Motherhood Mondays: Sleeping in Denmark (This Made My Jaw Drop!)

We talked last week about taking kids outside to play every single day, even in cold weather. Well, listen to this…

In Scandinavia, it’s common for people to take their babies outside for naps. And, when they go into restaurants or shops, they’ll even leave their sleeping babies alone in prams outside!

“When I lived in Helsinki, I noticed baby carriages outside most cafés,” says my sister-in-law Emily. “I assumed the babies were inside with their parents. Nope, they were sleeping soundly outside in their carriages while their parents were hanging out inside. Now there’s a country with a low crime rate for you!”

“The parents are usually really close by, near the window,” says photographer and mother of two Jenny Brandt, who lives in southern Sweden and went to Copenhagen to take a few photos for Cup of Jo. “I think the whole thing started because the cafés and shops are so small.”

What happens if a baby wakes up? “I’ve walked into a café letting the guests know that ‘the baby in the blue pram has started to wiggle around and looks like he’s about to get up,’ ” says Jenny.

It sounds crazy at first, right? But it would actually be amazing and liberating, I think, as long as your town was safe. How wonderful to just pop into a store quickly without waking up your baby; or to eat dinner with your spouse while your baby sleeps, and then all walk home together.

Plus, many Scandinavian parents believe it’s healthy for babies and children to be exposed to cold air for a few hours a day. In fact, the Finnish Ministry of Labour specifically recommends it (see page 24 under “naps”). “Parents feel that their child is more alert and eats better after sleeping outside,” says designer and mom of two Elisabeth Dunker of the blog Fine Little Day , who lives in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“My friends tell me that in Swedish daycare, naptime for babies is always outside in their prams, even on the coldest days,” says my friend Kim, who lives in Sweden. “They bundle them up and make them cozy, and park them outside. They say it builds health for the kids–physical toughness as well as reducing colds/germs that would spread if they were all cooped up inside.”

Not all Scandinavian parents are completely sold on the idea, though. “I’ve never let my kids sleep outdoors unattended, wouldn’t dare to!” says Elisabeth. “I would be afraid that someone would take them.”

I have to say, I kind of love this idea! Toby sleeps through the night starting at 7:30pm — it would be amazing to be able to take him out to dinner, where he could sleep soundly in the fresh air. Think how much money you’d save on nighttime babysitters, and it’s really nice for the family to be together, even when the baby is asleep. But it’s illegal in the United States. In fact, back in 1999, a Danish mom visiting Manhattan left her sleeping baby girl in the stroller outside a restaurant–and got arrested.

What do you think? Isn’t this fascinating? Does this all seem nuts or amazing to you? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts — all the cultural norms and differences are incredible! Every country, city, family and parent finds what works best for their sweet babies. (It reminds me of this wonderful documentary.)

P.S. More Motherhood Monday posts… xo

(Photos taken by Jenny Brandt/Dos Family for Cup of Jo)

  1. Jenny Dullere says...

    Here is my experience. My husbands mother wrapped him up and put him on the porch in the winter for a couple hours a day. When he grew up he was insistent that he could never get warm. I slept with a window cracked open and he would wake up and scream at me because he was so cold.
    This is also the woman that left her son in Wisconsin with her sisters family for a year because her husband was going to be stationed in New York. She would not leave her husband just a young child in grade school. He grew up feeling rejected always.

  2. Gillian Anderson says...

    When I first read about this being a thing, I put it into practice immediately. I have two young children- 21 months and 7 months. For afternoon nap, I take them on a walk in a double stroller, then when they are asleep, we come back home and I let them sleep while I work in my garden. I can’t wait to see how this works in the winter! I think it’s brilliant. I Google searched “how to get baby to sleep outside” and this was one of the articles that showed up! I’m in Minneapolis, MN and it would most certainly be illegal to leave them outside of a business, but there aren’t many shops around where I live anyway. I love this!

    • Anjelica says...

      How did it go?

