While I will admit to being an Aussie woman with a thriving Scandinavian design addiction, I have found that there is much more to Scandinavian women than their sense of style and beautifully designed home decor. According to the organization Save the Children, Finland is the best country in the world to become a mother, with Sweden coming in behind at a close second. What makes this so? Is it the culture and perception of happiness, or statistically are women and babies healthier in Scandinavian countries?
Let’s compare caesarean rates. In Sweden in 2011 around 17 percent of babies were born via caesarean, whereas in Australia in the same year our caesarean rate was over 32 percent. This is quite a shocking difference. Neonatal and maternal mortality is also lower in Scandinavian countries.
What can we learn from these women and the maternity system in Nordic countries to improve the health and wellbeing of our mothers and babies? Here are my top five pregnancy, birth and motherhood tips that we can learn from Scandinavian women.
Midwifery care is thriving and encouraged
The vast majority of pregnant women in Scandinavian countries are cared for by midwives, and even though they have the choice of having care by their GP, most doctors encourage women to visit midwives as they are considered to be the experts in normal pregnancy and birth.
Pregnancy is treated as a normal part of life, not an emergency waiting to happen (something that I absolutely agree with!). A common sense attitude is applied, and most Swedish women with only have one ultrasound and a few blood tests. Even with this minimal intervention approach, maternal and neonatal mortality rates are low, and women are more satisfied with their experience.
Tip: Consider midwifery-led care for your pregnancy and birth, and remember that pregnancy and birth is a normal and beautiful function of the female body.
Women implement Hygge into their day
The term Hygge has no direct translation in English, but it roughly translates into calm moments for yourself and others. Involving a sense of cosiness, Hygge is about creating a space where you feel comfortable and taking some moments to feel calm and cnetred. This may be reading a book, journaling or catching up with friends for a home-cooked dinner. This time is very introspective, and allows women to experience that mental calm that is often lacking in our Western society.
Tip: Make time in your day for Hygge – whether you are pregnant or have a new baby, find what works for you and implement it into your day.
Exercise for relaxation
50 percent of Swedes enjoy regular long walks as either part of their daily activities or as a form of relaxation. Not only is walking brilliant for connecting with nature and calming our mind, it is great for encouraging your baby into an optimal position or birth, or lulling a newborn to sleep. There’s no destination or rushing, it is all about the process. In Australia we often exercise hard and fast, with a focus on burning calories or achieving a new personal best on our running time. When we approach exercise from this perspective we are missing out on many of the benefits of moving our bodies.
Tip: See exercise as a mental activity as much as a physical one, and consider adding slow, relaxed walks into your life.
Dads are more involved in raising children
Fathers are encouraged to take ten weeks paid paternity leave in Sweden. How amazing is that? Imagine having this support as you transition into motherhood and move through the challenges and triumphs that come with this journey. It is expectant that dads will be an equal partner in parenting, and it seems that many men really enjoy this.
Tip: Discuss with your partner the possibility of them taking some leave in those first few weeks to bond as a family. Make sure that you rest and take care of yourself when your partner is spending time with your little one!
Women take a minimalist approach to buying baby items
If you are lucky enough to give birth in Finland, along with welcoming your baby into your home, you will also be given a maternity box filled with clothes, sheets, nappies, and most importantly – a mattress. Once the box is empty the mattress can be placed inside, and it becomes the perfect cot for baby. This government initiative endeavors to ensure that all babies are given an equal start in life, no matter what their background is. I think this is a really beautiful gesture – and certainly much more beneficial than the sample bag that our new mums are given here in Australia! Babies don’t need much, but a safe sleeping place is of upmost importance.
Tip: When buying items for baby focus on buying only what is absolutely needed. This helps keep the budget in check, but also allows more money to be invested in more meaningful purchases, such as childbirth preparation classes, hiring a birth support worker, or even meaning that your partner can afford to take a few more weeks off to support you.
While in Australia we often embrace Scandinavian interior design and beautiful home wares, perhaps we should also be borrowing some of their pregnancy and birth practices. We are fortunate to have a very safe maternity care system here in Australia, but I believe that implementing aspects of mindfulness, relaxation, equal parenting and more midwifery led care can only lead to happier mums and healthier babies. And who doesn’t want that?!
About the expert
Hannah Willsmore is a coach who is passionate about supporting women to feel calm, confident and nurtured throughout their pre-conception, pregnancy and motherhood journey. She helps her clients to realise their inner strength, to navigate their OWN journey, and to experience the transformation and true empowerment that comes from growing, birthing and nurturing their baby. With her background working as a Midwife she is extremely knowledgeable in this field, and knows the ‘ins-and-outs’ of the maternity system here in Australia. Head on over to her website to receive your free Self Care Menu instant download – perfect for preconception, pregnancy or motherhood!