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Kitting out babies the German way

Sabine Devins · 4 Nov 2011, 05:23

Published: 04 Nov 2011 05:23 GMT+01:00

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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.

Story continues below…

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.

Sabine Devins (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

07:51 November 4, 2011 by wood artist
When the child is a little older you get to make the most important purchase: a proper pram that approximates the size of an American SUV and allows you to take at least 2/3s of the contents of your house with you. It should be big enough that taking it into the U-Bahn completely blocks access to the doors, and it should also require the full width of any escalator in the Hauptbahnhof. You get bonus points if it's so heavy...with or without the child, that you can't manage it by yourself.

My own kids grew up in the US and somehow came out unscathed without a warming lamp or a changing table. They didn't have designated play blankets either, and my daughter even had a swing when she was yet unable to sit up by herself.

13:41 November 4, 2011 by vonSchwerin
Yes, you definitely need an enormous pram that will take up all of the "standing room" in the middle of any German bus. Of course, you will need the proper attitude to go with it: pushy, self-righteous, and indignant -- so that you can demand your right to take over the standing space and and so that you can demand that strangers be compelled to help you lift in and out of the bus.

Do NOT even think about getting some small, collapsable umbrella stroller.
15:09 November 4, 2011 by Frenemy
Now I'm not a parent so I don't really have a stake in this, but (as an objective observer) that attitude is precisely the reason this country's native population growth is in the negatives...
19:10 November 4, 2011 by Scuba Steve
I'm 6'2" (187 cm) my (now) ex is also tall. I custom built a "Wickeltisch" to the height of our elbows. And the heat lamp too, for good measure. Best thing I ever built. Had everything you needed to care for her in easy reach, and was so nice to have her at eye level. Had more fun with her on that changing table . Any Mother in Law, regardless of her nationality, is going to have definite ideas about baby care care. Lighten up! Take joy in yer little person. And don't forget "Rennsocken", the little socks with rubber pills on them that keep her from slipping' when she's zooming' around. Ah, those were the days! *wink!*
16:51 November 5, 2011 by Cuchullain
I'm a Canadian dad living in Germany. I find the Germans are WAY over the top. Our baby slept in a small crib for a week or two beside our bed. After that, off to her own room and crib. Horror of horrors: all by herself! GASP!

Shockingly, the baby is happy, sleeping through the night and not petitioning for such things as a heat lamp. She also doesn't really care what kind of stroller is in fashion either.

I mean, the Germans are over the top, but Canadians can be just as bad. Take a stroll through North Vancouver and you'll see what I mean.

They're babies, not porcelain dolls. Give them love and you've got 99 per cent of the job accomplished.
16:37 November 6, 2011 by Redwing
Many of the comments so far about size of pram/buggy, mother-in-law and being given preferential treatment etc apply to the UK as well.

When I had my two children in the 1960s my English mother-in-law disliked everything that was remotely German: Strampelhosen, triangular nappies and the comparatively small pram, and, most of all, speaking German to my babies. How would her grandchildren ever be able to speak to her????

The pram, passed down from German relatives, was a sensation. It was so modern compared to the huge Silvercross coaches in which 3-year-old children were still being transported. I was frequently stopped and asked where I had bought it.

And here is my current grouse: As there were not many supermarkets - and those few there were had narrow aisles and no shopping trolleys - children in their prams had to stay outside in all weathers. Buses had no reserved spaces for prams or wheelchairs. When my children were too small for push-chairs I could not go anywhere beyond walking distance.

Nowadays, at least in the UK, there is a variety of shopping trolleys, for one baby, for twin babies, for one toddler or for two toddlers, or for one baby plus one toddler.

Parking spaces are reserved closest to the supermarket entrance for parents with children, as if they could not walk from farther away pushing the trolley. I do not complain about disabled parking spaces also close to the entrance, though not as close as those of the above privileged shoppers, because most of them actually walk the distance. As for the rest of us ordinary people, no matter how old or decrepit we are we just have to lump it and accept that we are 2nd class citizens now.

And in case anyone is wondering why I do not do my shopping on foot - the nearest shop is 4.5 km on a 96 km/ph road without footpaths away , the one shop closer having been put out of business by undercutting supermarkets.
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