Napping in a hutch and other tales of outdoor snoozing

Children in the snow

A Magazine story about the practice in Nordic countries of putting babies out for a nap in sub-zero temperatures prompted hundreds of readers to write about their own experiences.

Many people in these countries believe that children exposed to fresh air, whether in summer or the depths of winter, are likely to be healthier than those kept indoors - as the article explained.

Per, Richmond, UK: I was born in the north of Sweden 50-plus years ago and my first ever memory is sitting in the pram wrapped in a reindeer skin, beside a wall of thawing snow. It was early spring and the water reflected the sun in a multitude of colours coming down the wall. My own children had all their afternoon naps outside in the fresh air during their early years without any problems. The cold weather is not really the problem up north it is the lack of sunlight and perhaps sleeping outside in the afternoon may give a bit of vitamin D from the bleak winter sun.

Lynda Christiansen, Oslo, Norway: What you fail to mention in the original article is the bedding and clothing available and in use. Babies lie on a sheepskin and are wrapped in what's called a "voksipose", which is a goose feather duvet that the baby is wrapped in and the ties fastened. Babies also wear one or two layers of wool according to temperatures. Somewhat obviously, with the healthcare systems in place in the Scandinavian countries, infant deaths due to freezing would be reported. They're not. Babies sleep perfectly comfortably snuggled in their little "nests".

This home film footage from the 1970s shows a Dutch "babyhouse" in use

Maja Dunn, Milton Keynes, UK: I was a baby in Holland in the 1950s, and my parents had a special type of "hutch" in which they put me and my twin-sister to sleep in and enjoy the fresh air throughout the year. This old photo of it was taken in the summer, so we were enjoying the lovely weather with bare legs and tootsies. The hutch in this instance is placed inside a square "beach tent" erected in the garden for shade. It was meant to be used all year round - an extra blanket, hat, mittens and hot water bottle kept us warm in winter. I moved to England aged 19, got married, and our daughters were born in 1978 and 1981. I put them outside in the pram to sleep in the garden keeping them well wrapped up when it was cold - but I chickened out when it was frosty, I think.

Twins in baby "hutch" Dutch twins in all-weather baby 'hutch' in the summer of 1952

Sheena Lovaine Smith Simensen, Oslo, Norway: I live in Oslo in Norway, but I was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I have four children and they have all taken their lunchtime nap outside, also during the winter. This is the norm here, and they sleep a lot better in the fresh air. The only days they have not slept outside was if the temperature dropped below -5C (23F), or there have been gale force winds. On those days, the baby's sleep time has been noticeably shorter. We wrap the babies up in layers of wool clothing, and they sleep in a thick wool sleeping bag. On extra cold days, we put on a special cream to protect their skin. They sleep straight outside the window, and are checked regularly. My youngest daughter, Emma Rose, is six months old, and she sleeps, "like a baby", outside every day. She loves lying in her cosy sleeping bag, snug as a bug, and more often than not, she has to be woken after three hours sleep.

Dr Truby King

Baby on a ledge

New Zealand-born child welfare reformer Sir Frederic Truby King developed his "scientific" childcare regime in the 1920s and became renowned worldwide.

His ideal was for a baby to be put out in the garden in a light cot so that as much sun and air as possible could reach it.

If a family lacked a garden or balcony, a special cage would be suspended on a ledge, as in this 1925 photograph.

Ann Green, Bristol, UK: My mother, a nurse and then senior charge nurse, always put my brother and I, now aged 74 and 72, outside for a nap unless it was wet, foggy or below freezing - then we slept in the porch. Fresh air was definitely good for us. Although she was a very loving mother, she believed that we needed routine and that she needed time to do household chores and clear up if there had been an air raid the previous night. When I had my three children in 1961 and 1963, I followed the same Truby King routine and have three healthy middle-aged children now. Their children have also had their naps outside, but I don't think this routine will be passed onto their children. It's an "on demand" world now with so many labour-saving devices, babies in low buggies which do nothing for their spine or bound to car seats.

Neil Herbert, Guernsey: As a baby in the 1960s, there are many photos of me and my brother asleep in prams in the back yard in Warrington. My mother said they were encouraged by their mothers and GPs to put babies out in the fresh air, especially in cold spells. TB and other diseases were still common at the time. I am a healthy 52-year-old who cycles regularly and have no chest problems. However that maybe just the luck of the draw.

Merja Renwick, Albury, Hertfordshire: I am from Finland and married to a Brit. When my son was born 12 years ago, I would always leave him in his pram for his naps and the first winter was really cold. I managed to get my mother to send me the baby sleeping bag for him - Finnish mothers get given in a "new" baby box. He had an all-in-one wool "onesie" and then a snowsuit over that. He would often fall asleep the moment he was tucked in his pram, and I think it helped finding a good napping routine.

Baby in sledge Anna Lyckhom's baby in a kicksleigh at close to -20C

Anna Lyckholm, Gallivare, Sweden: I live in the north of Sweden, in Swedish Lapland, and my seven-month-old daughter has slept outside every day since she was born. We have had temperatures as low as -35C (-31F) this winter. When it was that low, she only slept outside for 15 minutes, but normally, when it's only between -10C and -20C (14F and -4F), she sleeps for a good three hours or so. When it's very cold, she sleeps with a woollen bodysuit, wool tights and a small wool baby hat. Also, my brother-in-law has sheep, so he made an eco-friendly, baby lamb skin when our five-year-old was born. We put this in the bottom of the pram, then we put the baby in a special type of sleeping bag used for prams and strollers, wearing only her normal clothes plus lambskin-lined baby shoes, warm mittens and a thin fleece cover. She actually sleeps much better than inside.

Kelsey Goodson, Copenhagen, Denmark: My family are American but currently live in Denmark. Although the notion of putting babies to sleep outside is literally foreign to us, we noticed that children of our friends and in the neighbourhood didn't seem to be hurt by it and actually slept quite a long time outdoors. After the birth of our daughter we, too, put our baby to sleep on the balcony and/or she naps while on walks in sub-zero temperatures. While back to the US for the holidays, our family was shocked and some were even "hurt" by how "mean" we could be to our newborn, our only child! Once they realised how well she slept, how long she slept, how happy and refreshed she was when she awoke - usually two-to-three hours later, and that she had never been sick they stopped complaining and joined the daily routine of taking the baby outside. We would never have imagined participating in such a practice but one of the benefits of living abroad is learning and practising "new" techniques that will be better for our family and child.

Prams outside Copenhagen cafe Napping outside a Copenhagen cafe

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We just used a finger inside the collar of their clothing to check how warm the children were”

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Tim Hughes, Helensburgh, Scotland: My wife and I have three children and all were put outside in a big pram twice a day for their nap. This happened in all weather conditions. Our son Tom was born during a period of heavy snowfall that continued after he returned home from his birth in hospital. The health visitor called when he was less than one week old asking to see him. We told her that he was having a nap so she said she would just have a quick look. We took her to the patio doors and pointed to the pram at the end of our patio covered in a inch of snow. The health visitor was horrified and didn't hold back in telling us what she thought - essentially that a child, particularly that young, shouldn't be outside in weather like that. Both my wife and I were quite put out and brought our son in and took him out of the pram to show that he was fine. When she was out of sight he went back in the pram and outside again. All three of our children have been put outside twice a day from birth and in temperatures as low as -16C. We just used a finger inside the collar of their clothing to check how warm they were. Our son turns 19 this week and is a strapping 6ft tall, 15-stone lump of muscle. It should be no surprise when I tell you that my mother is Danish and my wife's family have German ancestry and we were also put out in a pram as babies.

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