Why Baby Swaddling, How It Works, and When To Stop Swaddling
How does swaddling work?
Why should it be tight to be effective? Why are light
cotton swaddling blankets better than thick and warm ones, if swaddling is
intended to make babies feel warm and snug, as many medical
sources claim? Mainstream medicine still cannot
provide answers to these questions (see a recent medical review below - van Sleuwen
et al, 2007). But a leading Soviet physiologist,
Dr. Konstantin Buteyko and his numerous medical colleagues (over 150 doctors)
provided simple and sensible explanations. Swaddling prevents and stops
hyperventilation and upper chest breathing.
In other words, the baby breathes more slowly
and inhales a smaller volume of air breathing primarily
with the tummy (diaphragm). This improves blood, brain and
body oxygenation. Increased cellular oxygen levels improve
cell oxygenation, sleep, digestion, stop or prevent SIDS (sudden infant death
syndrome), rashes, digestive symptoms, and many other health problems.
Before the baby is born, the fetus gets all its blood supply from the mother
through the umbilical cord. This includes CO2 and O2. Because of this, the
breathing of the fetus depends solely on the mother’s
breathing. Birth itself is a severe shock for the
baby. Most of this shock is probably due to the drastic change in air
composition: a reduction in blood CO2 concentrations
of about 30-40%. The process of delivery and new
environmental conditions cause severe stress and make the baby's breathing heavy.
Hence, swaddling makes this transition and adaptation to new air more gradual.
All primitive and recent
cultures, as historical and other evidence suggest, used swaddling (or tight
wrapping) of babies. Speaking with people born and raised on different continents, I
learned that swaddling was the norm in Africa, America, Europe and Asia.
In Asia, due to the hot climate, they used wooden sticks instead of clothes. The
sticks were positioned along the baby's trunk and tied snugly using ropes. In
Scotland, swaddling blankets were passed from generation to generation. Medieval
England is known for having separate swaddling clothes produced for rich and
Swaddling sometime can lead to overheating, and that can cause very serious
health problems. Bear in mind that the metabolic rate of infants is about 2-3
times higher that of adults and infants develop better in relative colder
conditions. In babies, over 60% of heat exchange take place via the head. Hence,
covering the head makes a significant difference in their heat exchange.
"But the cells of animals and humans need about 7 % CO2 and only
2% O2 in the surrounding environment. This is the way our cells live:
cells of the heart, brain, and kidneys. But now air has 10 times more
oxygen and 250 less carbon dioxide, i.e., it is not suitable for our cells
and is poisonous in its composition. This is confirmed by embryology.
During recent years detailed studies of gas blood exchange in embryos of
humans and animals were done. It was found that during 9 months we live in
an environment, which has 3-4 times less oxygen and 1.5 times more CO2
(both as partial pressures) in comparison with adults. Obviously, the
organism of the mother creates such conditions for the embryo, as they
were billions of years ago. This supports the Law of Gekkel-Severtsev: the
embryo, in its development, repeats the phylogenesis.
After birth, during the first breaths,
there is a sudden increase in blood oxygenation and a sudden drop in
CO2. It is known that the child is virtually disease-free in the womb of
the mother. Only after the birth, do diatheses and all other
abnormalities of metabolism appear. Why? There is a sudden change in
air. The wisdom of the East surprises us: the just-born infant is tightly
swaddled, and in some places even tightened to a wooden plate. The chest
is covered by layers of heavy material [voile]. Our grandmothers
covered the cradle with the infant using material covering [leaving a
small hole for air exchange], and used swaddling too… Folk wisdom
understood, that this air, so poisonous for the newborn, requires
Dr. Buteyko lecture in the Moscow State
University on 9 December 1969"
When to Stop Swaddling
When to stop swaddling depends on the physical exercise and breathing
patterns of the baby. If the baby's body oxygen level remains high during and
after sleep (no hyperventilation or upper chest breathing), one can stop
swaddling without negative health consequences.
If you notice that the baby tries to turn and sleep in a
prone position (on the tummy), it can be seen as a natural sign to stop
swaddling. Bear in mind that un-swaddled babies will hyperventilate if they
sleep in a supine position (or on their backs). Supine sleep, according to these 24
medical studies (see Best Sleep
Positions Medical Research), is the worst position for all tested conditions and
groups of people.
Covering a cradle with a blanket and leaving only a small hole for gas
exchange (e.g., about a square inch in size for small and medium cradles) is
another technique to ensure high body oxygenation and excellent health in
babies. Note that even older children, when conditions are not hot or warm,
like to hide under a blanket. It is not just a feeling of safety, but higher
CO2 that makes this method effective. Puppets of wild dogs and the young of other
animals also live well and even thrive for months in dens and borrows at very high CO2
levels (up to 5-7% and even more).
To measure the body-oxygen test results, one needs to observe how long time the baby
can easily remain under water (diving). Healthy babies can do it for up to 20-25
seconds. Swimming underwater is the best therapy
and an excellent form of exercise to improve body-oxygen
levels in babies and to slow down their automatic breathing
One may also measure the respiratory rate of the baby during sleep. While
respiratory rates in babies are normally high, healthy babies with higher
body-oxygen content have slower breathing. Ideally, the breathing rate should be near the
minimum normal breathing rates for babies. Here is the normal respiratory
rate chart for youngest and young humans.
Normal Respiratory Rates for Babies, Newborns, Infants, and Toddlers
|Groups and ages
||Normal respiratory rates
|Newborns to 6 months old
|6 to 12 months old
|1 to 5 years old
Generally, it is safe to stop swaddling if the
baby is physically active with strictly nose breathing. However, caretakers need
to monitor absence of mouth breathing or that the baby breathes only through
the nose all the time. There is one great
resource page that provides main ideas and techniques to promote nose breathing
in newborn, babies, and younger children. You can find the link to this page in
your bonus content. Another part of the bonus content is an abstract of the
medical article that reviewed swaddling and its effects.
Buteyko KP, Lecture in the Moscow State University, Soviet
national journal Nauka i zshizn'; [Science and life], Moscow, issue 10,
Van Sleuwen BE, Engelberts AC, Boere-Boonekamp MM, Kuis W, Schulpen TW,
L'Hoir MP, Swaddling: a systematic review, Pediatrics. 2007
Department of Medical Psychology, Wilhelmina Children's Hospital, University
Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands.
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