Keeping little kids busy: “play-room” edition

Finding things to do with the little ones can be tricky, particularly during the week when the majority of kids younger than school age will be in nurseries or kindergartens. If you have your kid at home during the week, consider visiting one of Odense’s legestuer (“play-rooms”). It’s a great way for your kid to interact with other kids and you might get to drink a cup of coffee with other grown-ups.

In Denmark, legestuer are run by churches (kirke). They are literally safe play-rooms, filled with toys. Sometimes there will also be some joint activities like games or songs. Participation is free or for a small fee. Everyone is welcome. 

Below I am listing Odense’s legestuer, they all vary a bit in when they are open and how they are organised. Therefore, I am also providing links to more information for each legestue. 

Legestue Fredens Kirke
Open: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9.30 – 12.00
Address: Fredens Kirke, Skibhusvej 162, 5000 Odense C
Price: 10kr per family
Find more information here and here

Bolbro Legestue
Open: Monday, 10.00 – 12.00
Address: Sognehuset of Bolbro Kirke, Stadionvej 68, 5200 Odense V
Price: Free
Find more information here

Legestue Munkebjerg Kirke
Open: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 9.30 – 12.00
Address: Munkebjerg kirke, Østerbæksvej 87, 5230 Odense M
Price: 10 kr.
Find more information here

Legestue Lumby Sognehus
Open: Thursday, 9.30 – 12.00
Address: Lymby Sognegård, H.C. Lumbyes Vej 40 B, 5270 Odense N
Price: Free
No further information online

Legestue Sankt Hans Kirke
Open: Thursday, 10.00 – 12.00
Address: Sankt Hans Kirke (in the menighedshuset), Sct. Hans Plads 1, 5000 Odense C
Price: Free
Find more information here

I only ever went to the legestue at the Fredens Kirke. They had so many cool indoor toys that I hoped they would run evenings for grown-ups to come and play. Let me know if you find out more useful information about legestuer. Happy playing! 

From Denmark with Love, 

Julia

Guide to Danish Health Care during Pregnancy

For most of us, it begins with a home pregnancy test. That second line on the stick heralds changes to our lives to profound to fathom. To help with the practical steps, here is a short guide to Danish health care during pregnancy. Please note that this is only a summary and your personal care will depend on your health and pregnancy.

During your pregnancy, you will be offered a range of free examinations performed partly by your doctor (egen læge) and partly by midwives (jordemoder) (find an overview in Danish here). Regular midwife appointments are likely to take place at a health center where midwives hold office hours, while the ultrasound scanning appointments tend to take place at local hospitals.

The first step is to call your doctor to make an appointment. Have your CPR number ready and an idea of when the first day of your last period was. They will use this information to find the right time for your appointment. The doctor will likely want to see you from week 8 of your pregnancy onwards, and pregnancy weeks are counted from the first day of your last period.

During this first doctors appointment, your pregnancy will be confirmed through a urine test. Your general health condition will be examined (blood pressure, weight, etc.) and it will be established if there are any risk factors for your pregnancy (e.g. a family history of high blood pressure or diabetes or unfavorable work conditions). The doctor will also take a blood sample to test among others for Hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis. She will also calculate your due date.

During the first appointment, you will further be offered prenatal screening for the chromosomal abnormalities trisomy 13, trisomy 18, and trisomy 21. If you agree to this, then they will test your blood for specific markers (called double test). Some woman might not have thought about whether or not they want to have prenatal screening. I recommend saying yes at this first appointment because you can still decline later on to hear the results. However, the blood test for the prenatal screening has more reliable results if blood samples were taken early during pregnancy.

Eventually, the risk for these chromosomal abnormalities is determined statistically based on three different sources of information. First, the results of the blood test, second, known risk factors (e.g. advanced age of the mother), and third, fetal measurements made during the first ultrasound screening.

The first regular ultrasound scan occurs between pregnancy weeks 11 and 13. During the scan, the due date will be confirmed based on the development of the fetus, and it will be checked if the fetus develops normally. As mentioned above, for establishing the risk for chromosomal abnormalities, the nuchal fold (the neck fold) will be measured and the risk for the chromosomal abnormalities will be calculated and shared with you immediately. It is, therefore, a good idea to bring a support person and no other children to the scan in case you will receive negative news. If the calculated risk is deemed too high, you will be offered further invasive tests to establish a diagnosis with certainty. These tests occur later in the pregnancy.

