Babies parked out in the cold

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An age-old Norwegian practice of putting babies in their carriages and parking them outdoors to take their naps, also in the middle of winter, is now under scrutiny. Immigrant parents and a doctor at the University of Oslo are questioning the ritual, which has developed over the years with no solid medical research to support it.

A woman checks on a baby napping outdoors at a day care center in Bergen on Wednesday. The practice is widespread throughout the country, but now it's being questioned. PHOTO:

A woman checks on a baby napping outdoors at a day care center in Bergen on Wednesday. The practice is widespread throughout the country, but now it’s being questioned. PHOTO:

“I think it’s a very peculiar Norwegian practice, or a bad practice, that infants sleep outside, even through winter,” Dr Torleiv Ole Rognum, a forensic specialist at Oslo University Hospital, told newspaper Aftenposten this week. Many young Norwegian mothers automatically set their infants outdoors for naps, packed in wool when the weather is cold, because they think the fresh air is healthy. Rognum isn’t so sure.

An unknown percentage of crib deaths in Norway occur while the babies sleep outside during winter, and when Rognum shared this information with an audience of pediatricians at a conference in Buenos Aires a few years ago, all reacted with horror. “In Argentina you would be accused of child abuse if you left children outside unattended,” Rognum said.

Infants are at the highest risk of crib death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), while asleep, inside or outside, and its cause is so far unknown. However, a common prevention strategy is to provide well-ventilated sleeping space and lying infants on their backs to sleep. Many parents believe that the clean, fresh outside air provides such an environment.

Rognum believes the Norwegian custom is either a misguided belief that it will make the children accustomed to the cold air, or that it is simply a matter of convenience. He wonders whether parents and child minders simply grab the chance to get some peace by parking the babies outdoors.

No research to back it up
Dr Kai-Håkon Carlsen, a specialist in children’s’ allergies, believes the practice is based on tradition and experience rather than on medical reasoning or research. “As far as I know, there is no research to support this issue,” he told Aftenposten.

Carlsen said that from a medical point of view, it is important that the air is not polluted and that temperatures and the baby’s age be considered. “Inhalation of very cold air can be harmful to a child’s airways,” he said. “Very cold temperatures can also cause frostbite unless the baby is properly dressed.”

Dr Finn Bovim, district medical chief in Oslo, confirmed there is little research to support outdoor napping, and said his advice was for children with respiratory conditions to be kept indoors when pollution levels are potentially high.

Foreigners skeptical
Immigrants with children in Norwegian day care centers or childcare groups are often especially skeptical to the practice, particularly because of the extreme Norwegian winters.

Hanne Kristin Faye, head of the Tonsenhagen day care center in Oslo, said she regularly has to explain to immigrant parents why they choose to have the children sleep outside. “Some foreigners do not understand the point of this and don’t like it,” Faye told Aftenposten. “But when we explain that the children do sleep well, get fresh air and, we believe, stay healthier because they do not sleep so close together, they accept it.”

Faye added that it is easier to get children used to napping during the day at the center when they sleep in their own baby carriage. Children with a cold or who for other reasons need to stay indoors, are permitted to sleep inside.

Most child care groups in Norway do have rules for being outside during winter, with the most common advocating that children below the age of three should not go outside when temperatures drop below minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit). However, many day care centers even leave children outside in temperatures as cold as minus 15-20C to sleep, despite rules preventing them from playing outdoors in such cold weather, according to articles published in parents magazine Foreldre & Barn.

Views and News from Norway/Aasa Christine Stoltz

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  • I am myself an immigrant parent in Norway and I absolutely support the idea of sleeping outdoors for babies to get fresh air and more used to weather conditions.

    • If I have children they won’t be sleeping outside in winter until someone can prove to me there are benefits that out way the negatives. Throwing around words like “fresh air” which actually means nothing won’t sway me and it’s about time that doctors actually considered and researched it. I’m open to the idea that it is healthy but it’s about time some evidence was found one way or the other.

      • So then. I asume you have evidence to support the notion its healthier to sleep inside? Can you provide anything regarding benefits outweighing negatives of sleeping inside?

        As far as i can gather homo sapiens has slept outside most of its 200k year existence, even without the aid of propper wool clothes and goretex and whatnot. Seems to be working.

        • Olivier

          Yeah and 200k year ago, what was the life expectancy again ? This argument is moot.

        • And for most of that existence they were not in Norway they were in Africa. I also don’t know if you noticed but Oslo’s air is not exact as pure and clean as it once was. But then I’d like it if my child had a life expectancy over 30 and my partner didn’t have a 25% chance of dying in childbirth. Guess I’m just picky

      • Out weigh the negatives you say, but what are these negatives?

        • How about city smog, easier access to animals (rare but does happen), the cold (there is a reason you have to cover the child in chemicals). As for any other negatives again surely that’s worth exploring before we shut down the guy with “it’s been this way for 100s of years”. So had slavery, bleeding, months at sea without fruit.

