While Autunm is in full bloom, the signs of impending winter are telling us that cold weather is on the doorstep. Beautiful as snow may be, the first white specks of nature's art are also the first signs of upcoming necessary hibernation, as many moms may think, so that babies are protected from the colds that often, we we tend to think, result, we... in colds.
Putting your baby for a nap in a sub-zero cold may be the last thing to come to your mind when thinking of keeping the new to this world babies healthy during the winter months. That, however, is a common practice among the Nordic countries parents. "Are they right? They must be crazy!" - one may think, but today we have studies to prove that the parents that are exposing their children to the fresh air daily are , indeed, right.
The almost abandoned custom of giving a baby plenty of daily fresh air may have had a hidden benefit in helping the baby to sleep better at night, according to new research. A study has found that babies sleep longer when exposed to fresh air and plenty of light in the afternoon, a time when many mothers used to put babies in the garden in their prams or take them to a park.
Dr Yvonne Harrison, who led the study, said that walking with infant in a well ventilated pram would be ideal, but putting the baby in front of a large window rather than in the darkened nursery would be an alternative.
"Sleep deprivation is a big problem for many new parents. This research puts forward one theory that may help babies and parents get a good night's sleep, which is good news for everyone," Dr Harrison said. "This is an original finding and there are still many questions to answer. It may be that the babies are more active in the light," she said.
However, the researchers from Liverpool John Moores University think that the stimulus of fresh air and light may help babies to establish their circadian rhythm sooner. Circadian cycles, influenced by hormones and light and dark, set the body clock in humans and other mammals.
It is interesting, that the practice of outside napping is a second nature to any Nordic parent. A walk with a new baby in what many would consider freezing cold wouldn't give them a second thought. It's a part of their daily routine and a part of absolutely necessary health regiment.
Daytime temperatures in winter in Stockholm have regularly dropped to -5 C (23F), but that is no measure to keep the baby inside, many European parents think:
"I think it's good for them to be in the fresh air as soon as possible," says Lisa Mardon, a mother-of-three from Stockholm. "Especially in the winter when there's lots of diseases going around... the kids seem healthier."
Her children have been sleeping outside since they were born. The youngest, Alfred, is two and she puts him outside in the pram to nap once a day, for an hour and a half. When he was younger he slept outside twice a day.
This isn't a recent fashion. Lisa's mother, Gunilla, now 61, says she also did it with Lisa when she was a baby. "Yes we were doing it back then as well… It was important for her to get fresh air and stay healthy," Gunilla says.
And Lisa's father, Peter, was put outside by his mother to sleep in a pram in the 1950s. Only when it got to around -10C (14F) did she bring him indoors. Nowadays most day-care centres in Sweden put children outside to rest. It's common to see rows of prams lined up in the snow at nap-time, with youngsters fast asleep inside.
^^ Marielle Furnes enjoying the outdoors with her new baby past winter ^^
At Forskolan Orren, a pre-school outside Stockholm, all children sleep outside until they reach the age of three. "When the temperature drops to -15C (5F) we always cover the prams with blankets," says head teacher Brittmarie Carlzon.
One group at the pre-school spends all its time outside, from 09:00 to 15:00 every day. Out in the fresh air they do everything children normally do inside, only going inside at mealtimes, or in unusually cold weather.
The theory behind outdoor napping is that children exposed to fresh air, whether in summer or the depths of winter, are less likely to catch coughs and colds - and that spending a whole day in one room with 30 other children does them no good at all.
Many parents also believe their children sleep better and for longer in the open, and one researcher in Finland - outdoor napping is popular in all the Nordic countries - says she has evidence from a survey of parents to back this up.
"Babies clearly slept longer outdoors than indoors," says Marjo Tourula. While indoor naps lasted between one and two hours, outdoor naps lasted from 1.5 to three hours.
Well, to back that study up, another study in the Journal of Sleep Research also found that babies sleeping well at six weeks would be good sleepers at 12 weeks.
The researchers recruited 56 healthy babies, who were born at term and were not on any medication. The mothers kept a daily baby diary. Crying was monitored. The babies wore a device on their ankles to measure activity and each infant was given a teddy bear with a monitor to measure light in a constant way, when the baby was put down. The babies were monitored on three consecutive days when they were six weeks, nine weeks and 12 weeks old.
"One possible explanation for the link between light exposure and sleep is that higher light levels encourage the early development of the biological clock, which regulates a number of bodily functions, including the secretion of melatonin, an important factor in well-balanced sleeping patterns," said Dr Harrison.
The study found that babies who slept well at night were exposed to fresh air and light twice as much between the hours of midday and 4pm as the poor sleepers.
Good sleepers spent 66 per cent of their total night time asleep compared with poor sleepers who spent 55 per cent of the time - between 8pm and 8am - asleep. And what parent wouldn't want a good sleeping baby?
According to her research, -5C is the best temperature for an outdoor nap - though some parents she spoke to even put their children out at -30C. But do children who sleep outside end up catching fewer coughs and colds?
"In some studies they found pre-schoolers who spent many hours outside generally - not just for naps - took fewer days off than those who spent most of their time indoors,"- says Pediatrician Margareta Blennow.
Martin Jarnstrom, head of one of the Ur och Skur group of pre-schools , is another big advocate of outdoor naps, though he emphasises that while the weather may be cold, the child must be warm. "It's very important that the children have wool closest to their body, warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag," he says.
There is a Swedish saying that encapsulates this thought - "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing, " and we completely agree. While dressing a newborn baby may be intimidating to some, executing the practice of winter outdoor napping and walking this winter is easier then it seems with the help of Stokke's newly designed stroller with thoughtful air ventilation pockets built into the hood, and fabulous nordic-winter-approved accessories.
Another saying sums up what Swedes are likely to think when toddlers in other countries are kept indoors in sub-zero temperatures: "A little fresh air never hurt anyone", and one has to agree that the happiness of the rosy, freshly-from-the-cold cheeks topped off with victorious smile is a great proof that here too the Swedes are right. Let's make some changes and make this winter be a good one!
image via Marielle Furnes