Swaddling – The Great Communication Blocker

August 15, 2012

When Phoebe was a baby Rob and I tried swaddling her but we didn’t try too hard because she really didn’t like it. She would wrestle herself out of the bondage. I unswaddled her to nurse her. Sometimes her hands would get in the way but if I was patient she knew how to move them in order to get to the breast.



            I learned to read her. Most of her communication was her face, her voice and hands. When she was hungry her hands moved toward her mouth. When she was uncomfortable her hands thrashed about. When she was content her hands were at ease either by her side, up above her head or splayed across my body.


            As she became mobile I took away truly dangerous items but I did not remove all items from our home. In her room we had a bookshelf and on the lower shelves we kept books that she could not destroy. I would take a book off the shelf, read it to her and replace it. I would take a toy off the shelf and when she moved on I showed her that we put it back on the shelf. She had freedom of movement and guidance. She didn’t throw the books off the shelves like some of her contemporaries who were kept in a  playvpen or whose home was completely  cordoned off from perceived danger. I felt it was important to let my children learn to live respectfully in the world. We developed a mutual trust and understanding. Nonverbal communication was fostered.  You know that look your mother gives you that says “you better not” or “I understand your pain”? That comes from looking at each other, really looking and seeing. Not just once but over and over.



     This begins at birth. Shutting down a baby limits this relationship.

            Try swaddling yourself and not talking. How can you communicate your needs, your wants, your discomfort, your love?


            Now imagine you want to strengthen your body. You move your arms and your legs. You walk, run, lift weights.  Try doing these activities wrapped in layers of gauzy cotton. How will you develop your muscles and coordination?

            Imagine you were mummified from the neck down and you were in a 2’ x 4’ arena. You roll to one side with your face smashed against the railing or the cushioning of the arena. How do you free yourself from this discomfort and potential danger?

            Swaddling is for parents. It is not for babies. Experts claim it is good for babies; that it calms them. What is really happening is that the babies shut down. They zone out. They are rendered helpless.

More and more babies are treated as separate entities. They are not. Babies are utterly dependent on an adult to care for them for survival.

            When you create a secure attachment with your child you grow a secure human being. When you build a close relationship you build mutual trust. You also foster you instincts.  You will intuitively know when to let your child venture out freely. They will let you know when they are ready. You can communicate your needs as well, giving your self space. This models self-care. There is a give and take in the early weeks of parenting: there’s a huge amount of give while the baby takes and takes. The baby takes your time, your milk, your sleep. This is what you signed up for. The rewards are vast if you let them in.

To be the parent of a delightful, secure child is priceless.


One Response to “Swaddling – The Great Communication Blocker”

  1. KT Says:

    I disagree to some extent.
    Babies communicate by crying in those early days, and in being unswaddled a parent can assess why the babe is crying (hungry, dirty, needing cuddles etc).
    Babies develop muscle tone from resisting the swaddle and it helps them stay organized cognitively, being tucked and secure like they were in the womb.
    I also counter the rolling argument by saying once your child starts to show signs of mobility this way, it’s dangerous to swaddle, and in the meantime my babies napped on the main floor where I could see them…so if they did roll when they were a month old I would be there.
    I don’t think swaddling should take the place of caring for your child in the sense that you swaddle and ignore their cries and communication, rather I see it as a calming measure. That said, there is evidence to suggest that swaddeling the legs can cause hip issues, so I always left the legs free.
    This is what parenting is all about; reading your child’s cues…however you choose. For some this will mean swaddling, for others not; you just have to do what’s right for you and your baby.

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