How Parents Around The World
Put Their Children To Sleep
There are 7.6 billion people on planet earth, divided by continents and oceans, so it’s inevitable that with the rich cultural differences from country to country there would be differences in the way families sleep, and how they put their babies and children to bed.
We all sleep every day, but how we approach it differs! Parents around the world have different habits and routines passed down through generations, with perceived family wisdom for the best way to settle a baby to sleep. Here are some traditional sleep habits that are popular in different countries and continents…
Scandinavians strongly believe in the power of fresh air and nature to improve a baby’s sleep and overall health. It is common for babies to nap outside in their pram, even when temperatures fall below zero! Many parents wrap their baby up warm and leave them in their pram in the garden to nap in the fresh cool air. Nurseries have outdoor naps scheduled into the day and it’s not uncommon to see sleeping babies in prams left outside shops in low crime areas.
Babywearing is nothing new in Africa, many women wear their babies wrapped tightly to their bodies using stretches of printed cotton fabric called a Kanga. Keeping their babies closely wrapped to them as they go about their daily life provides the baby with lots of skin to skin contact and lulls them into gentle sleep whenever they need it. It has been said that African babies cry less than Western babies thanks to the soothing effects of being wrapped up close to Mum most of the time.
Many African parents also have to deal with the worry of Malaria, with the highest transmission rates being found South of the Sahara. With mosquitoes most active at night, parents protect their babies and children by using mosquito nets over their sleep space. Malaria is an entirely preventable illness, but 70% of those who die from Malaria are children. That is why Kabode regularly donate mosquito nets to children in Africa who need it, so that they can sleep safely.
Many families in Japan still sleep on traditional Tatami mats, made from rice straw and seagrass. These 0.5 inch thick mats can be slept on as they are, or make a base for a futon mattress. Falling out of bed isn’t much of a problem for young children with these floor level beds, as when they wake children can just roll off straight onto the floor and toddle off to find their family.
Unlike the UK, adults napping in public spaces - even at parties and cafes, is respected. Given the name inemuri, falling asleep while out and about is seen as a natural consequence of being a very hard worker. If this became the norm in the UK it would open up whole new possibilities for sleeping when the baby sleeps!
There is a persistent belief in South Korea that sleeping with an electric fan running can cause ‘Fan Death’. Dating from around the 1920s, many people will not sleep with a fan on as they believe it is harmful and can cause asphyxiation, facial paralysis, nausea and even death. Although largely debunked now, it was until recently such a common belief in South Korea that even the mainstream media reported on cases of ‘Fan Death’ throughout the Summer as fact. So, whereas in the UK we worry about keeping our babies cool in warmer Summer months and buy fans specifically to cool their sleep spaces, in South Korea parents do the opposite, and actively avoid letting their baby sleep in the breeze.
There is a strong cultural preference for co sleeping amongst the indigenous people of Australia. They commonly lay their beds out in a line, with babies, children, elderly and vulnerable people in the middle, protected by the stronger family members on the end of the line.
No parent wants their child to have bad dreams, but we often feel helpless with nothing to prevent them from coming. Guatemalan parents use traditional worry dolls, made from wood and wrapped in brightly coloured threads, to ward off nightmares. It’s believed that slipping worry dolls under children’s pillows will help to prevent bad dreams and alleviate worries so that children can sleep happily and more peacefully.
Over the past few years awareness has grown around a seemingly strange idea stemming from Finland - to put your baby to bed in a cardboard box. The Finnish Baby Box is a scheme run by the Finnish government, where for over 75 years expectant parents have been gifted a cardboard box full of essentials to help get their baby off to a good start. The box itself is lined with a thin mattress, and can be used as a sleep space for the baby. There has been a lot of confusion around this in British media, with reports that this is Finnish parents preferred way to put their baby to bed. However the cardboard baby box is offered as an option for families who have no other safe bed for the baby to sleep in. Most families still opt to use a cot or other dedicated sleep space, and use the cardboard box for storage.
It is fascinating to learn about the different sleep routines and habits parents around the world use for their babies, but it’s important to remember that all of these countries have very different climates, different types of houses and different health risks. We would always recommend following the Lullaby Trust’s Safer Sleep Guidelines when putting your baby to bed, as these are based on scientific studies and fact based evidence to help you create the safest sleep environment for your little one.