Raising Kids in Denmark: Things that have Surprised Me

Our son turned 6 months recently and this has led me to think a bit about things that have surprised me since his birth. Some of these may be the result of my lack of experience of babies, but some of them I think are more related to Danish culture.

Temperature taking

In Malta body temperatures are normally taken under the arm or in the mouth. However, I was very surprised to find out that body temperatures are taken rectally! Any other temperature taking is very suspiciously looked upon. And this is not only for babies! If calling the hospital they will ask you for a rectal temperature…and wait for you on the phone till you give them one! Isn’t this a bit intrusive and traumatic to do to a child who is already feeling unwell? I have also been wondering if this is only Danish or also done elsewhere.

Traditional vs Latest Research

The WHO issued recommendations in the early 2000s (I think?) that babies should be on an exclusive breastmilk/formula diet for 6 months. However, Denmark still used the 4 month cut off when our son was born, and this seems to be a very popular thing to do. This year in March, however, new regulations were issued by the health department. These regulations are now on board with other recommendations, such as no cow milk before 1 year old.

So maybe late, but the recommendations are changing slowly. I would say that I have found that Danish society is very traditional rather than necessarily going with the latest research in other areas as well such as the benefits of bilingualism (have had a lot of negative comments on this!), and the boy/girl divide (boy/girl clothes and toys and playing with others of the same gender). Does anyone else get this impression?

Mother groups

Mother groups are quite a big thing in Denmark. When having a child some of the common questions are: do you have a mother group? Do you like your mother group? I can answer yes and yes to those! Which is good, as people seem to expect my mother group friends to turn into ‘friends for life’!

The way mother groups work out has been quite surprising to me though! A mother group is a self-organised group of 4-6 mothers with kids born around the same time. The groups are put together by the health worker. We host group meetings at our own houses and we offer food to the other mothers when they come to ours. First time I was up for hosting a mother group meeting I worried a lot about offering food that can be eaten one handed. However this does not worry Danish mothers it seems. Food is invariably Danish bread with toppings. The child is often just put down so the mother can eat. I tend to put in one-handed eating practice!

Luckily an English-speaking mother group has also been started, where I can relax a bit more and there is more one-handed food eating :D. Also, this group has children of a much wider range of ages, meaning that I could get advice from older-children mothers (and feel useful for the younger ones). If you are a new English-speaking mum in town and would like to meet others do request to join on this facebook group.

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About Ann

I am a Maltese girl, who fell in love with a Dane in Prague. I just started a job close to Sonderborg, so we have both moved there (via London, where we lived for a while). I am excited about this new country and city, and look forward to learning and experiencing more in the area. Read more...

5 thoughts on “Raising Kids in Denmark: Things that have Surprised Me

  1. Ida Jacobsen

    I found your post about raising a child in Denmark very interesting and it made me reflect upon my own motherhood, especially raising a bilingual child (my husband is English) and all the health and social stuff you suddenly have to figure out.

    Regarding taking the temperature, the most accurate measurements will be rectal – arm and mouth will be lower than the real body temperature. The more precise measurement, the better the doctor will be able to help, because the temperature – even with small differences – says a lot about the diagnosis and the level of potential danger. But with this said, the Danish practice of rectal measured thermometer is way, way over the top in my humble opinion. When my daughter was still an infant, it was relatively easy to take her temperature that way, because I could get her to relax, and the modern thermometers do not hurt or cause any distress if you relax. But, with her being a toddler now, I’ve shiftet to the ear-thermometer, well-knowing there is an error-margin. I would literaly have to fight her if I wanted to take her temperature the old fashioned way, and I have no interest in doing so, neither would it benefit her or her healing. So far it has been correct enough to be helpful, and is easy and nice to use. If people give you a hard time about it, ignore them. My mum is a trained nurse, and I still have to argue with her over this, despite they more or less only use the ear thermometer in the English NHS (English Healthcare).

    I can see how you may find it intrusive that they have you take the temperature while waiting for you, but the temperature is a very important indicator of how serious it might be, and because it is a bit unpleasant to do, many people lie about it. Think of it this way, the doctor is just trying to get as many correct data as possible to be able to help you. Without data, no diagnosis or cure.

    Regarding breastfeeding vs formula, I’ve had a completely different experience than you. All the health personal I’ve met from nurses, midwives to sundhedssygeplejerske, all recommended breastfeeding for at least 6 months – preferably 1 year, it almost felt like a crusade sometimes – I’ve never heard anyone recommed to cut off at 4 months, other than other mothers because of work, pain, stress or because the child isn’t eating enough. Breastfeeding is a vastly complex area, highly depending on the mother’s body, feelings, health situation an so forth. I breastfed for 6 months and the first month it was more painful than anything else, I almost gave up. I’ve known mothers who had no problems and mothers who had to give up. I really feel there should be more respect for the mother’s situation, as there can be many reasons you cannot breastfeed, and to many it can feel like a big failure if you can’t, in a situation where you are already super emotional pressured. In respect to what is healthier, there is actually a very active debate in Denmark these days, in science and in the public debate (Politiken, DR). Research has shown both pros and cons. The pros are of course, that breastmilk is amazing for the child – all the right nutrients, better immune system, good for both mother and child. The cons are unfortunately that we are all, no matter how organic we live, affected by the chemicals that surround us and that this goes straight through the breastmilk. There has been no research yet that has finalised this debate.

