How to bring up a baby in the Finnish way

Want to bring up some of the happiest, most educated people on earth? It all starts when you are a baby. This is how the Finns do it.

Finnish babies are frequently in the headlines, either because they sleep in cardboard boxes, or because they are taken out to sleep in freezing temperatures. We compiled a manual on how to take care of Finnish babies.

Illustration: Riikka Kurki​
Illustration: Riikka Kurki​

When the baby arrives home, the first thing to do is to decide where to put it. After the disposition, questions about eating, changing the nappy, and sleeping start to arise.

The Internet is full of thousands of instructions for doing all this. Was the baby supposed to sleep on its back or its stomach? Next to the parents, or in its own cot? And will a dummy ruin its teeth or not?

We compiled a set of instructions for taking care of Finnish babies. The instructions were given by Doctor Jarmo Salo, a Paediatrician from The National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland.

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On its stomach or on its back?

On its back. According to research, the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is smaller when the baby is sleeping on its back rather than its stomach or side. When sleeping on its side, the risk is smaller than when sleeping on its stomach.

All babies should sleep on their back until they are six months old. When the baby starts to turn on its own, you can forget about the recommendation.

How cold can the temperature be outside?

Babies usually sleep outside when the temperature is up to five or ten degrees minus.

Up to five degrees minus is fine. Colder is also fine if the baby is wrapped up well.

In Finland, babies usually sleep outside when the temperature is up to five or ten degrees minus. It’s perfectly safe if the baby is sheltered from the wind, and in a good carrycot.

According to a doctoral thesis made in The University of Oulu, Finland, families consider five degrees minus to be the best temperature for this. It is important to check the temperature of the baby every now and then because the cold is potentially dangerous. It’s sensible and practical to try the baby’s hands: if the hands are warm, the baby is warm.

Inside or outside?

Both are okay. The baby will sleep longer outside. You can let your baby sleep inside or outside. Outside, babies sleep longer.

You can let your baby sleep inside or outside. Outside, babies sleep longer.

According to a study conducted in The University of Oulu, Finland, babies slept longest when the temperature was five degrees minus. There is no evidence of any health benefits of sleeping outside but the fact that the baby sleeps better and is active is a positive outcome in itself.

Next to the parents or in its own bed?

Both are okay but if the baby has trouble sleeping, it may be better off sleeping in its own bed.

The baby can share a bed with the parents or sleep in its own bed, the carrycot of the pram, or in the cardboard box of the maternity package, for example. Families can opt for the sleeping arrangement that works best for them. However, a small baby cannot sleep next to the parents if they are drunk.

If the family suffers from problems with sleeping, it may be well justifiable to have the baby in its own cot or in its own room after the age of six months.

“The studies show that the movements of the parents wake the baby up more often than the movements of the baby wake the parents up”, says Doctor Salo.

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How often do you feed the baby?

When it’s hungry. You feed the baby when it’s hungry. In special occasions, healthcare professionals may give other instructions but, normally, the baby should be fed when it needs milk.

Do you have to wake the baby up to eat?

No, you don’t. You don’t need to wake a healthy baby up to eat at night. An illness, a disorder, or preterm birth may prompt healthcare professionals to advise the parents to wake the baby up. In this case, the advice given should be followed.

Breast milk or formula?

Breast milk is the best nutrition for a baby. On the other hand, it is important to listen to the families and take the overall situation into consideration. There are situations where it’s more natural to use formula.

But nutrition is not the only benefit of breastfeeding. It makes the mother more attuned to the messages of the baby, and supports the building of the maternal bond.

How long should you keep on breastfeeding?

Exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and breastfeeding until the baby is a year old, at the minimum.

According to the current recommendations, the baby should be exclusively breastfed until the age of six months. After that, the baby should be breastfed in addition to giving solids until the baby is at least a year old. Breastfeeding supports the normal growth, development and health of the baby.

The mother also benefits from breastfeeding because it supports weight management and, later on, reduces the risk of breast cancer, for example.

“Supporting breastfeeding is important, in the beginning. The maternity ward staff will provide the new mothers with guidance in breastfeeding. But since the time new mothers spend in the hospital has constantly been reduced, we may ask if the guidance given there is enough”, says Doctor Salo.

When can you start giving the baby other kinds of food?

At the age of four months, at the earliest, and at the age of six months, at the latest. You can start the baby on solids according to its individual needs when the baby is four months old, at the earliest, and no later than the age of six months.

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Poo! Do you wipe or wash the bottom?

You don’t need to wash it. Nappies have changed a lot in recent years, and they don’t feel damp like they used to. Because nappies are now so much better, it is far less common for babies to have nappy rash.

If the baby does suffer from nappy rash, it’s good to wash the bottom. If the skin is healthy, there is no need to wash the bottom but simply wipe it clean.

“I have a strong feeling that the use of nappies has increased significantly in recent years. Before, babies stopped wearing nappies earlier because nappies weren’t as good. These days, nappies are worn longer”, says Doctor Salo.

Dummy or no dummy?

It’s okay to use a dummy regularly until the age of six months. After that, it can be used every now and then.

But because the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is extremely small, it is no reason to use a dummy. If the baby uses a dummy too long, it may cause problems with occlusion.

The guideline is that after the age of six months, a dummy should be used as little as possible and only to calm the baby down. It would be good to get rid of it completely at the age of one year, or two years, at the very latest. The use of dummy increases the risk of inflammation of the ear slightly.

When is it okay for the baby to sit?

When the baby is trying to sit up itself. There are no official recommendations about sitting for babies as such. Physiotherapists often say babies can sit around the age of six months.

The best guideline is simple. The baby will sit when it’s ready to sit. In other words, it will start trying to sit up. If the baby cannot stay sitting up, it’s not ready for it yet. There is no evidence to support the assumption that sitting up early could disrupt the development of the skeleton.

Vaccinations or not?

Absolutely yes. The vaccination coverage is excellent in Finland, at the moment. It is important to keep it that way.

Modern people don’t know what it was like when children often suffered from many serious illnesses. When the level of vaccination coverage remains high, these illnesses will be avoided.

Vitamin D or no vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a must. Children must be given 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day until the age of two. The daily dosage for older children is 7.5 micrograms. If there are children of different ages in the family, it is perfectly okay to give them all 10 micrograms.

“Some people use dosages that are significantly higher. But they have not been proved to have any benefits and they may have negative effects”, says Doctor Salo.

Story Marja Sannikka, translation Katja Juutistenaho

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