  3. Hi, i am from the Czech Republic. Up to when I was a teenager ( i left the country then i was 20), prams were regularly parked outside shops, with babies inside, whilst mums were doing their shopping. And that was in the heart of the city. If babies woke up and cried, there would always be someone near who would rock the pram until the mum’s return. Usually senior citizens. We also believe that the afternoon nap should be taken outside in the fresh air. Living in England i noticed that children are not taken out everyday. This most likely have something to do with the fact that it rains so often. But i learnt to improvise. When my children fell asleep in the pram, and it started to rain, i would pull the rain cover over and leave the pram in the garden, obviously making sure of air supply, and let them sleep.

  4. K. says...

    Dear all Scandinavian parents: The people that are making a big deal about leaving your baby outside are mainly North Americans. Please continue doing this and don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong. Being from Canada, I am so envious of how you Scandinavians live and wish that we didn’t have to constantly live in fear. We (in North America) constantly live in fear that our children are going to be kidnapped or fear of what others might think. We are constantly being judged by others about our parenting and made to feel that we need to watch our kids 24/7 because if we don’t, we are a bad parent. If we (in North America) were to leave out child outside like this, we would likely be reported to Child Welfare and be charged with neglect and likely have our child taken away. Seriously. There was a case recently in the US where a 12 and a 10 year old were playing in their own backyard by themselves for 20 minutes and a neighbour reported them to authorities and the parents were taken to court for child neglect. It is so so sad that we have to live this way and even if we don’t want to be helicopter parents, we still face the fear of what others might think.

    • Kate says...

      This just reminded me of an appalling story that happened to my sister-in-law last year. My niece and nephew were playing in the living room of their house and – being 3 and 5 – they love to run around naked. Well, on this particular afternoon the curtains were open and someone must’ve seen inside because the police showed up at the door asking what we were doing in the house. Apparently, someone had called the police to say we were filming child porn in the living room. I wish I was exaggerating :( What a horrible thought. The police came in, took a brief look around, realized it’s a normal family home with normal kids running around and left us alone. Thankfully – it could’ve been much worse. I have no idea why someone would jump to such a conclusion. I care about the welfare of children as much as the next parent, but that is just twisted.

  5. This post made me miss Finland, my home country. In Houston you cannot do it for few reasons: temperature being the major one – it is too hot and second; you would get arrested for that. I wish it would be doable, as babies sleep longer naps that way.
    Being a mother abroad; Sometimes feels like an easter surprise egg in one’s hand when you come from a country, where one is tolerated to do so much more, e.g. leaving the baby in a stroller or letting the kids walk to school and that is the model I have learned. You keep guessing what can you possibly get away with here ;) Instead of the stroller I have done the very Finnish thing…our baby learned to go to sauna when he was 4 months old :)

  6. K says...

    My baby has been sleeping outside in his stroller since he was born. No weird thing about that :) It’s so practical. If I need to go groceryshopping or something, I can still do it while I take him with me.
    He always wear 2 or 3 layers of wool inside his sleepingbag (the inside of it is also made from wool) during the winter season. Wool helps regulate the temperature like nothing else <3 So he's never (ever!) cold. I think it's weird that people don't do this elsewhere.

    -Norwegian mom

  7. Oh this brigs back memories from when a friend from Australia was visiting us in Finland. First he saw our baby sleeping outside when it was -20, when he did see how much clothes the baby was wearing he seemed to think it was okay-ish. Then he saw me and other mommies nursing in public, and was surprised that we breastfed our babies at all. But when I sent him to the mall to get me some sour milk to drink, he must have thought I was completely nuts :)

  8. Irina says...

    Had no idea that was such a big deal, everibody does it in Russia. We may bot leave the babies in a straller outside the coffee shop but we put the m in the balcony of we just walk around with them wile the are asleep. Weird that it surprices you!

  9. OMG.. That’s a huge post . Thanks aman

  10. Here in Romania we would be completely irresponsible for doing such a (wonderful) thing. If you’re not carefull, even your older child can be snatched from under your nose in the park by shady people (who usually traffic organs/put them up on the black adoption market in the West). It’s seriously dangerous.
    Such a civilised society… It will take us hundred of years to have this level of trust and respect for one another.

  11. Elizabeth says...

    Is it also ok in extreme heat? 100°F give or take?

    • In Denmark, Sweden etc never is 100 F !
      :D For a short moment in summer it can get as hot as 30 C (until 90 F), but then families still spend time outside, in the shadow with babies.

