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Parents in Nordic countries have their babies nap outside in subzero temperatures so they sleep longer and better

Emily Cavanagh   

Parents in Nordic countries have their babies nap outside in subzero temperatures so they sleep longer and better

Spotting a baby napping alone outside in frigid conditions isn't necessarily a cause for concern in Denmark, Finland, or any other Nordic country. In these places, parents commonly put their babies down for a nap outdoors because babies may get better sleep while being exposed to fresh air.

The internet got to talking about the topic when Danish musician Amalie Bruun posted a photo to Instagram of herself with her 4-month-old son, Otto, exploring their garden. Otto was awake in the image, but Bruun shared that her son "sleeps outside most of the time."

In January, Denmark's coldest month, the lowest average temperature reaches 37 degrees Fahrenheit. In Finland, where the practice is also common, parents will put their babies down for a nap outdoors when the temperature dips as low as -16 degrees Fahrenheit.

Showing Otto our garden. He sleeps outside most of the time anyway

A post shared by Myrkur ᛗ (@myrkurmyrkur) on Jan 11, 2020 at 5:47am PST

After Bruun's Instagram post, a number of parents from Nordic countries chimed in to share that they also have their babies nap outdoors, and why.

Babies who nap outside may sleep longer, get higher quality sleep, and are exposed to fewer germs as compared to when they sleep indoors, Katie Palmer, a London-based sleep consultant, told Insider.

But the practice isn't without risks. A baby could develop hypothermia while sleeping outdoors during the winter. In the summer, there's the risk of getting a sunburn and developing heat exhaustion. At any time of year, there are concerns around abductions and in urban areas, being exposed to air pollution.

It's common for Nordic parents to leave a sleeping baby outside while they go to a restaurant or run an errand

In Nordic countries, parents are generally more trusting than parents in the US, and may not think twice about leaving a sleeping baby outside in a stroller while they grab a drink or a bite to eat. To many parents, keeping a baby alone outside is preferable to bringing them into a noisy environment where they may get disturbed.

But some sleep experts say a baby shouldn't ever be left sleeping alone — whether they're indoors or outdoors.

"My concern is supervision," Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician based in Atlanta, Georgia, told Insider. If parents aren't right nearby, they won't know, for example, if a baby has stopped breathing, she said.

For protection, parents will put their babies in a sleeping bag or keep a thermometer in the stroller

Parents who put their babies to sleep outside typically implement a number of measures to make sure their babies are safe.

Some parents use strollers with locking wheels and wedges to prevent the carriage from rolling away, Shu said. A mother from Finland who commented on Bruun's Instagram post said that she puts a thermometer in her child's stroller so that she can monitor the temperature outside.

Parents will go so far as to attach a video monitor to the stroller so they can keep an eye on the baby from afar, Shu said. They may also bundle their babies in wool garments, tuck them into a sleeping bag, and use insulated strollers, Shu added.

In Denmark, daycare centers often even have a reserved area outdoors for nap time.

"It's their custom," Shu told Insider of parents in Nordic countries who nap their children outdoors. "They apparently are prepared."

In Nordic culture, children are encouraged to spend as much time outside as possible

Parents in Nordic countries prioritize maximizing a child's time outdoors, often citing the motto: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing," Shu noted.

According to that philosophy, babies and children can go outside at any time of year, so long as they're dressed properly. Educators in Denmark and Sweden apply that same concept to teaching too. Many schools there follow the forest school model, which promotes using the outdoors as a classroom.

Sleep and play practices in Nordic countries differ vastly from those in the US. For American parents, there's pressure to put babies to sleep on a firm flat surface at the same time each day and to adhere to the standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

That culture clash came to a head in a well-known 1997 case when Anette Sørensen, a Danish mother, was arrested in New York City for leaving her baby to nap outside a restaurant, the Guardian reported. Sørensen was charged with child endangerment and spent 36 hours in jail, according to the New York Post.

Some parents say they would like to see standards around sleep ease up in the US. An American mom commented on Bruun's post and said she wished napping outside were more accepted and bemoaned the fact that parents in the US are "so uptight" about their approach to sleep.

Babies don't adapt to cold weather as well as adults do

But the risks associated with sleeping outdoors will quickly outweigh the benefits once temperatures drop below freezing, since babies can't regulate their body temperature as well as adults.

"A baby's temperature can drop four times faster than adults, and they can become hypothermic," Shu said. She recommended that parents keep their homes at a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Palmer said she wouldn't encourage her clients to put their babies to sleep outside, but she wouldn't outright dissuade a parent from doing so, if they were set on it.

"Provided that they were being safe and sensible and keeping an eye on their baby," Palmer said, "I wouldn't have any issue with them trying this."