Kitting out babies the German way

Motherhood in the Fatherland follows mum Sabine Devins as she navigates the cultural quirks of having a baby in Germany. In the latest instalment, she outfits her baby the German way.

Kitting out babies the German way

Pending the arrival of her son, British mother Lorna found herself embroiled in a battle with the child’s German Oma-to-be over, of all things, a changing table.

“My German partner didn’t really have a clue what we needed when we were pregnant, but his mum was very insistent that we get a Wickeltisch. You’d think my brothers and I would be mentally scarred for not having one, she was so hot for getting a blooming changing table!” she said.

I’ll admit that I was clueless that a changing table was something Brits considered to be a “German thing,” but I know of a few others, like the must-have accessory for it: The baby heating lamp.

When it comes to bedtime, British newborns are snuggled into a Moses basket next to mum’s side of the bed. I know of a few babies in Canada and the United States who spent their first few months sleeping in a travel crib in their parents room before being moved into their carefully put together nursery.

In Germany, babies go into a Beistellbettt, which literally translates into “bedside bed.” Its a crib with three sides that attaches to Mum’s side of the bed, allowing everyone to sleep together but in their own space. For nighttime feeding, there is no where to walk to, nothing to lift the baby over. For advanced rollers, you can even get a fourth side to the crib that still gives the baby the comfort of being next to Mama.

Babies in Germany grow out of their little bedside bays in about six months, but don’t expect them to be kicked out into their own room after that. They then graduate to a crib in the parents room. My midwife told me that it’s best for babies to share a room with parents for the first year.

And don’t expect babies to cuddle into duvets when they graduate to a bigger bed. Germans are very into their infant sleeping sacks, zipping children as old as three into sleeveless vests with legless gowns attached.

Munich-native Benedikta surprised herself when her son was born. “I just somehow ended up buying little ones for newborn Francis, summer ones for hot days, and down sleeping bags for older Francis,” she said. “The Hebammen (midwives) do drive you a bit nuts about the necessity of sleeping bags and nothing else in the crib.”

The sleeping bag is something that I can’t believe aren’t more popular back in Canada, though they’re catching on and popping up in baby shops everywhere.

But there is one blanket we received that Luisa used all the time as a newborn. My aunt in Cologne sent us a huge box in the mail containing a quintessential German baby item: A thick quilted blanket, or Krabbeldecke, for Luisa to lie on before she could sit up. Being Canadian, I had purchased a bouncer chair as a place to simply put Luisa when I needed to.

But this is Germany, and if you recall my last column, I was, as they say, doing it wrong.

In PEKiP, the main principle to adhere to is that a baby shouldn’t be propped into any position she can’t put herself into. So German babies lie on the floor surrounded by toys on a Krabbeldecke. When I added a play arch, it wasn’t unlike a playmat the kids at home are using.

The choice of pram is also influenced by PEKiP. Since they say a baby should be lying flat, a stroller that comes with a bassinet and then graduates to a proper seat when the baby can sit by himself is a must. New English mum Susannah discovered what happens when you dare stroll Berlin’s baby-beset neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg in a pram that puts your newborn in a buggy that goes only “almost flat”. At a crosswalk, a German Mutti said, “Oh, your baby isn’t flat. When mine were that small, we were told they had to lie flat. Do they not do that anymore?”

To avoid passive-aggressive curbside judgement, it’s best to have a two-mode Kombikinderwagen stroller.

You may also have to outfit the stroller the way the Germans do and according to season.

As the October chill settled in on Berlin, I declared it foot muff season. This happens in Berlin when the temperature drops below 20. The Muttis break out their sheepskin-lined foot muffs to tuck their little ones into to protect them from drafts. For those hot summer months, a sheepskin lines the back of the seat, keeping air circulating under the babe and regulating his or her temperature.

But foot muffs aren’t the only thing protecting chubby legs from getting chilly. Baby stockings are as staple to the Teutonic tot’s wardrobe as pyjamas or onesies. Both boys and girls get an extra layer below the waist. They come in every colour and some brands even make it with thicker parts on the foot end with sticky grips for toddlers.