  12. OMG! I would never do that!! (Portugal)

  13. Kathi says...

    I live in Iceland- am from Germany. For me it was very strange in the beginning to see the strollers outside houses. After speaking with different people I realized how normal it is for everybody. When I got my baby it was no question for me- an also recommended from our midwife- to let our boy sleep outside.
    He naps way better outside in all weather than inside.
    And I realize how happy I am to live in a country where I can feel so save

  14. Rebecca says...

    In the UK you defo couldn’t do this. You literally have to be watching your kids the whole time so much so that when you give birth, your baby has an alarm fitted on his/her ankle by the hospital staff which sounds if someone takes the baby from the ward.

    • Hanne says...

      Both my children have done their daytime sleeps outside since they born and until they were two years old(come rain or shine) . They sleep much longer and get lots of fresh air. Our nursery have been very supportive and accommodated it in their setting too (in a very safe way) and it even started a trend amongst the other children ;-) I wouldn’t leave the pram outside a shop or cafe though – I have probably lived too long in the UK to dare that!
      And I live in the UK (although originally from Denmark).

  15. I am a Norwegian mom living in the middle of Norway in a fairly big city (by Norwegian standards) and it is the usual thing to do, even in winter. I didn´t put babies outside to sleep in winter before they were 6-8 weeks old, and not if it was colder than -10 Celsius (14 F).

    And of course I left them outside shops and cafés. I don´t think a baby has gone missing in Norway from a pram ever. That would have made the headlines of the biggest newspapers.

  16. Totally support this, but only if there is a safe environment. We live in Vilnius and so happy we can leave the stroller outside cafes where we can sit by the window.
    I love Dr.Spick! Sometimes old school is the best way :)

  17. I think it was not uncommon to leave babies unattended outside stores in the U.S. in the 50’s and 60’s. I’m an old school fan of the American pediatrician Dr. Spock and he recommended all babies sleep in a room with an open window, year round…and he lived in the NE

    • Damar says...

      It wasn’t. I grew up on a farm but my husband grew up in Washington DC in the 50s. His mother routinely left him outside in his pram asleep under the neighbors’ open windows. He was under a year old and slept while she shopped a short block away or hung the laundry. “I’m going to the mailbox, would you keep an ear out for Jonny?”

  18. Oh this post made me happy for being Danish :) my mother had us sleeping outside, both when out and at home. I still love sleeping outside, just being outside really and i am rarely ill.
    I love the fact that my country has so low a crime rate that this is possible.. I will, as both my sisters have done, have my babies sleeping in the fresh air when that time comes.

  19. I was born in Denmark, I grew up here and I’ve lived here for my entire life (Now 15).

    It is indeed common for babies to sleep outside even in a cold winter months – in front of daycares there can be like 7 prams with babies sleeping outside and the adult inside reading a book or cleaning.

    When my cousin’s son (6 months old) was being baptized he slept outside for the entire party afterwards. We didn’t even see the baby at his own party. The guests were inside eating and talking, while the one everyone was celebrating was sleeping outside in Copenhagen.

    I’m not sure I would leave my future-child unattended in Copenhagen, but well we’re all so different.

    Also I remember being told the story in school (learning about American culture) about the Danish woman who left her child outside in NYC and got arrested. Haha – It was a part of my culture studies in 5th grade!

    Something I also learned from culture studies was nothing really bad ever happens here. Scandinavia is (in my opinion) really safe.

    I love your blog by the way! Very interesting x

    Cindy |

  20. This was a great post! I have never realised that not all babies sleep outside, seems so natural here in Finland! It is common to put your baby for nap on your yard or balcony. As a Finnish mom I have never left my baby outside a shop, even it truly is quite safe to live here.

  21. Hello, I live in Scandinavia, Norway, and find it very interesting that this sounds so strange for many in the US. We (and all of our friends) always leave our kids outside the small shops and cafes if they are sleeping. It allows them to get uninterrupted sleep during their nap time, and the parents get to drink their coffee in peace. We always feel it is completely safe (and we live in the biggest city in Norway), but of course we check on them every now and then, to make sure they haven´t woken up. Also, people who pass by are often very helpful and pop their heads in to say if one of the babies outside is crying. In kindergarten all the children take their daytime nap outside. The only exception is if the temperature drops below minus ten degrees Celsius, then they sleep inside. This outside sleeping works perfectly for all of us, and makes it easier to let the baby sleep when he/she needs to, as they don´t have to wait until we get home from an errand.
    Discovered your blog today. Wonderful!