      • Mountain Guardian

        One could look up and compare the average health statistics, life expectancy etc, of Norway and see how they compare to other countries that are in the north but do not have this practice.

        Life expectancy in Norway, 81.8 years.. Russia, 70.5… Ukraine, 71.3.. Canada, 82… Alaska, 70…

        There may be no way of really comparing this, Norway has better medical care than some of these countries and that alone could make quite a difference. I would think that if this was particularly unhealthy it would be noticeable in the lifespan or health of the people following this practice.

  • Freia

    This is not a new thing. Mothers have been doing it for years, and not just in Norway either. Seems to me that these days people want to raise a load of wimps! The only danger of babies sleeping outside is from strangers that may abduct them – but even that is a rare thing! When my child was young, he suffered from croup and our Doctor told me to sit on the balcony with him well wrapped up but so that he could breathe in the minus 10-15 degree air! And it helped.

  • This statement is outrageous and ridiculous,
    “Rognum believes the Norwegian custom is either a misguided belief that it will make the children accustomed to the cold air, or that it is simply a matter of convenience. He wonders whether parents and child minders simply grab the chance to get some peace by parking the babies outdoors”.
    A parent is never more alert than when her baby is asleep!
    I have a monitor on always when my 10 month old daughter is sleeping. If we are at home she sleeps in her own bed, occasionally she has been on the balcony, but not when it was really cold, and never in the summer (though I would have preferred it as it was very hot inside) because the balcony gets the sun from 10an, so it at its hottest in the afternoon when she would be sleeping. However she has often slept in the pram whilst we are out both in summer and winter, and that of course has been because I was out and walking about.

    I am English and have worked in a Norwegian Nursery and there the children slept outside. There was always someone there to keep an eye on them, and they certainly never slept outside if it was too cold to play outside. All the children wore the proper attire for the weather at the time. There were also children who always slept inside, probably half and half, the nursery went by what the parents wanted, in every case. This way those children who were used to sleeping outside did and vise verse.

    I think the problem for some immigrant parents especially those from warmer countries is that they simply don’t know how to dress their children for the cold.
    Even I have done a lot of research to get it right, but I have seen parents out shopping with a child the same age as mine, dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and a puff jacket, both Mum and Dad were telling me how cold it was, and that he was cold, but what could I say, your child isn’t dressed properly, no wonder, he looks miserable???

    I dont know if there are benefits to sleeping outside or not, only that those children who are used to it sleep better outside, it’s more about what the child is used to from home. Until we have a proper study on it, we cannot say that parents who choose to let them sleep outside are bad parents.

    The cot death mention in this article is a total red herring, because children who are outside do not die of cot death more than those inside, also the figures are so low, ie two incidences a year in Norway, that is actually irrelevant.

  • McKenzie Bryan

    The air quality in Oslo and Bergen is absolutely terrible in the winter!

  • Laura-Lynn W

    I have been so stressed about this topic since last winter. I have strong feelings about not putting my child outside, and I get looked at like I am the crazy one if I say that. It’s interesting that last year my baby only ever got sick when he was with his cousin (3 months apart), because the “cousin” was sick all damn winter…… probably from being put outside to sleep all winter. I don’t know why I feel like I am the only sane one person here. A baby’s lungs are tiny and fragile. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out if a baby baby is taking longer naps outside it is because there lungs are freezing slowing everything down. That and….. if they are covered they are just breathing back in carbon monoxide, also which would keep them asleep for longer.
    I’m all for giving your child some fresh air, however if they are pulling up a sleeping bag and napping with them outside for the same period of time. It should not be done.

  • Barbara

    My mother told me she did this for me when I was a baby in the 1940’s and 1950’s when we lived in Detroit. I am still alive and did not suffer a thing…in fact I was very healthy as a young child. There are probably hundreds or even thousands of child care ideas that someone somewhere will object to. So this should not get people all riled up. It’s the actual abuse of children we should worry about!

  • Mountain Guardian

    Living in the US I have always been terrified that someone would kidnap or my children, I never allowed them out of my sight or more than a few feet from me except at home on the farm. As for the cold, I happen to be Norwegian and was raised much as these Norwegian children in this article, I can remember waking up in the back of the truck with an inch of snow over my brother and I traveling in the winter. I remember the thermometer in my bedroom reading -10F once. The cold never hurt me any, in fact I am able to work in a t shirt down to around 10F and be quite comfortable. My children are the same, they will run around in 20 degree weather in shorts and t shirts like we are having a heat wave.

    I am not sure that I would agree that exposure to cold temps will harm a child in most circumstances. In fact I think it may help to activate cold tolerance in them through out their lives. My children and I are far more able to deal with cold than most anyone I have ever met. Their mom on the other hand has trouble with anything below 70 F… lol….