If you’re keeping track, that means in the winter, you’ll find babies wearing tights, their regular pants, snow pants and a foot muff while cruising around in the winter. It must be any infant version of that dreaded German draft thing.

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Schooling: What you need to know when moving to Sweden with children

Sweden is often cited as one of the best countries in the world for raising children, but what do international parents need to know when planning a move here with their family? And can your children access schooling without a Swedish personal number?

two children on a swedish farm
From the age of six, every child in Sweden has access to free education. Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/

Depending on your child’s age, there are a few things you should be aware of when planning a move to Sweden. If you’ve recently arrived in the country and didn’t have to apply for residence permits before entering, you and your family may not yet have their Swedish personnummer – the 10 or 12-digit personal number linked to everything in Sweden from healthcare to gym memberships. This guide will give you some advice on how you can sign your child up for school before they have received their personnummer.

Firstly, you may be wondering how the Swedish school system works. Sweden has three different types of school: the first type of school is voluntary preschool – förskola – for children from 1-6 years of age.

Starting at 6 years of age, schooling is compulsory, starting with förskoleklass, a one-year preschool class as a sort of bridge between preschool and primary school. Then, from age 7, primary or grundskola starts. Grundskola stretches from age 7-16 and is split into three stages: lågstadiet for 7-9-year-olds, mellanstadiet for 10-12-year-olds and högstadiet from 13-15. From the year a child turns 16, they can attend gymnasieskola (which is voluntary in theory, but many Swedish jobs require a gymnasie diploma) – lasting three years.

Some schools offer both grundskola and gymnasieskola, some only offer some of the grundskola stages, so check directly with any schools you are considering to see how many stages they offer if you want your child to stay in the same school for the majority of their schooling.

Check out the websites Skolverket and Skolinspektionen for more information on Swedish schooling.

How much does it cost?

The vast majority of schooling in Sweden is free, apart from förskola, where fees are heavily subsidised by the state and are income-based – costing a maximum of 1,510 kronor ($175) per child per month in 2021. Free school meals are also offered for all children. For teenagers at gymnasium level it is up to the municipality to decide whether school meals are free or have to be paid for.

Many independent schools – such as bilingual and international schools – are also free to attend. It’s also helpful to know that these schools aren’t allowed to charge for textbooks or school trips.

There are a few fee-paying private schools in Sweden, but not as many as in other countries.

If you’re moving to Sweden with teenagers, they might qualify for a study allowance (studiestöd). This is available to young people between 16 and 20 attending gymnasium full-time, and amounts to 1,250 kronor a month, paid out from September to June. It is possible in some cases to get this study allowance without a personal number, but you will need to contact the Swedish Board of Student Finance (CSN) directly to register. See more information here to find out if your child qualifies.

The type of school you need to apply for will depend on your child’s age. Photo: Maskot/Folio/

How do I apply?

Many schools, especially in the big cities, have long waiting lists, so it pays to sign your child up early. If you have a personnummer, the sign-up process is relatively simple – for förskola and grundskola, your municipality website will have an online sign-up service (e-tjänst) which you can sign in to with your BankID. If you’re still waiting for your personnummer, this process is a bit more difficult – you can still apply, but you will most likely have to apply via a paper form.

Even if your child does not yet have a personal number, they still have the right to attend school while they wait for their personal number application to be processed – you may have to supply documents showing that your family intend to stay in Sweden for an extended period of time before your child can access schooling – your municipality will be able to help you with this.

Contact your municipality if you are unsure of which form you should use and who you should send it to. They should be able to help you if you move to Sweden after application windows for schools in your area have already closed. If your child is old enough to attend grundskola or gymnasieskola, you may need to contact the school directly for advice on how to apply.

This is part of The Local’s series about what you need to know when moving to Sweden with children. If there are any particular topics you would like us to cover next, you can always email our editorial team at [email protected]. We may not be able to reply to every email, but we read them all and they help inform our coverage.