    I am very sorry to hear that you have experienced people being negative about your child’s bilinguality and it surprises me with Sønderborg having both German schools and the International School, people should have more sense than that. We haven’t had any experience like that luckily, but I’ve actually been very nervous about my daughters language for a while, because she has been very late in talking, and I was worried that the two languages might be limiting for her development, but everyone I’ve talked to have been very nice about it and helped a lot.

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Ida. Thank you very much for your very long comment. A lot to think about. Glad to hear others have decided to go with something other than rectal temperatures for their kids. As you say you have to adjust the temperature a bit (my thermometer manual actually tells you how to adjust the temperature). However, for the phone call, I guess my biggest stress was that it was the first time I was being asked to do it :D. So imagine my stress…and surprise!…at having to do it while someone is waiting for me (I offered to call back but they said no). I never thought that it was their way of assuring that I did what I said that I was doing (though I muted my phone while I flapped around ;)).
      As regards breastfeeding, I must admit I didn’t have much (if any) encouragement to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months (even after I said that was what I wanted to do). If anything I was told that my child is below average (no surprise there! Both his parents are ‘below average’ in height) so I should probably start earlier to feed him up (I find that there is some lack of understanding of statistics by some health professionals, where they want everyone to be’above average…a statistical impossibility!). AS you though I understand that it is not the be all and end all (and was close to quitting in the first few weeks!). Oh and I wasn’t recommended to stop at 4 months, but to start feeding other food earlier than 6 months.
      As for bilingualism, I have had more comments such as yours today. This has made me think a bit back to the reactions I got. I now think that the people weren’t actually suggesting that bilingualism is wrong, but that me talking to my child in a language that is not Danish while living in Denmark is wrong. I am quite sure now that they didn’t really equate what they were saying with viewing bilingualism in a negative light but viewing the ‘speaking a language that is not Danish’ in a negative light. This I understand a bit more. So thank you for making me think about this a bit more! As you indicate though, I am aware that growing up multilingual often results in the children starting to speak later and/or having less words than their monolingual friends (especially if you consider each language separately). I grew up quite bilingual but I guess as most of my friends where growing up in a similar way this was not seen as an issue.

  2. Karen Van Drie

    It is so fun to read your reflections about being a new Mom in Denmark. How lucky your son is! Two wonderful, caring parents. Thanks for this wonderful update about how it is going. Sending you love from Istanbul!

  3. Elsebeth

    I am a grandmother of three US/DK kids in Montana, their father being an American. Once my daughter called me “Mum, other mothers are looking at me, because I speak a ‘strange’ language to a baby that cannot even talk himself. Should I give up speaking Danish to him, sometimes I feel a bit foolish?” “No!” I answered, “the situation is ‘strange’ to them, only because they don’t understand the language!!!” Today he is 17 years old and in highschool, he is a gifted child and has advanced classes in most subjects.
    Some years back in the classroom the other kids asked him, Justin, how could you (as the only one) spell ‘ostrich’ right – yes, how could you, the teacher asked? “It’s easy, cheese in Danish and my dad’s first name!” The other kids shouted “Justin, will you please teach us Danish!” As if that could solve all their spelling problems! To him it has been an advantage having two languages, and in America they even have their own ‘secret language’ – that can come in very handy at times …
    By the way, I hear for the first time that taking the body temperature rectally should be a problem – put a little vaseline/oil on the tip of the thermometer and the child would hardly feel when you stick it in – it has worked for more than a hundred years …
    I was looking for a fishmonger in Sønderborg and your blog came up – and the fishmonger! Do you also lack good shops in Sønderborg do as I do – go to the market in Flensborg, open Wednesdays and Saturdays till around 1 pm. We always drive home on the Fjordvejen (passing Kollund) – a very beautiful ride.

    1. Ann Post author

      Thank you for your comment Elsebeth. I hope our little one sees being multilingual as an advantage as well.
      As for the temperature taking…I don’t think it is a problem. I just think it is unneccessary. Other ways of taking the temperature have also worked for many many years so why go through the stress of turning them over, pulling pants down and sticking something in when you can do it in their ear, under their arm, on their forehead or in their mouth just as effectively.
      Oh and good tip about Fjordvejen! We often take that way if we’re going to Flensburg and the weather is nice. But sometimes we want some fish or other good produce and don’t want to make it all the way to Flensburg. At least with fish we have one good option!


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