No curve was too sharp for them and their bicycle. No puddle was deep enough to stop them. -- Friends by Helme Hein

08 March, 2012

Babies in Denmark

Being a baby in Denmark would be a pretty cool gig.  Parks, playgrounds, other babies to play with, cute, organic Scandinavian clothes, fewer required vaccinations and you get to ride a bicycle at an early age!  But being a parent in Denmark has to be an easier gig than anywhere else in the world. 
Babies are everywhere in Denmark.  You can't walk 5 feet in any direction in Denmark without passing a mom walking a sleeping baby in a pram.  Scandinavia is repeatedly touted as the most child friendly part of the world. The baby boom so easily seen in Copenhagen is no wonder when you consider the benefits and resources given to families and children.  

 Working mothers who give birth in Denmark are entitled to 10 months of paid maternity leave by the government.  That's 100% of your salary.  For 10 months.  In addition, those 10 months can be split between the mother and father, with the father allowed to take up to 2 months of paid leave from his work (also at 100% of his salary). Parents are also given 2 calendar days per year for child sick leave.

 At 10 months, most mothers go back to work.  It's rare to see a mom out during the day with a child above the age of 1.  The children then go to government subsidized nursery, known here as vuggestue, for children ages 6 months to 2 years. The care is excellent, with 1 teacher to 3 children, organic home prepared meals and lots of outings (just like these kids above and below).  The cost is about 3,700 DKK/650 USD per month.  Woody will start going part time in April, at which point I'm sure I'll have more to say about Danish daycare.

Every 3 months, parents are given a child benefit of roughly 800 USD deposited directly into your account to cover child expenses.  This is a perk we are fortunate to receive (however, when you consider the high tax rate, it's hard to say if it's really a perk?).

Breastfeeding is encouraged and widely done by mothers in Denmark.  In 8 months here, I've never seen a mother use a Hooter Hider or any other sort of cover up, as nursing in public is common and nothing to be ashamed of.  Surprisingly, there are no laws like in the US that protect the right to nurse in public. It is, however, forbidden to advertise infant formula brands in Denmark.

 The most ubiquitous baby symbol in Denmark has to be the pram.  I was shocked by their size and prevalence when we arrived last August.  Every Danish mother has one and every Danish baby spends a vast majority of their first year of life in this pram.  Designed to grow with the child from newborn to age 3, these old school style prams truly are the Danish mom's Suburban.  

 Look closely...can you see the designated pram parking in this department store cafeteria?  These bedrooms-on-wheels have all the bells and whistles: small bassinets for removing a sleeping baby, sun shades, shocks, all-terrain wheels for snow and ice, rain covers, brakes, locks, pillows, duvets, leather covers, adjustable handles, and even matching diaper bags.  New prams cost upwards of 1000 USD.  Some are literally as big and cumbersome as an SUV.  I secretly question whether a little baby needs so much vehicle, but I've learned that child development and parenting philosophy play a large part in their popularity.

Aside from protection from the harsh Danish winters, the most obvious reason they are so popular is that they are used for all occasion sleep.  Babies will take most of their naps in these prams, treating it like a second home, as mom's walk and walk to keep them asleep.  A nurse told a friend of mine to take her non-sleeping son out for a 2 hour walk every 2 hours throughout the day!  Babies sleep outside in their prams up until -10 degrees Celsius. Also, Danes believe that children who cannot yet sit up on their own should always lay down flat to ensure proper spinal development.  So that means no car seat for more than an hour, no Bumbo chair, and no baby walkers.  

Not only do babies sleep outside, but they also do so completely unattended!  It is very common to leave a sleeping baby outside on the sidewalk while mothers step inside a cafe or shops. Coming from the US, where fear of abduction is rampant, it is something you truly have to see to believe.  But, as a friend tells us, there was one incident of child abduction back in the 1950's and such an uproar occurred throughout Denmark that the baby was returned within days.  Copenhagen is a safe city, and when you see it happening often, you become accustomed to it yourself.  We once left Woody sleeping outside a shop in his bike trailer.  A man walking down the street heard him wake up and cry and came into the store to find us.  No sweat.  On the flip side, there is a well-told story of a Danish couple who visited New York City and left their child outside a restaurant while they dined, not thinking about the perception of such an act in the US (or, obviously, the safety of NYC???).  The parents were arrested and the child was taken into custody.  

There are lots of sleeping babies in this picture. 

 Among the other benefits of being a baby/mom in Denmark are the multitude of free activities and facilities geared toward moms and babies.  Twice a week we can go to a free indoor playground designed for babies under two years old with baby toys, cars and swings.  Cafes and restaurants almost always have high chairs and changing tables.  Some even have play areas for children, complete with microwave and small kitchen for heating up baby meals.  There are manned outdoor playgrounds offering bikes and cool Danish designed play structures.  This morning, we went to one of the many churches that serve coffee, baked goods and baby singing in a warm place where moms can socialize and let the babies play.  Museums have beautiful interactive children's exhibits and art classes, many of which are free.  There are government subsidized swimming lessons, pre & post-natal yoga classes, baby signing and rhythm classes.

  Then of course, there are the libraries, parks, feeding the ducks at the lakes and hundreds of kilometers of bike paths.  All of these baby perks add up to a society that nourishes and protects its children, while simultaneously respecting the work that mothers and fathers put into raising children.  As non-Danish citizens, we may not receive all the monetary benefits, but we do partake in the others with great joy.  But most importantly, raising a child in another culture has taught us that there are so many good ways to bring up a baby. Some practices make your jaw drop, others just make sense.  James and I are sometimes uncomfortably out on our own as parents in a foreign country, but that distance from home, family and friends also allows us to question common practice in light of new ways.  As a family, we can keep those traditions or practices that are important to us, gain new parenting perspectives from our new homes and discard what seems unnecessary.  Sound idealistic?  Or maybe just confusing to poor little Felix?  Hmm, I think I'll save culture identification for an entirely different future post.   

1 comment:

Scott and Heather said...

Nice post. Woody is getting so big!

There were always so many families in Geneva walking around the lake on the weekends, but we never saw them leave their babies outside to sleep. Personally, all of Belle's naps have been in my arms if I am home. My own guilty pleasure...