When and how often you will see a midwife depends on, among other factors, whether you are pregnant for the first time and whether your pregnancy is considered low or high-risk. Most women will visit a midwife about 5-6 times during pregnancy. The midwives will take some measurements and talk to you about all topics related to pregnancy and birth. They will furthermore share with you which options of prenatal classes are available to you. In Odense, from the public sector, there is unfortunately only one short course in English at the OUH (Odense University hospital) available. All other classes are in Danish. Promisingly though, a hypnobirthing instructor has recently started to offer classes in Odense (find her webpage here).

Additionally to the midwife appointments, you will be asked to see your doctor in pregnancy week 25 and 32. These appointments you have to schedule yourself. It is noteworthy that you will not receive any internal gynaecological exams, unless it is medically necessary, until the very end of your pregnancy, when the question how far the neck of your uterus has softened and shortened becomes important for further decision making.

Another exciting event occurs around pregnancy week 20, your second ultrasound scan. During this scan, it will be checked again if your fetus develops how it should. And you will learn the sex of your baby if you choose to.

Approaching your due date, the frequency of midwife appointments will increase. If you pass your due date, you will at some point be asked to come into the hospital for scans and CTG readings to monitor the baby and contractions. In Denmark, the recommendation is that babies should be born between 37+0 and 42+6 weeks of pregnancy. Accordingly, you will be offered to have labor induced between 41+2 and 41+5. You do not have to agree to this as you have medical decision power over your body unless you are deemed a medical emergency.

All women in Denmark have the right to give birth at home. That means the Danish Health Care system has to provide you with the support of a midwife to give birth at home. In Odense, you will be sorted into a specific scheme for home birth, run by a small circle of midwives. This increases the chances that you will know your midwife and you will also receive a home visit before to help you set up the logistics for the birth.

I have spoken to many international women who have given birth in Denmark. One observation I often hear is that the coverage of care can appear low with appointments few and far between. In my opinion, this is a cultural misunderstanding. Where some cultures take the route of frequent appointments and tests, the Danish system places more responsibility on the woman to monitor her health and to contact the doctor or midwives if there are any problems. The moment any problems are flagged, the density of appointments and treatments increases to a much higher level. During my two pregnancies, at no point did I have the impression that any risks were taken with my baby’s or my health. Speak up! Change your doctor if you don’t feel heard. And get in touch with me if you need help.

From Denmark with Love,

Julia

Health care during pregnancy and birth is included in general health care accessible to foreigners in Denmark. It is a combination of doctor and midwife appointments and includes prenatal health tests for both the baby and the mother. Pregnancy care can appear low with long waiting times between appointments but this is a cultural misunderstanding. Woman are tasked to report any problems or irregularities, triggering an immediate increase in the density of care. No one takes any risks with the health of the baby or mother. Speak up and make yourself heard by both your doctor and midwife.


Sleep tight, nighty, night!

One of the biggest challenges of motherhood is the lack of sleep. I get too few hours and my sleep gets constantly interrupted. I do not function well without enough sleep. I do things like screw in a new light bulb and declare the lamp broken because it didn’t light up when I switched the light switch. The switch that regulates a totally different lamp, you know. I am just a whole lot dumber than I used to be. But more worryingly, I feel a little angrier, more vulnerable, and less optimistic about the world, feelings that block growth and happiness.

Now, this would be easy to fix since the problem is so well defined. But between my baby waking up every 2-3 hours at night and the toddler having trouble falling asleep in the evenings, I just never get enough sleep. So I try to nap in the day. But then I have to lie down when the baby has fallen asleep and force myself to switch my thoughts off. For me, the moment my head drops onto the soft pillow, my brain starts to dredge up all the thoughts. You know them, the thoughts about the shopping list, and unanswered messages, the internal reminder to empty the cat toilet and to mail the letter for the tax department. Thoughts.

