For the Love of Prams

I’ve put off posting about the difference between the US and Denmark in terms of babies and parenting because I don’t have any first hand experience with it in either country. But I just can’t put it off anymore because of something I just read. But there’s multiple parts to it, so bear with me to the end.

First, I don’t see many strollers here. I also don’t see many parents carrying their babies in those slings or carriers on their bodies. Instead, all I see are what is called a barnevogn, literally a “child wagon.” They look like this and are essentially really pimped out, modern prams:

A typical Danish barnvogn.

A typical Danish barnevogn.

They’re like small beds on wheels! I’ve been told that the Danes feel that children’s backs aren’t strong enough to support themselves in a sitting position until they’re of a certain age. (Makes since, given that they can’t hold their heads up till however many months old.) So that’s why they use the flat bottomed prams instead of strollers, to support their backs.

Let me also draw your attention to all the stuff on the outside, the hood and the obviously high tech waterproofing zip-up thing that basically cocoons the baby into the pram. This is for the rainy, windy, and chilly Danish weather, so you can take your baby out in all seasons. The Danes believe that the fresh air is bracing and good for one’s health – even, or maybe especially, the cold, these are the same people who go vinterbadnign or wither bathing – and so they take their babies outside as often as they can. They even make sure the babies get to sleep outside a little each day, in all types of weather, but that’s a post for another time.

{My initial reaction to these prams is that it’s a shame that the baby’s so bundled up and covered that they can’t see anything but the underside of the pram’s hood, but that’s another post for another day.}

What is most different about these prams from other cultures involves the Danish sense of trust. Because what the Danes will do, especially in nice weather, is leave their baby in the pram outside while they run inside a small boutique or go into a cafe to have a coffee.

Yes, they actually do this. I’ve seen it. Here’s a not very good picture of the phenomenon.

Pram Outside

I feel wary of taking pictures of other people’s children, so all I could get was the back of the pram.

You can see pictures – with babies actually shown in the prams – and read more about it on this blog post. In fact, there’s a famous story of a Danish woman who did this in New York in the 90’s and got her child temporarily taken away on charges of neglect, causing a huge intercultural kerfuffle.

Let me reiterate that this practice is good parenting to the Danes. Denmark is a tribe. They trust that no one will take off with their baby, and no one does. So the baby gets to stay outside, happy and healthy in the fresh air while the parent runs inside for a minute, usually keeping an eye on the pram through the window. And I’m in no way saying that there’s anything wrong with this practice. I think it’s nice that there’s this much trust in Denmark. It’s just usually one of the most shocking cultural differences about parenting in Denmark.

But now let me take the shock one step further. Are you ready for it? Can you handle it?

I just read about something called a “baby bio,” a movie in a theater where moms can go with their babies and make as much noise as they want without bothering anyone because the movie is for moms and babies.

Picture from what looks like a very cool newbie moms website: rookiemoms.com. Click through for link.

Picture from what looks like a very cool newbie moms website: rookiemoms.com. Click through for link.

Right, no big deal, I hear you saying. They have the same things in the US.

Here’s the Danish twist, and I quote:

“The sound is muffled and the light turned down which makes it possible to bring your baby into the cinema or you can leave them outside in a pram if they are sleeping. Your babies will be watched by employees at the cinema and each pram will get a number, so if your baby wakes up the number will be called in the cinema.”

Did you catch that? Are you also imagining rows of black prams with giant marathon-like numbers safety pinned to the outsides, the babies all crying and waving their arms in the air while the movie staff blithely ignores them and goes on popping popcorn? I love how the passive voice in that second sentence makes the watching of the baby sound so blasé.

So, welcome to Denmark, where parenting is much more laid back and much less full of anxiety. No helicopter parents here, that’s for sure.

Parenting

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, here are a couple of good links:

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16 thoughts on “For the Love of Prams

  1. Hooray! I’ve been meaning to make a series of Danish vs. American pregnancy/parenting blogs for a while and *still* haven’t gotten around to it. I was super shocked by leaving babies outside in their carriages as well, when I first visited Denmark. I was quite leery, but when I had Theo, I realized that the stores and cafes just aren’t big enough to accommodate SUV-type Danish barnevogne, and if your baby is sleeping peacefully, you’ll do just about anything to make sure they stay asleep (including leaving him outside!).

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    • Totally agree. I completely understand why they just park the babies outside for a couple minutes. Plus, it’s not like they do it outside a huge department store. It seems to be usually just outside a small boutique with a huge window so it’s easy to keep an eye on baby. I would love to read your thoughts on some of the biggest differences in parenting between the two cultures because I bet there are quite a few!

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  2. Ha ha! I’ve never seen an Irish parent do that but you never know! I’m always a little shocked by how free and easy people are with little kids here too. I see tots walking to school by themselves across the city in the mornings. Their bags are bigger than they are.

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    • I felt a little bad posting that gif/meme/whatever it’s called, but I couldn’t find anything else on theme that was close to funny! 🙂 The kids do that here too. They’re riding the bus by themselves at like 9 or 10. In some ways I think it’s good, promotes independence and all that. But sometimes I’m surprised they get home at all!

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  3. In the hasidic neighborhood I worked in in Brooklyn the women did the same thing with leaving the babies outside the shops in the pram. The first time I saw that I was in shock. Where AM I?? was all I could think. Interesting to see the same thing is done in Denmark! Very interesting post. Would love to hear more about this topic!

