As a baby, I used to nap alone outside in frigid sub-zero conditions in winter. In all Nordic countries, parents commonly put their babies down for a nap outdoors because babies get better sleep while being exposed to fresh air. It is perfectly normal for parents to let their baby sleep in a pram outside their house or apartment in winter when the outdoor temperatures range between -30 C / -22 F and +3 C / +37 F degrees. If there is neither a backyard nor a pram-friendly street, prams are standing on a balcony. Please note, this is done only daytime when the weather is bearable.
While I was born in summer, I was five to six months old when winter arrived. I belonged to those babies who regularly slept outdoors in a pram. Hence, I was acclimatized already as an infant. Perhaps this early childhood experience explains my love for an extremely cold weather with freezing temperatures. I feel comfortable with -30 C / -22 F degrees. I may sometimes sleep a window open in winter if the night is really cold. I also fancy a roof window in my bedroom.
Why Do Scandinavians Leave Their Babies Out in the Cold? What Are the Benefits?
Research scientists regard -5 C / 23 F as the ideal temperature for an outdoor nap of babies. What is the justification of this result? What about the cultural reasons for the prevailing childcare norm in the Nordics?
Most importantly, proven health benefits are significant. Sleeping outside is good for the immune system, reducing coughs and colds. Doctors recommend it as a way to decrease children’s exposure to germs and reduce the risk of infection. The baby gets rid of germs that are easily trapped indoors on the coldest winter days when people tend to keep their windows locked. (Bendixen 2021.)
Furthermore, sleeping outside entails a calming effect because it improves duration and quality of sleep. According to a Finnish study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, Nordic parents are reporting how babies take longer and deeper naps when they sleep outside in the “cold”. They have better appetite afterwards, and they are more active after an outdoor nap. (McGurk 2019.)
The practice is considered healthy and beneficial due to clean air and varying sounds of nature, including birdsong. Respectively, an English nursery in West Sussex – as well as many forest nurseries everywhere – are offering “a full forest experience” for their care children. The head of the Sussex nursery summarizes its advantages as follows: “When children wake up, they first watch trees or the sky for a while. This is an important processing time. They are still and watchful.” The increased brain activity allows kids to be happier, have better concentration and improve their memory capacity. (Bendixen 2021.)
Parents in the Nordic countries try to maximize a child’s time spent outdoors, often citing the motto: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing.” According to their philosophy, babies and children can go outside at any time of year, as long as they are dressed properly.
Trust is the enabling factor for the common practice of outdoor napping. The Nordic countries are among the safest countries in the world which explains why most parents would not think twice before leaving their sleeping baby outside in a pram. (Bendixen 2021.) Of course, they behave like this in their own safe home environment, not in any random place.
My Winter Dream
If I only could, I would pack my skis and skates in the car, and drive to Minnesota or Canada to enjoy a real winter. Thanks to my excellent immune system, partly stemming from my infant months, I hardly catch a cold. (However, I do NOT claim to be immune to COVID-19.)
A few years ago, I once attended a meetup of a cross country skiing club in Ann Arbor. Two of its board members, a male and a female, gave a long, thorough presentation on their sportswear for cross-country skiing. They were wearing so many layers of different clothes that I would melt on a ski slope like snowman if I wore so much clothing. Moreover, they made everything sound inconceivably complex and tricky. They also needed a pile of specially designed smart textiles and functional apparels although they were just amateurs, no top athletes. They would have surely been shocked to hear that I wear the same casual tracksuit all year round.
My advice to Southerners curious about cross-country skiing: just go ahead! Cross-country skiing is one of the safest sports with a low rate of accidents resulting in injury. Other attractive winter sports are tour skating (recreational long distance ice skating on natural ice), snowshoeing, sledging, downhill skiing and ice fishing.
If none of these is challenging enough for you, try winter swimming or preferably ice swimming in a frozen lake or sea. You break the ice and drill a large hole in it so that you can swim amid the snow. In Finland, ice swimming is often combined with sauna, though sauna is not necessary. Regular ice swimming has been shown to boost the immune system, improve blood circulation, reduce stress and help your body burn more calories throughout the day. Winter swimmers say that icy water gives a refreshing kick-start to the day. I have no experience of winter swimming. Last fall, I stopped lake swimming as “early” as October 21.
Bendixen, Louise (2021). “Would you let your baby nap outside?” The official website for The Nordics – a joint branding project by the Nordic Council of Ministers. https://thenordics.com/trace/would-you-let-your-baby-nap-outside
McGurk, Linda (2019). “Why Scandinavians Leave Their Babies Out in the Cold?” Blog by a Swedish mom: Rain or Shine Mamma. https://rainorshinemamma.com/why-scandinavians-leave-their-babies-out-in-the-cold/