All the thoughts also like to sneak up on me after the 3am feed. It’s the perfect time to worry about how best to sell the car, isn’t it? Now for years, I have been using mindfulness exercises to try to bring on sleep. Sorry to the mindfulness experts out there, I know that’s not the purpose, but mindfulness was long the best tool in my sleep box.

Until I finally tried the Sleep stories on the app Calm. My husband has been using them for ages and has gifted me a pair of sleeping headphones a few Christmases ago. But it took the draw of listening to Matthew McConaughey that finally made me try them. He had just recorded a story and who wouldn’t like to be soothed into slumber by his southern drawl. It worked magic. Maybe 7 minutes in, I was asleep. I have been using different stories for 15 days now, both for nap-time and after waking up for feeds at night, and it works every single time. It’s like I found the sleep switch. What I love about it is that falling asleep has become something passive, I just have to listen to the story and out go the lights. Beforehand calming down was something active to be achieved by me focussing on a mindfulness process. Much more work, much lower success rate.

I have since also played Sleep stories for children to my toddler. After we read to him and the nighttime ritual is over, he can still take some time to fall asleep. While the Sleep stories have not worked quite as magically for him as they do for me, they still send him off into dreamland more often than not.

We are using the app Calm and I can wholeheartedly recommend it, despite the quite steep price tag. We can share it on Apple Family so it’s not quite as expensive. It offers wonderful guided mindfulness exercises and meaningful additions like a breathing timer and some mindful yoga instructions. And of course the Sleep stories. Written by diverse authors and read out by actors, scientists, astronauts, artists, and sometimes the authors themselves. I am already looking forward to tonight’s story.

From Denmark with Love,

Julia

Getting enough sleep is a constant challenge for parents of young children. Finding an easy segue into sleep cuts down on the time it takes to fall asleep and makes napping easier. Here I recommend the use of a modern version of the ancient good night story. Different apps provide “Sleep stories” that just capture the mind enough to avoid the pitfall of thinking too much while trying to fall asleep. Works wonders for this mama and also sends my toddler off to sleep.

My top 10 tips for travelling with baby and toddler

Expats are seasoned travelers. We share a love for exploring new countries and visit friends and family at home. However, most will agree that the actual process of getting from A to B is always slightly annoying. Depending on public transport, going through busy train stations and airports, and just spending endless hours in transit saps energy and sanity. My remedy used to be to plug in my headphones and read a good book. As a mom to a toddler and a baby, these options are no longer available.

When the Joneses travel to the grandparents in England, our itinerary contains a bus journey, followed by a train, plane, bus, and rental car trip. Takes us 11 hrs door-to-door, if all goes well. I am stressed out before we even leave the house. In fact, the stress starts a few days before with packing and getting ready. Keeping everyone happy, fed, and otherwise content on the journey is a major logistics operation. A 1.5-year-old can be so determined on wreaking havoc onto the early commuter train from Odense to Copenhagen that I have previously thrown up my arms in defeat only half an hour into a day of traveling.

No wonder that I have since tried to make our journey easier and these are my top 10 tips for traveling via plane with baby and toddler:

1. The Car Seat Backpack Bag

We lug around one baby car seat and rent the toddler car seat from the rental car agency to compromise on costs. Renting two car seats doubles the price of the car rental (they do know how to make money). On the first few family trips, we had a big holdall for the car seat, which was awkward to carry. Since we need to maximise the number of free hands to hold on to little humans, I have since made a car seat backpack bag that makes it so much easier to transport and safely check the car seat. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find one to buy (anyone wants to start a kickstarter campaign with me?), so I took the straps off an old backpack, sewed them onto two big IKEA family bags sewn together and voilà, one problem solved.

Me with my DIY car seat bag

2. Reduce number of transfers

This one is kind of obvious. Every transfer means to gather all the bags, belongings, and children and move them. This is annoying and minimising the number of transfers is therefore paramount to a good travel experience. Every transfer also holds the risk of missing the connecting transport or that the next mode of transport is delayed. This is annoying for a single traveler but disastrous when traveling with babies and toddlers.

3. Throw money at the problems

This one relates to reducing the number of transfers. Find your compromise between ease of transport and the amount of money you are able to spend. The same goes for individual vs. mass transport (e.g. rental car vs. train) and provisions on the journey. If you can afford to reduce effort, do it.

