Swaddle a baby might sound outdated to many parents.
Swaddling is indeed an old practice of wrapping infants in blankets or similar cloths so that movement of the limbs is tightly but softly restricted.
According to studies and research, it seems that swaddling was invented in the palaeolithic period. Swaddling was described in the Bible as a cloth tied together by bandage-like strips. After an infant was born, the umbilical cord was cut and tied, and then the baby was washed, rubbed with salt and oil, and wrapped with strips of cloth. These strips kept the newborn child warm and also ensured that the child’s limbs would grow straight.
During Tudor times, swaddling involved wrapping the new baby in linen bands from head to foot to ensure the baby would grow up without physical deformity. Babies would be swaddled like this until about 8 or 9 months!
In a conversation I had with my great aunt some time ago, she told me how most babies in her time were all wrapped up. So we are talking about 1940s, not the middle age!
We always see the Royal babies swaddled in their first TV appearance and it’s not a chance hospitals swaddle babies right after they are born.
Swaddling babies help them feel calm and sleep.
The idea is that the wrap helps baby to feel snug and secure, just like how they felt in your womb.
As a newborn photographer, I use this practice a lot, especially at the start of the session or any time baby is distressed or not comfortable. And I have lots of mums telling me “oh she doesn’t like to be wrapped” but you know what? It’s very rare that a baby doesn’t like it because the wrap is a kind of warm hug in which they feel very comforted.
I started quite a lot of wraps when babies were crying and halfway they all calmed down and felt more secure.
Why is swaddling so effective?
- The first few months after a baby is born are known as the fourth trimester. So a transitional period between the womb and the “real” world. For 9 months a baby lives in a warm, secure and constrained environment. So it makes perfect sense for them to be softly wrapped. They will just feel like in the womb.
- Baby will sleep longer because the swaddle prevents the natural startle reflex, also called Moro reflex. Babies are born with a fear of falling and the smallest noise or touch that causes a sudden change will trigger this reflex. The baby reacts by lifting and stretching their arms and sometimes walking up. A gentle wrap that contains the arms and hands will help greatly.
- A wrap can also eliminate some anxiety in babies as the weight of the wrap imitates the feeling of mum’s touch. The baby thinks someone is there so he feels more secure and learns to self-soothe.
- It can help to calm a colicky baby
- It keeps baby’s hands off the face avoiding those annoying scratches
Is swaddling safe?
Yes, it is but, of course, you have to be careful and follow some guidelines. You can read more about the do and don’ts of swaddling on the baby centre website. Just a few tips here.
- Speak with your midwife and ask all the questions you have about it
- Use a thin and soft material that is breathable. Cotton muslins are perfect for this.
- Position the cloth in line with the shoulder and criss-cross every side over baby’s chest. Do not cover mouth, neck or head!
- Be sure the baby does not overheat. Don’t swaddle them with thick blankets.
- Always put your baby on his back
- Wrap the firmly but not too tight.
Just a little disclaimer. The photos you see in this post are from my newborn sessions. A photography wrap is different from the routine baby swaddle. Even if the principle is the same, to keep baby calm and content, in newborn photos the wrap has to be nice, tidy and pretty. We pose baby with legs bent or with fingers out. We also use different materials but the baby is never too long in that position or in that wrap. Safety is a priority in newborn photography and I always look out for clues if the baby is not happy.
So to summarise, I definitely suggest you give it a try and see if it makes your life a bit easier. Please make sure you do it safely and talk to the midwife with any doubts you have.
Some suggestions for wrapping.