Let me start with a caveat. Not all babies love to be swaddled. Your baby may not like it– or maybe they will take to it like a duck to water and you will be glad you read this article.
Swaddling Through the Ages
Swaddling has been in practice for centuries if not milennia. Although it did fall out of popularity in the 17th century for some time, it now appears to be making a comeback.
During the Middle Ages, European parents kept their babies immobilized in a tight, bulky swaddle for the first four to nine months of life. In Tibet, babies have always been swaddled tightly in blankets. Traditionally, the wrapping was secured with rope and the baby was tied to the side of a yak to be carried as the family hiked through the valleys. On the high plains of Algeria, babies were swaddled to protect them from drafts and evil spirits. Among North American First Nations it was common to carry their “papoose” (young baby) tightly packaged and slung onto their backs. (The year 2000 U.S. one-dollar coin displays an image of the Native American guide Sacajawea with her tiny baby snugly bundled on her back.)
My Swaddle Story
When my son was 2 months old, I was a walking zombie mom. Severe sleep deprivation had me so ‘zonked-out’ that I couldn’t even sustain conversations with other adults. I would literally wander away mid-sentence. My beautiful boy was so full of energy (he still is 7 years later) that I could not keep up to his crazy sleep schedule and I was desperate for a better way to lull him to sleep and keep him there for longer than 40 minutes.
That’s when I discovered swaddling, the age-old technique that uses fabric to tightly wrap an infant resulting in restricted movement – not unlike the environment in your womb that Baby has just been ‘living-it-up’ in. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that when done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep. In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics insignia features a swaddled fifteenth-century Italian baby.
Modern swaddling is used to soothe and calm an irritated baby or to help a restless one to sleep longer. Swaddling also helps babies to stay on their backs when sleeping – remember how important it is when putting down babies who can’t roll by themselves yet onto their backs to sleep.
A big point for swaddling is that it simulates the gentle confinement of being in a womb and babies, of course, love the womb: its been their warm and cozy place of safety for most of their development.
The swaddling blanket should be a light-weight cotton or muslin fabric to avoid overheating, and should be wrapped snugly but not so tightly as to disrupt circulation or cause hip dysplasia. The goal here is a feeling of security–not baby jail!
The Happiest Baby on the Block
Dr. Harvey Karp is a nationally renowned pediatrician, child development specialist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine. He is also the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block. In his book, I learned about combining swaddling with a “shushing” sound and a ‘sweeping sway’ and when combined with the swaddle my energetic little guy was no match for the cozy cocoon.
Finally, we had found a little relief–and I became a believer in the swaddle.
If you have an experience with swaddling that you’d like to tell us about, we’d love to hear it! Head on over to our Facebook page and leave us a comment!