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FAMILY

What to expect when you’re having a baby in Denmark

Being pregnant abroad can be a daunting prospect, as you navigate a life-changing event away from familiarity. The Local's Emma Firth had her second child in Copenhagen and talks through what you can expect in a Danish pregnancy and beyond.

Photo of a pregnant woman
Illustration Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Pregnancy can be both an exciting and anxious time, so when you’re navigating a new healthcare and maternity system, as well as a different language, the more information you have the better. Here’s an outline of what you can expect if you have a baby in Denmark. This may vary between regions and if you have a multiple pregnancy or health conditions.  You can also find information from sundhedsstyrelsen.

First trimester

When you find out you are pregnant, the first thing to do is ring your doctor and tell them. You will need to have a CPR (personal registration) number and yellow health card. The receptionist will ask how many weeks pregnant you are and then book you in for a blood test and take a urine sample at around 7-8 weeks. 

At 6-10 weeks, you have an appointment with your doctor where you talk about your family’s health history.

In Denmark, you are advised to take vitamin D and 40mg of iron every day throughout pregnancy and folic acid for the first trimester.

If you are pregnant during winter, you are offered a flu jab and since 2019, pregnant women in Denmark are offered the whooping cough vaccine in the third trimester.

During these early weeks you need to book your 12-week scan at your nearest hospital which you can do online or by phone. If you’re unsure you can ask your doctor how to do this but they can’t do it for you.

Before the 12-week scan, you are advised to go to a drop-in blood test centre at the hospital, as part of the screening test to assess your chances of having a baby with a condition such as Down’s Syndrome. As everything in Denmark is electronic, when the hospital knows your CPR number, the blood test centre can see what you need the test for. This blood test is then used, along with the measurements from your 12-week scan, to show whether your baby may be born with a certain condition.

12-week scan (11-13 weeks)

You can take your partner to this appointment at hospital and it’s the first chance for you to see your baby. This is a straight forward ultrasound where the sonographer will assess the baby and give you more of an exact due date.

Second trimester

At 13-18 weeks you have your first midwife appointment, which is at a midwife centre rather than your doctor’s surgery.

When you arrive, you need to take a urine test and using a test strip provided, check the colour on your test strip with a chart. You then tell the midwife if it is outside the normal range.

This is to check for a sign of infection or pre-eclampsia (although the latter is very rare before 20 weeks). 

The midwife will take your blood pressure, bump measurements, listen to your baby’s heart beat and answer any questions you may have.

20-week scan

You book this yourself at the hospital and again, your partner can come along.

This is the scan where you can find out the gender of your baby. It is also a slightly longer scan than at 12-weeks, as the sonographer takes measurements of your growing baby. If everything looks straight forward, you won’t have another scan before the birth.

Third trimester

There are more appointments during your third trimester as you reach the end of your pregnancy. 

At week 25 and 32 you have a doctor’s appointment. You may also be offered an iron test and gestational diabetes test during this time.

At week 29, 35, 37 and 39, you go to the midwife centre where you follow the same procedure of testing your urine, and the midwife will listen to your baby’s heartbeat, measure your bump and check your blood pressure. Your midwife will also talk to you about your pregnancy, your well being, your birth plan and breastfeeding.

Week 41 + 2 days you get called by the midwife to see how things are going.

Week 41 + 4 days you go into hospital to talk about induction, where you are offered a hormone tablet to induce labour.

Labour

There are free antenatal classes available in English at certain hospitals in Denmark or you can pay privately for some classes. Here you are talked through the different forms of pain relief on offer when you go into labour. These include a warm bath, birthing pool, acupuncture, sterile water injections, gas and air and epidurals. An enema is also routinely offered, so be sure to opt-out of this if you don’t want it. One friend was given quite a shock.

When you have given birth in Denmark, you are greeted with a tray of food, drink and Danish flag – of course. After bonding time, the midwives will check the weight and health of your baby. If everything is straight forward, you could be discharged as early as four hours after birth, which was my experience. In other circumstances, you are able to stay on a maternity ward overnight.

Maternity hotel (Barselshotel)

In Denmark there is a place called a barselshotel, where new parents can go with their newborn baby to rest, establish feeding, be given meals and have midwives on call. Some regions offer this for free to parents who need it. There are also private maternity hotels, where parents can pay to stay for longer and even with the baby’s siblings.

Postnatal

A midwife will usually visit you the day after you get home with your baby.

Within 72 hours of your baby being born you have to go to a postnatal clinic, where all newborn babies are checked for congenital diseases by taking a sample of blood from the heel. A midwife will also check how you are healing and how feeding is going.

By day 7 your health visitor (sundhedsplejerske) will visit to weigh your baby and check everything is okay. This same health visitor will come throughout your baby’s first year, usually at day 7, day 14, three weeks, 2 months, 5 months and 8-10 months.

Your health visitor offers support for you and your baby, can answer any questions, give advice and check your baby’s development.

You also have a doctor’s appointment at week 5 and week 8 to check both mother and baby.

Mother’s groups

Your health visitor signs you up to a mother’s group and you can choose a Danish or international group of mothers in your area who have all given birth around a similar time to you.

The first meeting is usually arranged by the health visitor and after this, it is decided among the group.

Vaccinations

Your baby’s first vaccinations start at 3 months and you book this through your doctor.

Read here for the childhood vaccination programme in Denmark.

Naming your baby

You must name your baby before they reach six months old, otherwise you face a fine. You can read all about the process and rules here.

