Why Danish babies sleep outside

I’ve been wanting to write a blog about the Pram (aka barnevogn) culture in Denmark for a while.  But as fascinating as it was when I first learned about it, it soon became old news as I see and experience it every day.  However I’ve recently been reminded that there are still people out there who don’t know about it so I thought I should really share it.

If you already know about the pram culture in Denmark or if you’re a Dane you are going to find this a boring read.  However if you’ve never heard about the pram culture in Denmark then you’ll be intrigued.

The first thing you need to know is that prams are big in Denmark.

Think of something similar to a small bus with a handlebar that has tractor wheels and you’ll get close to imagining the size of these pram-beasts.  They’re built for all weather and to store the contents of a small house in and underneath them.  Plus a baby/toddler.  Kind of like an out of control handbag.

Secondly babies sleep outside in Denmark. In their prams.  In pretty much all weather.  Only when it gets colder than -10c will they come inside to nap.  Prams are also left outside shops and cafes with babies asleep in them while parents are inside.  Which given the size and access of some shops makes good sense and/or your only option.  Although unless the pram was on a conveyor belt outside the cafe I doubt BBB will ever play this game particularly well.

A lot of times you’ll also see plenty of empty prams parked outside with the babies having been carried into or up to their destination.  Apartments are small here – average size in Copenhagen is 50 square metres.  Which doesn’t give much room to park a small bus inside it.  So another good reason why you’ll see prams outside or women hauling them up and down the stairs to the basements.

When BBB begins Vuggelstue (Nursery) her daytime naps will be outside in a wooden ‘pram’.  All the younger children sleep outside in special areas outside designated especially for this.  The older children sleep inside from around 2 years of age.

This is the ‘norm’.  This is how the Danes do it and have done for many years if not forever.  When I tell my friends from outside of Denmark I’m met with a reply mixed of surprise, shock, amazement, disbelief and a ‘you’re not putting BBB outside are you?!’. 

It’s a tradition which is well entrenched in Denmark and is simply part of life here.  Although not all Danes do it.  I’ve been told a story of a women whose baby was bitten by a rat mid outdoor nap who decided that she wouldn’t do that again.  Fair call.

So far though I don’t think I’ve been particularly good at explaining why this practice works in Denmark.  It just does.  It is the norm. 

Similarly when talking with Danes and explaining we don’t put babies to sleep outside in New Zealand I think I have also done a pretty poor job of explaining why we don’t.  Sure occasionally we may leave little Johnny/Jenny outside in their Buggy if they’ve fallen asleep after a walk, but we don’t treat outside as the normal or regular place for naps.   Probably for the same reasons it works in Denmark it wouldn’t in New Zealand.  A cultural norm is just that.  What works in one country isn’t easily replicated in another.  Which was probably best proven by a Danish women visiting New York in 2007 who left her baby outside on the pavement asleep while she went inside to a café.  She was arrested for child neglect and a significant war of words between America and Denmark began regarding the ‘barbaric’ (as America referred to it as at the time) tradition.  A Trump moment before it's time.


The fact that I haven't put BBB outside to sleep perhaps makes me (again) the crazy foreign lady in Denmark.  But I’m okay wearing that badge as I am happy in knowing that both Denmark and New Zealand have a history of successfully raising healthy babies and regenerating our respective countries population - albeit with different styles.  Therefore either option seems to be a good one to me.  As the baby nurse said to me ‘there is more than one way to do the right thing’.

However in an attempt to explain the Danish pram culture to the rest of the world here’s my quick 5 reasons why Denmark puts babies outside to sleep and why New Zealand and most of the rest of the world doesn’t.  There is no scientific research or studies to back up my quick five so you’re welcome to add your own thoughts.

Why babies sleep outside in Denmark:

  1. Fresh air.  It’s healthier for the children. 
  2. They have prams the size of small buses which have kick arse insulation and wardrobes for the babies which make them as snug as a bug in a rug.  Or as happy as an eskimo in an igloo.
  3. With the average size of a Copenhagen apartment being just 60 square metres (for a 2 room apartment) often there is no room inside for baby to sleep during the day, which makes the garden or balcony in the pram the best option
  4. It’s been done for years
  5. Because they just do


Why babies don’t sleep outside in New Zealand:

  1. New Zealand is not Denmark
  2. The regular ‘normal’ 120km/hr winds in my home town of Wellington would require I buy an anchor to go with the pram for which I have not seen available for sale at Baby City
  3. New Zealand houses aren’t unfortunately particularly well insulated (as a generalisation) so ‘fresh air’ often greets New Zealanders through the windows, floorboards or from under the closed front door.  So no need to go hunting for fresh air for baby.
  4. New Zealand houses are big(ger) 
  5. If I left my pram outside in New Zealand someone would probably steal it

Oh and a little secret from Denmark – most mothers will place their baby monitor/radio in the pram so they can hear when baby is awake.  So fret not – the babies are not abandoned, nor can they invite another baby over and have a party in their pram while Mum/Mor isn’t watching.

If you're interested for more background reading http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21537988

Would you/did you put your baby outside to sleep?  Comment below.