and contrasting different environments, infants also learn to differentiate and explore their curiosity.
It Can Benefit The Parents, Too
A study published in Extreme Physiology and Medicine suggests outdoor exercise as a means to improve negative moods, such as anger and depression. Particularly for parents, maintaining emotional equilibrium is vital.
Going on outdoor walks can also provide parents a way to socialize while taking care of the baby. When the child is in a controlled stroller, the parent can focus less attention on their whereabouts, and focus more on a conversation or their own thoughts.
Fresh Air Helps The Lungs
The European Lung Foundation has found that fresh air and coughing helps remove sputum, a mixture of saliva and mucus that resides in the respiratory tract. It also helps reduce inflammation and increase space in the airwaves.
Fresh air also helps the body generate bacteria that fight pathogens. When pathogens are not defeated by the immune system, they become an infection. Infections result in the production of sputum. Breathing in clean air aids the lungs before, during, and after a potential respiratory infection ensues.
Being Cold Doesn’t Actually Make Us Sick
Swedish pediatrician Roland Sennerstam says that cold temperatures are not what make us sick. Rather, viruses and bacteria make us sick, and those are contracted by being in too close proximity to an infected person.
A study by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare found that children who spent five or less hour outside each week were more prone to sickness than those who spent six to nine hours a week outside. An hour nap outside each day would put a child in the latter category.
Dr. Sennerstam stresses that children who sleep outside in cold temperatures should not be over-bundled. Some parents may feel that small children need double the bundling that an adult would need, but this can actually have fatal effects.
Sennerstam says that air should be able to still circulate easily around the baby’s face and that the baby should be dressed as an adult would dress themselves. Otherwise, the child could be at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Walks Can Be Good For Bonding
While some parents may prefer to leave their strollers outside the home or a public area, walking a napping baby can be a peaceful activity for the child and parent to do together. The activity boosts endorphins in the parent, while the natural stimuli soothe the baby.
Neighborhood parks and events such as tree lightings can be a perfect opportunity for parents to find their zen without having to part from their little one. It also sets precendence for doing things together when the baby is older and no longer in need of naps.
Outdoor Naps Can Help Self-Soothe
Outdoor stimulation not only helps the child’s cognitive and motor skills, but it also encourages the baby to self-soothe. Motherly defines self-soothing as the ability for the baby to put themselves down to sleep, and to calm themselves if they rouse throughout the night.
When the baby is feeling restless, being bundled up with nature’s distractions all around can be helpful in them learning how to gain the independence needed to calm themselves down. Parents can stay inside for a little while and give the baby a moment to relax from their outdoor surroundings, rather than from mom running to the rescue.