Parenthood in Denmark

My personal experience was one of great care and reassurance. There is a relaxed, trusting approach to having a baby in Denmark, from trusting your body and your baby to know what to do; right to trusting that your baby can nap safely in a pram outside. 

Denmark has some of the highest rates of breastfeeding in Europe and there is support given to this and it’s very acceptable to see mothers breastfeeding in public.

There is a big focus on developing your baby physically, with a lot of waking time spent on their tummy, encouraging the rubbing of the backs of arms and legs to get the baby feeling all parts of their body. My health visitor even showed me how to hold my baby upside down at three weeks. This progresses to giving your baby lots of physical and outside play and outside naps, creating resilience and strength which is something my children greatly benefited from.

Having a baby in a different country from your own has it challenges, such as discovering the hard way that buses only accept two prams at a time, or that some shops and cafes don’t allow prams inside, as you glance anxiously outside the window. 

Joining groups, such as the free babysalmesang at churches, and making new parent friends, Danish or international, can be a huge help. And in anticipation of getting a bout of homesickness, it is a good idea to start your baby’s passport application early on.

As with every transition in life abroad, parenthood does get easier and opens up a whole new world.

Useful vocab:

Pregnant: Gravid

Midwife: Jordemoder

Health visitor: Sundhedsplejerske

Birth: Fødsel

Breastfeeding: Amning

Maternity leave: Barsel 

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DANISH HABITS

Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Danish parents often let their babies take daytime naps outdoors in their strollers. The practice can seem odd to visitors, so why is it so popular in the Nordic country?

Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Denmark trended on social media this week when a Tiktok post, later also shared on Twitter, showed a series of videos of Danish strollers or prams parked outside on streets.

A number of the clips in the video show empty strollers parked outside kindergartens, but others presumably do indeed have sleeping babies in them.

This should not come as a surprise, given it’s common practice in Denmark to put babies and toddlers down for their naps outdoors, usually in their strollers.

Some social media commenters expressed shock at the video, with a fair few calling it bad parenting.

This week’s Tiktok and Twitter posts are not the first time Danish babies napping outside has caught international attention.

Back in 2013, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported that the “BBC is surprised that Scandinavian children sleep outside” in response to an article by the British broadcaster titled “The babies who nap in sub-zero temperatures”.

“The Scandinavian custom of letting infants sleep outside is causing a stir,” the paper wrote.

Research cited in both the British and Danish articles suggests that there may be benefits to letting children sleep outdoors.

That includes a study from Oulo University in Finland based on a survey of parents.

“Babies clearly slept longer outdoors than indoors,” lead researcher Marjo Tourula told the BBC. Indoor naps lasted between one and two hours while outdoor naps lasted from 1.5 to three hours, the survey found.

“Probably the restriction of movements by clothing could increase the length of sleep, and a cold environment makes swaddling possible without overheating,” Tourula said.

Swedish paediatrician Margareta Blennow told the BBC that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency had found conflicting results.

“In some studies they found pre-schoolers who spent many hours outside generally – not just for naps – took fewer days off than those who spent most of their time indoors,” she said, adding “in other studies there wasn’t a difference”.

District nurse and author Helen Lyng Hansen told newspaper Ekstra Bladet in 2013 that babies sleeping outside “is a tradition we have in Denmark.”

“It’s part of our culture that we have an idea that it is good for children to sleep outside and get fresh, red cheeks. But there’s no evidence to say that it makes children healthier,” she said.

A page on district nursing advice website Sundhedsplejerkse.dk says that “there are not yet any scientific studies that can prove that sleeping outdoors makes a difference. But the experiences of parents and experts suggests that children seem to sleep well outside.”

All experts stress that it is important for babies and small children to be appropriately dressed for sleeping outside.

Newborn infants are not put outside to sleep, with most parents waiting until around five to six weeks of age, particularly in colder seasons. Health service advice says infants weighing under 3 kilograms should sleep indoors. Children who have a fever or are otherwise sick should also not sleep outside, according to general advice.

Temperatures below minus 10 degrees Celsius or very misty conditions are not suitable for outside sleeping and naps outside should not last more than around 2 hours.

In Denmark, the standard outfit for children sleeping outside in winter is a woollen sovedragt or full-length suit on top of up to three layers of their regular clothes or pyjamas. They will also wear gloves, a scarf and an elefanthue or non-face-covering balaclava.

A design of blanket from the brand Voksi, referred to as a Voksi pose (“Voksi bag”) is the most popular choice for outdoors sleeping. The blanket can be folded and fastened to enclose the baby and has a hood-shaped part at the top.

The child is usually then placed under an outer blanket or rug and inside the stroller, which has rain covers pulled over if needed.

These layers are gradually reduced during the warmer seasons.

Although images of prams parked on streets are perhaps the most striking feature of the practice, this is not where most Danish babies sleep. Gardens, balconies and kindergartens are far more common places for parents or carers to put young children down for a nap.

That’s not to say a little one sleeping in a pram outside a café or similar public place isn’t unheard of. When this happens, the parent will be sat somewhere in view or use a baby alarm.

That parents nevertheless feel comfortable leaving children to sleep on the street can seem unbelievable to those witnessing the practice for the first time.

“There’s also something about us living in safe Denmark,” retired district nurse and author Sigrid Riise told Ekstra Bladet in 2013.

“We have always dared to leave our children outside, even though we have begun to keep an eye on them more in recent years,” she said.

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