Swaddling infants is a common practice that many people choose to do to help their infant in the first few weeks of life. Parents might swaddle their newborns to help them rest easier at night, unawakened by their natural reflexes, or to help keep them warm until they’re better able to regulate their body temperature on their own, or even to simulate the secure feeling of the womb. Swaddling can have its benefits, however when you really look at the research, the long-term negative effects outweigh the good. It’s only when swaddling is done excessively, that it can damage the child’s development.
Children need to be given the freedom to move as early as the first few moments of life after birth. Swaddling an infant when they’re awake and ready to move about, only restricts their limbs, preventing them from learning to control their bodily movements and reflexes. It also makes them sleep for longer periods of time since they cannot naturally wake up, causing difficult sleep habits that can follow them throughout much of their childhood. Even the cute, small mittens that we buy to place on their tiny hands so that they don’t accidentally scratch their face with their nails, although innocent enough, actually restrict the baby’s hand movements, forcing their fingers to remain in a tightly-locked fist position. You want him to stretch his fingers, feeling and embracing all of his surroundings. He needs to feel his mother’s warm skin, and wrap his fingers around the hands of loved ones reaching towards him. He needs to run his small hands across his mattress, feeling it’s texture and the perimeter of the bed. Babies learn best by using all of their senses, at all times.
The recent Montessori Newsletter from the Michael Olaf Company, released this month, highlights on a family in Mongolia, and the living arrangements of their small “ger”, or “home”. The article shows what happened when they attempted to swaddle their baby, and how upset he became when his movements were restricted. They allow him to freely move about his environment all throughout the day.
There are still so many things you can do as a parent to ensure your baby’s safety while sleeping, without harming their development in any way. Safety should always be your first priority, keeping in mind the necessity of the product you’re actually using.
For the safest sleep environment, make sure your child’s bed or crib is equipped with a firm mattress, wrapped tightly with a single sheet. A light, breathable blanket will suffice to keep them comfortable, under the proper supervision. No other objects are necessary, including crib bumper pads, pillows, stuffed animals, or anything that the baby could accidentally roll onto during sleep. Newborns often times lack the ability to move themselves when they fall onto an object, such as a bumper pad or stuffed animal. It’s best to leave this area free of unnecessary objects that would otherwise be used for an aesthetic purpose. Here is another great link on safe sleep recommendations, as well as the dangers of improper swaddling, based on research from the American Academy of Pediatrics: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Swaddling-Is-it-Safe.aspx
By not swaddling your baby when they are awake and ready to explore, you’re giving them the gift to develop their movement, helping them gain confidence in their independence at a very young age. You’re allowing them to freely practice rolling over, lifting their head, reaching for objects, and controlling their newborn reflexes. Babies have important work to do when they are awake. We need to give them the opportunity to work to the best of their ability, free from unnecessary, restricting objects.