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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Photo from Thinkstock


Sirkka S.
Sirkka S.4 years ago

Also, I have never heard of a baby dying from the cold, no-one lets a baby freeze!

Sirkka S.
Sirkka S.4 years ago

When I was baptized at home in Finland in the end of the nineteenthirties,( home baptisms are still popular), after the ceremony I was put on the balcony in the baby carriage by my trained childrens' nurse. There was some snow falling, not on me, of course. It must have been a regular occurrance. I do not know how common it was then as some relatives were surprised. At 75 I have a cold very seldom and have never taken influenza vaccination.
In Finland it is recommended that a child be taken in if it gets down to 14F (-10C) (without wind).
In comparison, here in Norway this winter it has often been 17.6F, and I do not feel it's cold at all when I am warmly clad, with hat and gloves and a winter coat, maybe a cardigan under.
I have not done this with my own children, as they were born in Australia.

Arwen Woods
Arwen Woods4 years ago

Get a grip people. It's not stupid or crazy in the Scandinavian culture. Would I do it in New York? Hell no! But in a country where it is socially acceptable and safe to do so, why not???

People seem to forget that just because it is not practiced where they live does not mean it is wrong. There is this knee jerk reaction to yell "crazy! Wrong!" Well it isn't. Aren't we supposed to be tolerant of cultural differences? Babies should sleep somewhere warm? What about the Inuit? Do they stop having children then? As long as the baby is safe and watched, there is nothing at all wrong with it. Better fresh air than a stuffy, not room any day!

Pinke A.
Pinke A4 years ago

Oh, and Billie C. our winter is very long and big part of it is so completely without the sun!! Only this time of year we have lots of snow and ,thank God,also the sun!!

Pinke A.
Pinke A4 years ago

That is just normal way to do here in Scandinavia!! We have this climate and we are used to live with it it! All children are sleeping their nap outside.-15 (5F) isn't too could,if the place isn't windy! The kids are well dressed for that and covered in the sleeping-bag and warm winter clothes!
In windy weather they are covered for the wind too!
They are sleeping so well in the fresh air. Why in heaven's name they should sleep inside??No fresh air anywhere!
Here it has been normal to leave the baby outside the café,but always so,that mom could see the baby carriage. We have been living in relatively safe country. So far!
The babies are also having the Sauna from the couple months old,with the parents =D So are you guys shocked yet?? Whole family NAKED in Sauna together?? So we do live some different life here,ha?
About sleeping in the cool room,hubby and me are sleeping with the open window,also all winter, even -20C !!Still alive =P

janet T.
janet t4 years ago

I don't know about cold, it seems risky, but too hot is not good, and I believe fresh air is really good. I love an open window, so why can't they just turn the heat down and crack a window?

Lynn Demsky
Lynn D4 years ago

I'm leading towards believing this --- I always sleep better in the cold and the colder the better so. but also know that in a lot of places it's just not safe to do that ---so TURN THE THERMOSTAT DOWN might be a good compromise!

Myriam G.
Myriam G4 years ago

I agree that leaving children unattended outside a café in a big city is not something I would recommend, at least not here in Quebec. But, in winter, placing a bundled up baby in a Moses basket for a nap, outside on the porch, in front of the kitchen window, is something my grand-mother used to do with my mother, my aunts and my uncles, back in the 1930s! And, save for one, they all lived to be over 80, and in great shape, for the most part.

When I became a mother myself, I guess I got polluted with the fears that are instilled in us when we become parents, nowadays. I only let the kids sleep outside if it was above freezing, and on the balcony where I would sit... even if no one could have gotten to that balcony. When it was below freezing point, I would take them for a walk in a "kangaroo-pouch" carrier. They would enjoy it so much!

Kuddos to Scnadinavian parents!

Billie C.
Billie C4 years ago

if you leave your kid alone outside here you might have him when you get back. plus you'd end up i jail. i can see where this could be good they child would get fresh air and sunshine.

Lori Ann Hone
Lori Hone4 years ago

Stupid, just plain stupid