How about leaving your baby hanging in a hammock at bedtime? No, we don’t mean one tied between two trees, but in many South Asian countries, babies are sleeping in “cloth cradles” hung from the ceiling. Palnas are made from cotton sarees and strung up on the ceiling, providing the baby with a snug and secure sleep environment that mimics the womb and rocks easily to lull them to sleep.[i] In fact, hospitals in Brazil even used flannel hammocks in NICUs to replicate the womb instead of placing babies in traditional cots.[ii]
The safety of traditional baby hammocks, like the palna, has been called into question by some experts, and many recommend that a crib or bassinet with a more firm sleeping surface is the safer option because there is less risk of injury. However, more modern baby hammocks are popping up in the U.S. These versions are sometimes referred to as motion beds, and usually attach right inside the baby's crib rather than the ceiling or some kind of framework and some even claim to be better for the baby's spinal development[iii].
There is still little objective research on the safety of these modern baby hammocks, so you should consult your pediatrician to decide if a hammock is right for you and your baby. If you do choose to use a baby hammock, there are additional safety precautions to take to ensure a safe sleeping environment. For instance, a firm mattress or some type of bedding should be placed under the hammock for softer landing, in the event of an accidental fall from the hammock (for most modern baby hammocks, this isn't an issue because the hammock is already in the crib). Much like in a regular crib or bassinet, there shouldn't be any loose pillows, blankets or other bedding in the hammock. You should also always make sure your baby is on its back, not their side or front, sleeping in the hammock, and as baby grows and learns how to roll over, they should be transferred to a cot or crib.
In Japan, babies aren’t sleeping in hammocks, but they aren’t in cribs either. Most families in Japan practice attachment parenting, so moms and babies are attached at the hip 24/7, including bedtime. Sleeping on a futon (and not the “American” kind you’re picturing), mom is on one end, dad is on the other, and the little babe is smack in the middle and will most likely stay there until he or she is well into the toddler years.[iv] Although, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has warned that bed-sharing could be dangerous due to possibilities of entrapment.
So while many western parents might think this co-sleeping practice is dangerous, Kenyan mothers laugh at the thought. Traditionally, the African parenting style requires the mother to be with their baby for 24 hours a day. In Kenya, it’s widely considered far more dangerous to have an infant sleeping in a room by themselves, which is actually consistent with research in the U.S.[v] Although pediatricians do not support co-sleeping practices that involve sharing the same sleeping surface, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that to create a safe sleep environment, infants should be sleeping in the same room as their parents, but on a separate surface such as in a crib or bassinet for at least the first six months. There is evidence that this practice can actually reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 50%[vi]. Click here to view all of AAP’s recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment.
In Finland, room-sharing is common practice, but the babies still aren't sleeping in cribs...not in the traditional sense anyway. Since the 1930’s, Finland’s government has been gifting “maternity packs” filled with the essentials to expectant mothers. They include necessities like diapers, pacifiers, outdoor clothing, and bathing and bedding products. The cardboard box it all comes in doubles as a crib for the new arrival when you put a small mattress at the bottom, also included in the pack, so Finnish babies literally sleep in cardboard boxes.[vii]
Image taken from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22751415
Even though the idea of putting your baby in a cardboard box at bedtime might seem crazy – these Finnish moms might have the right idea. Before the program was implemented, the country had a very high infant mortality rate – 65 out of every 1,000 babies died. However, that number has been on a rapid decline since the start of the program in the 30s. Plus, to become eligible for a maternity pack the mother must visit a doctor or pre-natal clinic before her fourth month of pregnancy, which encourages moms to get proper pre-natal care[viii].
Finland's neighbor also has infant mortality rates that are among the lowest in the world, despite what might seem like an alarming sleep practice[ix]. In Norway, even in subzero temperatures, babies and toddlers alike can be seen bundled up, taking a snooze in their stroller because, to Norwegian families, it’s important to spend time outdoors at all times of the year. At as young as two-weeks-old, babies are brought outside in their strollers to take their naps in temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
The common theory among parents is that sleeping out in the fresh air, whether it be during the summer or dead of winter will make them less likely to get sick. Many parents also claim that their children sleep longer and better during outdoor naps than when they’re sleeping inside. Children, at every age, spend the majority of time outdoors in most Scandinavian countries- sleeping, playing, and learning. However, it’s important to note that these parents are taking the old Swedish saying “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing” to heart. Children are always warm, wrapped in wool clothing, warm clothes and even zipped up in a sleeping bag during their winter naps.[x]
While it might not be weird to spot a sleeping baby in a stroller, you’d probably be alarmed if you saw one completely unattended. In Denmark, their babies are napping outside year round, but it’s also common practice to leave the stroller…and the baby…outside on the sidewalk while parents go in a restaurant to enjoy a meal or shop around.[xi]
I mean, in a moment of pure desperation during a temper tantrum or crying fit, we’ve all probably thought about leaving our kid on the curb…but we never actually would…right? In fact, a Danish couple was arrested while visiting New York for leaving their child outside of the restaurant while they went into eat. Although in the U.S. this looked like child endangerment, Danish mothers and fathers are always keeping an eye on their children through windows. And in a country that has only had 3 child kidnappings in the last 30 years (two of which where apparently mistakes)…I guess they really don’t have much reason to worry![xii]
And while the rest of us are working on getting our little ones to go to bed at (what we think) is a decent hour, according to Sara Harkness, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut, Spanish families were actually “horrified” at the thought of a child going to bed at 6:30 pm. They would much rather put their babies to bed at 10 p.m. so they can “participate in family life” throughout the evening.[xiii] So don't panic when it's 5 hours past bedtime and your little one is still fighting you to stay awake, in some cultures, it's actually a good thing!