The norms and practices around baby and toddler sleep are different in different countries. Spanish parents routinely put their kids to sleep after 10:00 p.m, while 99% of Norweigan mothers initiate breastfeeding. Learn more in the blog below!
With 190+ countries in the world and thousands of unique cultures, you can discover something new every day.
Italians often sip a caffè as an afternoon pick-me-up or after a meal. Tipping in any situation in Japan is considered offensive. In Hawaii, a hug and a kiss on the cheek is a common greeting, whether you’re meeting friends, family, or new people.
But have you ever wondered, as a parent, what are some of the cultural differences in baby and toddler sleep around the world?
Do babies go to sleep at 8 pm all around the globe? Is sleep training popular in Europe? Well, it depends on the country’s customs, environmental conditions, and cultural values.
In this article, we’ll see how different cultures view and handle sleep, co-sleeping, sleep training, maternity leave, breastfeeding, among a few other things.
To parents in the United States, putting the child to sleep after 10:00 p.m may sound outrageous, but that’s what happens in some countries in Europe. The Spanish parents routinely put their kids to sleep at a later time because they are focused on the social aspects of child development.
Australian kids get an average of 9 and a half hours of sleep at night, while the French people let their kids make their own routine. In fact, French people believe that kids need to learn to connect their natural sleep cycles into an entire night’s sleep.
Interestingly, many hunter-gatherer tribes like the Efe of Zaire don’t adhere to any sleep routine or schedule. Their kids sleep when they feel sleepy, and are up when they’re up. Length of time and time of day means nothing.
Many American pediatricians advise against co-sleeping as it may lead to the child becoming too attached to the parents.
However, in other parts of the world, letting your child sleep alone is considered neglectful. Some cultures believe that co-sleeping promotes the breastfeeding and bonding necessary for raising a healthy child.
When the anthropologist John Whiting did a study about the most common sleep arrangements in the world, he found that in 50% of societies, the norm is for the mother and child to sleep in one bed, and the father in another bed.
Other popular norms include mother and father in the same bed with the baby in another bed, and all family members together in one bed.
He also found that co-sleeping is more common in colder climates when people often sleep together to keep warm. The indigenous people of Amazon who live in a warmer climate, for example, sleep in individual hammocks.
The number of people in a household is also a factor. For example, as the average American family counts 2.8 people and the average Iraqi family counts 7.7 members, the American family is more likely to have family members sleeping in separate beds.
Breastfeeding norms and rates are different in different countries.
For example, in developing countries, poorer mothers breastfeed longer, while in developed countries, wealthier mothers breastfeed longer.
Some of the countries that have the lowest rates of breastfeeding are Spain (77%), the US (74%), and Ireland (55%).
The countries that have the highest rates of breastfeeding include Bhutan (99%), Madagascar (99%), and Peru (99%).
A whopping 99% of Norweigan mothers initiate breastfeeding, and 70% of mothers are still nursing at three months. This high rate of nursing is likely due to the generous maternity leave laws in the country where mothers can take up to 36 weeks off work with 100% of their pay.
On the other hand, in France, less than 25% of babies are breastfed at six months of age. Many women believe that “to promote breastfeeding is to be against women’s liberation.”
In Peru, 95% of babies are breastfed for an average of 20 months. You can commonly see mothers nursing their babies in public without shame or fear.
Maternity leave in the US may be short and often unpaid, but in some parts of the world, parents get several months of maternity leave with 100% pay. In a few countries, fathers can also take leave from work to help the mother.
Here’s how maternity leave looks like in some parts of the world:
- In Australia, mothers get 18 weeks of paid maternity leave with an average pay rate of 42% of their former salary.
- Japanese mothers get 14 weeks off and are paid 67% of their previous salary.
- Croatia offers 30 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave.
- German mothers get 14 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave.
- Chilean mothers get 18 weeks of maternity leave with 100% pay.
The United States is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t guarantee any paid maternity leave. It’s up to employers to determine their maternity policies, with more than 40% of companies opting not to offer any paid maternity leave at all.
It’s no wonder that sleep training is so popular among American parents. Rushing to get back to work, parents must quickly get their babies on a schedule and teach them how to sleep independently.
In some parts of the world where parents are part of a large, extended family filled with aunts, uncles, grannies, and grandmas, sleep training is not urgent and may not be common.
Instead, certain cultures have their own specific way of putting their babies to sleep. For example, a popular way of putting the baby to sleep in India is by placing him/her in a traditional hammock made of the mother’s saree. The parent gently swings the baby and sings a lullaby.
Similarly, Germans commonly put their babies to sleep in a sleep sack, which allows a baby to feel cozy and safe.
In Sweden, parents lie their kids on their stomachs and rhythmically pat their baby’s butts until they fall asleep. The practice is known as buffing, and, according to Swedes, it’s so effective because it replicates the motion and security of the womb.
Hopefully, I gave you a quick peek into how baby and toddler sleep is perceived around the world, and how it differs from the US.
The goal of the post was to broaden our horizons about how parenthood looks like around the globe, and ultimately, pick up a tip or two from cultures different from ours.
Let’s all learn from one another and become the best parents we could be to our little ones.