Swaddling is an age-old practice of wrapping infants snugly in swaddling cloths, blankets or similar cloth so that movement of the limbs is tightly restricted. Swaddling bands were often used to further restrict the infant. It was commonly believed that this was essential for the infants to develop proper posture.
Swaddling fell out of favour in the seventeenth century. It has become popular again as modern medical studies indicate that swaddling assists babies to sleep, and to remain asleep; and that it lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
A modified form of swaddling is becoming increasingly popular today as a means of settling and soothing irritable infants. The lengthy swaddling cloths of mediaeval Madonna and Child paintings are now replaced with receiving blankets, muslin wraps, specialized 'winged' baby swaddles, or flannelette sheets. The confinement does carry a risk of the baby overheating if the swaddling material is too thick, or the room is too warm. Swaddling also prevents newborns waking themselves with their startle reflex.
Looser wrappings, tucked but not tied, can generally be kicked off by a wakeful baby. They are still useful for keeping the baby warm, without increasing the SIDS risk, because the wrappings stay well clear of the baby's face and airway. This assumes that the baby is put to sleep on its back, as anti-SIDS precautions recommend. By the time the baby is learning to roll over, often around 6 months, it should be sleeping in less ...