There are many different personal and cultural attitudes to the handling of infants and children, and in Western society these rules seem to have become less and less defined. Nowadays people often think they have a right to handle children without consideration for the feelings and needs of that child. More than just culture, such attitudes stem from lack of self awareness. Total strangers patting a child on the head, pinching them on the cheek, tossing them up in the air, wanting to clutch them closely - would you like someone you had just met doing that to you?
Whilst holding a young baby may be a bit of a pleasure for those desirous of it, I rarely observe this as providing any pleasure for the baby. I have always considered passing a newborn baby around like a newly acquired garden gnome to everyone who wants to hold him.
Considering the effects from the baby's point of view, informing people about a baby's sensitivity and where you consider they may be crossing the lines of familiarity will help to educate the unaware people as well as teach your children their rights when it comes to having their personal space invaded without invitation. It will also help protect against the boisterous uncle who comes to visit, straightaway giving your quietly reading son a throw in the air or an aeroplane spin as a welcome gift, completely disrupting the peaceful scene!
After some time of skin to skin cuddling following their birth and first feed, it is important that a newborn be well wrapped and prepared for their first sleep. Some babies will settle easily at this time and are happy to sleep separate from the mother in a basket, cot or bed, but others may remain unsettled or even traumatised from the birth and will require close comfort, either with continued skin to skin contact or by being wrapped and rocked gently.
Swaddling, or wrapping a baby, is something you start to do from the time of this very first sleep, and will continue as a routine for some 12 - 16 weeks. Swaddling serves several purposes. The first is obviously to help the baby maintain body heat. Loose wraps can tend to unravel due to their little wriggles. This then creates a movement of cold air around them, allows bedclothes to annoy them or, more dangerously, cover their airways. A second reason to swaddle is
to mimic the hugging sensation of the uterus with which the baby is so familiar. A tight wrap gives them a more secure feeling. A third reason is to restrict the spontaneous wriggling of their nervous system so that sleep comes more easily and stays deeper. Unwrapped babies are known to startle more easily, both through outside noises or movements as well as their own. Swaddling is also handy for a fractious baby who will not settle to feed. Usually a baby is unwrapped during feed time, allowing them the freedom to stretch a move around a bit. But if a young baby is crying, flexing, arching and refusing the breast, a tight swaddle can help to settle them enough to get them to latch-on and then be comforted by the milk and skin contact.
Methods of swaddling vary the world over. My favourite method is not as limiting as was used about 50 years ago, or as others might still use, but it does provide comfort and security as well as a small amount of movement. Swaddling cloths, or bunny rugs as they are often called, are usually square in shape. Use a soft, natural fibre blanket during the cooler months, and muslin or soft cotton sheeting during the warmer weather.
Figure 26 - Swaddling Method
Begin by folding down one corner of the blanket into a kite shape. Place the middle-top of the baby's head on that fold. Figure 26(a).
Place the baby's left arm beside their body or on top of their tummy and wrap the right corner of the cloth across the front of the baby. Tuck the excess material in behind the baby's back. Figure 26(b).