Swaddling can help babies adjust to their surroundings

Swaddling can help babies adjust to their surroundings

By KORAL DASGUPTA | | 20 February, 2016
Swaddling helps till the baby turns three months old.
Those who are against the practice of swaddling, feel that it is unfair and inhumane to wrap up a newborn in a piece of cloth, making movement impossible. But there are those who swear by it.

There are multiple views when it comes to swaddling. Swaddling is an ancient Indian practise, prevalent largely among the Gujaratis and the Rajasthanis, where a soft blanket or cloth is snugly wrapped around the baby offering him warmth and security. It keeps her warm and composed; also it helps her adjust with the world in the first few days.

Some communities swear by the practice and others are absolutely against it. Those who are against it feel that it is unfair and inhumane that the new born is wrapped up in a piece of cloth such that she can’t move! They say, she should be left alone to throw her hands and limbs in the air because that is an important exercise for them. However, the reverse is also true. The little being in the house is a bundle of energy. She is certainly not the one to stay dominated even if you wrap her up in a way that she can’t move. She will still try to kick the cloth out of the body and the force she applies to set herself free by overcoming the resistance is also a great exercise. Also, when she is sleepy, swaddling helps in keeping her calm and she is not woken up by sudden disturbances or by her restless self bullying away since she is often over-stimulated! Most of the movement of the new-born is unintentional and random, since she is not planning or arranging for it. Helping them control their arms actually helps in developing better motor skill organization. Swaddling is especially helpful for premature babies.

Swaddling is an ancient Indian practise, prevalent largely among the Gujaratis and the Rajasthanis, where a soft blanket or cloth is snugly wrapped around the baby offering him warmth and security.

We learnt this the hard way. On humid summer nights when my child refused to sleep and woke up with a jerk after sleeping for 15 minutes, we could not understand what was causing him discomfort. Then came a babysitter who suggested that she could try her tricks. She massaged and sponged him, spread generous quantities of powder on his body, made him wear soft comfortable clothes, wrapped him up in a piece of cloth torn apart from my mother’s old cotton sari, and rocked him to sleep. Surprisingly after that, the baby slept like a log all through the night. Soon enough I too learnt the method and our nights were peaceful again. 

Soft clean cotton clothes must be used for swaddling. The texture of the cloth can’t be rough by any means. The friction might cause harm to the skin of the baby. Though you get “swaddling blankets” in the market today which conform to the desired measurements and shape, nothing can ever beat the custom of using old cotton saris in this regard. The cotton made soft by repeated use and wash can offer the comfort that nothing else can. You just cut it to size and stitch the sides so that the threads don’t come out from all corners. In the west you also get swaddle bags within which you may just gently slide in your baby. You can get such stuff stitched for yourself too, but this is too temporary a solution as very soon the baby would learn to take her hands out through the opening around the neck, rendering it useless.

However it is advisable that mothers observe and learned the method of swaddling before practising it themselves. Nurses and trained baby-sitters can help. The cloth wrapped around the infant’s body must resemble the mother’s womb and that is when the baby feels that familiar comfort where she can soothe and settle down. Improper swaddling might have its ill-effects. If the baby is wrapped up too tightly with her straight down, it might loosen the joints and damage the soft cartilage of the hip sockets, leading to hip dysplasia. To prevent this, mothers must ensure that when swaddled, there is always enough room at the bottom of the cloth so that the baby can bend her legs to and fro from her body. Also, a swaddled baby must never be allowed to sleep on her stomach. Once swaddled, the baby must sleep on her back.

It is extremely important to observe and understand, when swaddling should be stopped. Usually swaddling helps till the baby is three months old. Often that prolongs till six months if the baby has taken well to the habit. But there will certainly be a time when she will resist vehemently and work her way out of the swaddling, the moment you put her under the wrap. That is the clue for us to know that our child has grown beyond it and doesn’t need the treatment any longer. Forcing her to still go through it will only disturb and discomfort her, which obviously is the last thing on our agenda.

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