  22. I am from the UK and my mum and my grandma always put me outside in my pram for a nap, they would leave me outside the kitchen window while they got jobs done and made dinner. I used to sleep for hours and my mum always said it was the fresh air, I was born in february so she just wrapped me up in blankets. I don’t think this would work at a restaurant or cafe in the UK, far to dangerous but perfect in the back garden

  23. I remember seeing this when I lived in Copenhagen and I thought it was kind of nuts.

    But then my friend, who is Norwegian and married to a Finnish guy, explaied that it is also recommended by pediatricians because the kids need to get used to the low temperatures typical of Scandinavian countries, so it won’t be a shock to their system when they can finally go play outside and such.

    I still think I’d be very nervous leaving my sleeping baby in a carriage outside!

  24. I was born in the GDR in the 80s and when I was a child it was usual to let children sleep outside, whether the parents went into a shop or they came back from a walk and the baby went on sleeping in the stroller outside. In those days there were always one or two strollers in front of a store and it wasn’t anything special.
    Nowadays hardly anyone would do that though, including me.

  25. I’m American the babies father is dutch and as I lay here pregnant in late November my window is open…I will absolutely be testing this out here in the US and once back in Europe. Hell, I can’t wait to take her to Denmark just to experience a day in the life. Also, because babies sniff out breast milk I believe this to be a cool idea aside from the danish belief that babies should nap on their back . Often babies are just out in the garden too. i worry about stuffy air and how it makes me feel no less an infant, yuk.

  26. Not outside of cafes and shops, but I do have had both of my kids nap in their buggy outdoors every afternoon, year round. Usually in the backyard or on our front porch after a walk around the block.

  27. they do this also in Hungary (sleeping outside, but not w/o the parents.. unfortunately crime rate is higher than in Scandinavia).
    also in some kindergardens, the kids sleep outside in the shade during the summer as well.

  28. As a Norwegian mom who has lived in several other countries, I am fascinated by the level of fear I see in so many of the comments. How will the children of such scared parents ever manage to test the limits of what’s feasible and safe, and what’s not?

    I just spent a couple of weeks up north (yes, even further north!), where the parenting culture is even more geared towards treating children as human beings, rather than as an inferior species (shocking idea, right?), and I felt so good finally being able to allow my 8 year old to roam around freely, whether that involved using a sharp knife to shape a stick to fry her hot-dogs (read the other post about Norwegian parenting), wandering off up the mountainside barefeet while stuffing herself with blueberries, or just rough-housing with friends. After all, the way to learn assuming responsibility requires being allowed to do so, and to be allowed to fail.

    My daughter had her nap outside every single day until she grew out of if. I would normally go for a walk first, then park the pram right outside the window with a baby monitor next to her head. Naptime was my favourite time of day, when I could finally read the newspaper or even take a shower (early on during the nap). I quickly developed a feeling for when she was about to wake up, and started watching the pram for movement before hearing the first sounds. She was always smiling and happy when waking up, rarely wanting to go inside, but nuzzling those deliciously cold cheeks would solve that small problem.

    To this day, my siblings and I always sleep with the bedroom windows slightly ajar unless we’re running a fever (one sister’s bedroom is so freaking cold all the time it’s unbearable!). Did all this outdoor sleeping, and, indeed, outdoor living (we played outside most of our spare time, and went on trips with our parents) make us stronger or weaker? Well, there’s no telling, really, as there’s no comparison. That way was the norm, I don’t know anyone who did not nap outside. As a matter of fact, I know (of) a few kids who have slept outside all year through, spending their nights in sleeping bags on balconies, and it does not appear to have harmed them in any way.

