Is Sleeping Outside in the Cold Better For Babies’ Health?
Rolling bundled-up babies and toddlers in their strollers outside in 5 degree Fahrenheit (-15 degree Celsius) weather: part of the daily routine to get littles ones some fresh air or child abuse?
Such a practice would definitely be the latter in the U.S.. But as the BBC reports, parents in Stockholm leave young children in their strollers outside cafes in the snow and go in for a coffee. During the winter, children snooze on the balconies or in the gardens of friends while their parents visit inside.
While children in American daycare centers nap on little cots placed, quite often, on the floor of the same room they’ve spent the morning and will spend the afternoon in, Swedish daycare centers put their three-and-under charges out-of-doors to sleep. The head teacher at a Stockholm center, Brittmarie Carlzon, tells the BBC that “when the temperature drops to -15C (5F) we always cover the prams with blankets.” When it is downright icy (-20 degrees Celsius), they do bring the children indoors. One group of children at the daycare actually spends the entire day, from 9:00 am till 3:00 pm, outside in the winter, only going inside for meals and if it gets really cold.
Martin Jarnstrom, head of a Swedish preschool, notes that children must be warm and bundled up (in wool, for instance, and covered with a sleeping bag), to sleep in temperatures that would drive a lot of people I know to stay inside with about three layers on and under a huge blanket.
Is Sleeping Outside in the Cold Better For Your Health?
The theory behind having young children nap outside in the cold is that napping outside helps children stay healthier by exposing them to fresh air, rather than keeping them inside for hours in stuffy, overheated rooms. A survey of parents by a Finnish researcher, Marjo Tourula, lends weight to the practice, with parents reporting that babies napped longer outside.
But studies by the Swedish Environmental protection agency note mixed results, with some finding that preschoolers who spent more time outside (not only for napping) taking fewer days off from school. Other studies have not found a difference.
The BBC suggests that support for bundled-up babies napping in the cold could be based in long-standing cultural beliefs. Outdoor napping is described as “popular in Nordic countries” and, according to a Swedish saying, “a little fresh air never hurt anyone.”
One Culture’s Custom Is A Crime In Another
In too many parts of the U.S. (outside of your local Starbuck’s, for instance), leaving children out to nap simply wouldn’t be safe. In fact, the very idea — of (1) having a child nap outside without anyone right there beside her or him and (2) in sub-zero temperatures — would very likely lead to accusations of a parent being unfit to care for a child.
In fact, back in 1997, a Danish tourist, Anette Sorensen, who was visiting New York City was arrested for leaving her infant daughter in a stroller outside a Lower East Side café. The child was placed in foster care for a few days and her mother charged with child endangerment; a year later, Sorensen sued the city. Commenting on the Scandinavian custom of leaving children (in all types of weather) outside, the New York Times observed that “New Yorkers are not used to such a carefree attitude.” “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” goes the old adage — though I could see Scandinavians shaking their heads at New Yorkers for an excessively over-protective attitude.
There is something to be said for ensuring that children get fresh air. It is arguably more the norm for American children not to get enough of such and, even in far warmer weather, to spend the majority of their time inside, eyes glued to the screens of electronic devices.
I can’t imagine leaving a child unattended outside a U.S. store or restaurants, but I do think there’s something to be said for getting kids (and us older folks!) outside at least once a day, in all sorts of weather. My son Charlie likes and wants to get outside everyday, a couple of times a day. Due to Charlie’s disabilities, my husband and/or I always go with him; a good brisk run-walk or bike ride wakes us all up.
While we won’t be having anyone sleeping outside in subzero temperatures any time soon, the Scandinavian practice does serve as a reminder, you don’t need to have the thermostat turned up high to get a good sleep!
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