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    • I do find the differences in parenting across cultures so interesting because I think it encapsulates some our most important cultural beliefs. So I’ll try to post more on this subject now that I know people are interested! 🙂

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  4. I’m so glad to read that you’re not jumping to conclusions and judging the leaving babies outside thing too harshly. Many expats do, and it’s always frustrating, because I think it’s really unfair. You can’t always compare parenting practices across cultures. It’s so complex and there are so many factors at play.
    I think the reason behind the huge hoods on the prams is that infants are easily overstimulated so it’s good to protect them from too much noice and bright light. It’s also nice for older babies and toddlers to have a quiet, dark place to nap. When the baby is older, and the weather is nice, you can flip the hood back and there’s a double section of the bottom at the head end of the pram that will flip up and create a back rest so the baby is semi-reclining or sitting upright. You’ll also see more slings and carriers in spring and summer. It’s hard to babywear in winter, because it’s difficult to ajust the amount of clothes right so the baby isn’t too hot or cold. They always end up with cold legs and hands if they’re on the outside, and it gets too warm if they’re under your coat. And it’s hard to make a sling fit tight enough to be safe over a big winter coat.

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    • I’m so glad you replied, Astrid, because you’re totally right. I hadn’t thought about those aspects of the pram or “babywearing” in winter 🙂 But I can see now how they all make sense.

      I try really hard not to jump to conclusions or be judgmental about cultural differences. I’d much rather stay openminded and learn something. Really, I find them fascinating. The differences I’ve discovered say as much about my own cultural beliefs as they do about those of Denmark. And there’s always a reason why people x do y if you just look at the context, like history and climate. I especially think that learning about the differences in parenting across cultures could be so helpful to a parent.

      And actually, I was just talking to a friend about the prams after having written this post. She was telling me that her physical therapist friend did a whole research project on the best way to carry baby. And the flat-bedded pram won! So I think I’ve totally come over to the pram’s side. 🙂 (Also, I heard that those backpacks that baby sits in with his feet hanging out can be really bad for his hips if there’s not enough support built in.)

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    • Yes, the level of social trust in Denmark is really astounding. It’s very nice, but I think it only works because Denmark is a small country of very similar people with very similar beliefs, though this is changing. I do wish the whole world worked this way, though.

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  5. I find many aspects of Danish society wonderful, but this practice is something that I don’t think I could do myself with my children. I know my Scandinavian friends hit me with statistics of how safe the babies are, but I could not do it. A lot of them insist that the fresh air makes them stronger. Still find it strange, no matter how multicultural I think I might be, or even how Danish I think I might be. I must say I did not see it too often when I was in Denmark. Saw a few empty prams outside shops but never occupied ones. Perhaps the tradition is fading?

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    • That’s a good question. I’ll have to pay closer attention when it starts getting warmer. I know that the practice of putting babies outside to nap is alive and well because I know some people who do just that, but they do so at their homes with the baby in the back yard, which is not quite the same.

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  6. Hello Allison,

    I’ve been reading your blog for the last couple of months now – I started reading right about the time I left Denmark. Too bad I was leaving just as you were arriving as we seem to like to post about similar subjects!

    My post about prams and sleeping outside unattended is the post that has gotten the most hits on my blog (1547 hits vs 442 for the post with the second hightest hits). That’s a lot for an anonymous blogger that doesn’t blog that much! This topic is so interesting for me because it is something that is completely different from what I am used to in my home country. For a country that is not so dissimilar to my own I would say that this is an area which would present quite a lot of culture shock for someone from Canada.

    You can read more about this topic here: http://norwegianhome.blogspot.no/2013/04/babies-sleeping-outdoors-continuation.html
    Evelyn lives in Norway and they have the same practice of prams and sleeping outside like in Denmark.

    I think these prams are a really good idea. I wasn’t really subjective about this topic when I wrote about it, but here are my thoughts. I hate red-eye flights because I cannot sleep sitting up. I need to lie down to sleep properly. I think we can say the same thing about babies. How can we expect them to be really comfortable sleeping in a stroller? Lying flat on your back really is the best way to sleep. And these prams are warm and offer a protective environment for a baby, much like in the womb. They have a lot of storage space as well. As for getting fresh air, this really is true. I didn’t realise until only a few months ago that closed-in spaces are actually far more polluted than being outside in the open air, regardless of car pollution. When you live in a cold country you open your windows less. The air can become quite stagnant. People clean their houses and add more pollution to their interiors.

    Really, though, if a foreigner is uncomfortable leaving their child outside alone when living in Denmark, they shouldn’t do it just because a lot Danes do it. Parents need to do what works for them, regardless of what “everyone else” is doing.

    Anyway, you’ll be seeing more of me around here as I’m moving back to Denmark in a few months! Shhhh I haven’t announced it on my blog yet.

    Keep up the good work with your blog!

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    • Thanks for clicking over the read my blog! I really enjoyed your post about the prams and loved some of the photos that you used, so I just had to link to it in my post. Isn’t it funny that this topic can be so interesting and divisive? It’s such a small thing, but it really encapsulates some different ideas about parenting. But as I’ve said, I think I’m coming around to the side of the prams. The more I think about it, the more sense they make. And I’m totally onboard with the sleeping outside thing. I just don’t know if I could leave a baby on a busy Copenhagen street. I’d have to actually be faced with the situation, I think, before I’d know what I would do. I definitely wouldn’t do it in the US, unless it’s like in your backyard. But here in Denmark, I could maybe be persuaded. I look forward to reading your blog as you come back to Denmark! I’ll keep it under my hat, though 🙂

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  7. Pingback: Having a Baby in Denmark: The Pregnancy | Our House in Aarhus

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