So why do we use the baby swaddle?
Swaddling is the the age-old practice of wrapping a newborn up tight and cozy in a blanket, in order to restrict the movement of limbs. It helps to keep the baby on it’s back and makes for a sounder sleep with less upsets and tears.
The practice dates back millennia and has been practiced in varying degrees throughout history. Statues and engravings from Cyprus and Crete, depicting babes in a swaddled state, date back as far as 4500 years. In the Christian Bible, Mary is said to have wrapped her newborn baby Jesus in swaddling clothes, before placing him in the manger.
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The original swaddling garb was a linen cloth which was bound tight with bandage-like strips. Common practice was to wash and oil the baby down after birth and immediately bind him up tight.
During Tudor times the practice was taken to the next level: babies were bound like mummies from head to foot, forehead and shoulders were bound in place so that the baby was completely restricted. It was believed that this would prevent the baby from developing deformities and stop out-of-control babies from hurting themselves with strange movements.
During the 1700’s physicians called out for abolishment of the practice, saying that the tight bindings prevented the babies little bodies from growing strong, that the severe restrictions imposed on newborns were doing far more harm than good and toddlers were left with weak muscles and fragile frames.
So the Western world abandoned the more severe custom of heavy-swaddling but there are many Eastern and tribal peoples who still continue the heavier version of the practice to this day.
Swaddling and SIDS Prevention
Up until the early 90’s it was considered normal for us to put infants to sleep on their tummies. In-depth research into the causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome soon revealed that newborns sleeping on their tummies was one of the key contributing factors and paediatricians called out for parents to put a stop to it. With the launch of the Back to Sleep campaign in 1994 we saw the reintroduction of the age old baby swaddle, because babies who are put to sleep on their backs (without a proper swaddle) are likely to be kicking themselves awake most of the time.
Nowadays swaddling is practiced with a slightly more gentle approach. Breathable cotton or cotton muslin fabric is used for blankets, often made in a triangle, T or Y-shape with specialized wings to allow for proper wrapping. Modern versions often include special fasteners or velcro strips to ensure that babies stay bound. It’s important that the fabric can be secured well without causing the baby to overheat.
It’s now widely agreed that swaddling is a solution for irritable newborns, who are often awoken from sleep by their own movements (the Moro-reflex). It allows them a deep and undisturbed sleep and it stops them from rolling onto their tummies and suffocating. We now know that babies legs shouldn’t be too tightly bound, so that their hips can develop properly. Swaddles are therefore designed to tie around the shoulders, allowing a little extra movement in the hip area.
Physicians agree that swaddling is a helpful practice, making for well rested, happy babies… but it should only be done in early infancy, up until the 4 or 5 month mark. At this age the little one will have figured out, one way or another, how to roll over and he’ll need to have his hands free to adjust his position, should he happen to do so.
Studies now show that swaddled newborns cry less and sleep more, plus the risk of SIDS is hugely averted. One or two decent swaddling blankets, ensuring safe swaddling practices, are a must-have for stressed out newbie moms and dads who definitely need all the sleep they can get!
We had planned to create a project for a baby swaddle. Please let us know in the comments below if this would be of interest to you.