Swaddling: Wrapping a newborn tightly in a blanket

Saint Francis institutes the Christmas Crib. V...

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger

By Kevin Leland for Amazon.com

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

-Luke 2:7

Swaddling clothes: The above passage from the gospel Luke is the most famous account of swaddling clothes. But what does it mean? Wrapping a newborn infant in a tightly fitting band, and then a blanket, is a custom that was already ancient when the Virgin Mary wrapped up the baby Jesus. This custom practiced in many places around the world dates back, as far as we can tell, two thousand years before the baby Jesus was swaddled and laid in a manger. It was thought that tightly constricting the baby’s limbs helped the baby develop good posture. They would wrap the baby in this way until they were about seven months old. It was not until the 17th century that this custom went out of practice.

I was studying the Nativity Story in Luke, before my youngest son was born,  in the 21st century.  I had heard that swaddling clothes meant cheap, humble, raggedy clothes and also the opposite; very extravagant and beautiful clothes. A little further investigation showed that it could be either –as long as they were tight fitting.

As soon as he was born…It was time to experiment. I decided to forego the ace-bandage; I didn’t want to get too carried away. Taking a good sized baby blanket, not a quilted one, or any that was too thick, I spread it out and laid him on his back diagonally. Then, I took the bottom corner and folded it up so it was tight to the bottom of his feet, with his legs straight. I folded the corner back so it didn’t cover his face. With his little hands on his belly, I took the corner to his left, wrapped it over him nice and snug and tucked it under him. Lastly, I took the other corner and as I lifted him up, I wrapped it tightly around him.

If you try this on your infant, be careful not to do it too tightly, as it could restrict the baby’s breathing. He looked like a little Indian papoose! He didn’t seem to mind at all either. The experiment was a success. As a matter of fact, when he would get fussy, I could stop his crying, and get him to sleep just by swaddling him. He really got addicted to his little blanket cocoon. It also kept him from scratching his face.

Some of the reasons that this ancient custom fell out of favor, was because it was thought that it prevented the baby from moving and developing his limbs. Maybe this would be the case if you used the bandages…That’s unnecessary. With just the blanket, I think it has a very comforting effect.  It reminds them of being pre-born, in the womb, where their movement was also restricted. I also think it is good for muscle development, because even though this used to put my baby son right to sleep, as he woke up he would struggle against the blanket and free himself –like a baby chick coming out of his shell. This has has to be good for the baby’s strength and muscle development.

Swaddling your infant in a blanket before putting them down to sleep (preferably NOT in a feeding trough ~like the baby Jesus) has another benefit. Newborn babies tend to twitch in their sleep. This can startle the baby, waking them up abruptly, maybe with a scare, as if they are falling. Wrapping them snugly in a blanket will prevent this, getting them to sleep longer and more peacefully.

Shop at Amazon! <Click that link and search Amazon for a swaddling blanket.

Here is a great youtube video, where a dad shows us how to do this step by step:

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