    Would I leave my baby outside a shop or cafe while I was inside? Only if the pram was in my direct line of vision, and I could get to it reasonably quickly (no, I don’t believe children need comforting immediately every time they make a sound). If I did not have a baby monitor, for some reason, I would want the window slightly ajar. And I would only do it if the neighborhood felt reasonably safe, of course, never in a foreign land.

    To all mollycoddling parents: give the kids some slack, please! They will never learn to live through hard times if they’re always protected, and as far as I can tell, we ALL come across hard times during our lives. We need to know this is something that can be mastered, not something to avoid at all costs!

  29. Yep, in Montreal with let babies sleep on the balcony, even during winter time… They sleep so much better. I live now upstate New York, nobody is out during winter time :( It is so depressing…

  30. I’m not sure what the legal status of this would be here in New Zealand, but I could see it working really well where I live. And New Zealand tends to be pretty hands off with respect to negative-rights laws.

    Anyway, I love the idea; it’s entirely in keeping with the philosophy of Laid Back Dad.

  31. I have seen this phenomenon in action..and while I dont judge…(if fact i think its cute in the summer time when i see babies parked outside in their strollers) i personally would never have the courage to do that myself.

    I am a new Mom who (after travelling throughout most of my 20’s) ..just moved to europe. This wouldn’t work with my family because:
    – I grew up in a 3rd world country . No matter how far away you get from that that high sense of caution/security NEVER leaves you

    I so totally understand how other parents (including my dear friends) do this….but I think taking a nap outside in the cold/leaving the stroller outside a restaurant would be pushing it for me peronally.

    But shhh.. between me and you I think my husband would be willing try the restaurant thing…if i conceded…

  32. Yep, we do this all the time in Wyoming and it’s 2013. So long as it’s not 20 below…and we’re not even close to be remotely European in our ‘ways’.

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  34. The astonishment you feel when realising Scandinavians do this equals the shock we feel when realising most other countries don’t.

  35. I won’t have kids for several years but this I can say with guaranty… no way that could happen in Mexico, EVER! not that I would do it either, even if I lived in Scandinavia; at most I would leave the pram outside and take the baby with me one way or another without waking the child, which by the way, is possible (I had babysited many babies)

  36. This was the norm in Vancouver, BC in the 1950s. My grandmother used to leave her babies in their pram outside stores. Nobody thought much of it. Thing is, crime rates haven’t actually changed that much since then–only the PERCEPTION of them has.

  37. I know we Americans tend to be hyper-vigilant with our kids, even in safe neighborhoods. Much of that comes from the fear that something bad could happen, no matter how unlikely. But I also think that we fear the judgement of others and the consequences of letting our guard down, especially if something bad DOES happen. We feel we could not forgive ourselves and we know that society wouldn’t forgive us if something we did or didn’t do led to the harm of our child. But I for one feel there are far worse things a parent could do.

  38. When visiting my friend in Iceland a couple of years back I saw the same. Prams parked outside of apartment buildings. Little did I know that the babies were sleeping in there. Mind you, it was wintertime…

  39. Anna says...

    I´m Swedish and I didn´t realize this was such a strange thing. I have a 10 month old who sleeps outside alot. Mostly in our garden. I´ve left him outside a café as long as I can see if he wakes up. Im not worried that someone would take him. I´ve never heard of that happening here. I think it has to do with the strong social network we have here. It´s not a lot of crazy people walking around.

  40. Ane says...

    Interesting to read a foreign perspective on this “phenomenon”! I’m Norwegian, live in Oslo and have a soon to be 4-month old baby. She’s been sleeping in her pram on the veranda all winter, of course not on the coldest days. In Norway, it is not recommended to take newborns outside if it is below 10 degrees (celsius). The trick is to dress them in layers of wool, which regulates their body temperature and doesn’t get sweaty like cotton. Babies in Norway generally have very sturdy prams and thick, dune sleeping bags. When it comes to leaving the babies outside shops and cafes, it is not a ‘Scandianavian lifestyle’ thing, but a highly individual choice. I would never leave my baby outside the grocery store, but I might do it outside a cafe if she was sleeping soundly and I had a full on view of the pram to see the slightest stir :-)

    Just discovered your blog, by the way. Love it! I want to bring my daughter to NYC one day, as I have spent many vacations there myself and I love it! xxx, Ane, Oslo