4. Dose everyone with decongestant nose spray

This is something I do before every flight to avoid problems with inner ear pressure decompression. My babies received decongestant nose spray even when they were still very little. For them, I diluted adult nose spray with sterile saline solution 1:10. In Germany, it’s possible to buy decongestant nose sprays for newborns, in Denmark it’s not. My dilution had the same proportion of active ingredient as the one sold in Germany. We only ever had a screaming child on the descent once, and that was the one time we had forgotten to give nose spray to my toddler before the flight. Never again will I see my kid in pain during the descent because I know how to avoid it.

5. The packing list

This one is the holy grail. We have a master packing list in an app that syncs between my husband’s and my phone, where items can be ticked off, and that can be reset to use anew next time. We just use iOS Notes but there is plenty of apps that would support this functionality. The packing list is sorted by members of the family and also contains a list of things to do to get ready (e.g. organise cat sitter) and last-minute tasks (e.g. take the bin out). I would be lost without this list and plan to patent it (just kidding).

6. The get-ready to fly list

It’s surprising how many tasks have to be accomplished after security and before boarding at the airport. Everyone needs food and drink for the journey if you are not depending on on-board catering, the little ones need new nappies and in our case treatment with nose spray. Plus all passports and boarding passes need to be located and carry-on luggage split into overhead compartment stuff and under-the-seat- in-front-of-you stuff.  I found it eases the stress level to have a similar list on the phone to tick-off pre-flight tasks. It’s a bit overkill, I admit that, but it makes it easier for my husband and I communicate about what needs to be done.

7. One bag to rule them all

After a particularly uncomfortable home-bound journey, I went on Amazon and found the biggest bag I could buy. I kid you not. Now, it’s one bag for the whole family because we have to keep hands free for little humans, so one person handles all luggage to be checked in. That also means minimising stuff to take, but we had great success with this and have not missed anything. The first cheapo gigantic bag from Amazon has since been replaced with a high-quality version, which again much improved our traveling experience.

These days we have learned to travel without our kitchen sink

8. One big bag for carry-on

Again a tip to minimise the number of bags to lug around. We once forgot a backpack at a car rental due to the sheer amount of different bags we had with us. That was early days of our parenting and we have since learned. I bought one of these shoulder bags that can be folded into a tiny pouch. Mine is from IKEA but many places have them. Whenever our hand luggage becomes unmanageable, I whip that thing out and all goes in, reducing five bags to one. Great.

9. Get a good collapsable push chair and use baby carriers

Check the airlines regulations for size and shape of push chairs that you will be allowed to take up to the gate. Four wheels are better than three and most fold-up strollers will comply with the regulations. Make sure it’s one where the seat can go all the way down into a horizontal position to make it easier for the babes to sleep in it. It doesn’t need to be an expensive one, however. We bought a good-quality, second-hand one because we mostly use it for air travel, and are very happy with it. Otherwise, and on and off the plane, use a baby carrier of your choice to have hands free for luggage.

10. Make sure your kids sleep

This is actually a big one. Kids’ need for sleep and their ability to sleep under different circumstances vary greatly with age of the child. However, an overly tired child will always have problems to manage their emotions, mildly expressed. It’s easy to oversee that they need to sleep because the action of traveling day keeps them up well past their naptimes. But if at all possible, try to make them sleep in the pushchair or carrier, on your lab, or in their seat. It’s so tough to calm down a child in melt-down mode after a long day of traveling, and we managed to avoid this since we have made sleeping on transit a priority for them.

Finally, I didn’t put it on the list, but something I often wonder: how did people travel with toddlers before the Ipad?

If you have secrets of traveling with kids, let me know. I always love to learn something new.  Maybe our paths cross at the airport one day. Until then, stay well.

From Denmark with Love,

Julia

Travelling with toddlers is a special kind of torture. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids dearly and I find many enjoyable moments even on travelling day, but I will also fall into bed at the end of it with the exhaustion of a marathon runner. Luckily, there are ways to prepare and a few tips to make the whole rigmerale easier.