Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Swaddling Children: Is it criminal abuse or simply a violation of White Western sensibilities?
Today I read two articles about parenting issues. The first was about the practice of swaddling babies and the second goes into detail about how two daycare owners who swaddled children are being charged with child abuse.
Swaddling: A Common Parenting Practice Under Fire
Daycare owners arraigned in California swaddling case
This is an extremely problematic prosecution. They may have violated some people's ideas about what constitutes proper swaddling, but is that enough to make swaddling something that can't or shouldn't go on at that age? From the studies, the idea that swaddling is bad stems from the idea that there should be more skin to skin contact between babies and mothers. The idea that babies who are swaddled would get less skin-to-skin contact than those who aren't swaddled really depends on the culture and family practices. The studies don't seem to be applicable outside of a very White, Western framework, because critics haven't taken the time to study it outside of that framework.
In this story, there are multiple issues. I think it's ridiculous to charge them for abuse for several reasons. Babies allowed to sleep on their side could also come to harm that might have been preventable. If the government prosecutes people who haven't harmed their babies based on the idea that something COULD happen, then it would be justifiable to charge every mom who has ever fallen asleep in bed with their baby after breastfeeding, every parent that used formula instead of breast milk, every grandparent who positioned a baby on their stomach for nap time, every caregiver that introduced solid foods before the recommended age, et cetera. All of these people are violating "best practices" according to the most popular view in one particular culture (i.e. White Western America). But it's a whole other matter to call it abuse when no harm was done.
I mean, what's a "heavy duty knot"? It wasn't heavy duty enough to injure any of the children. "Heavy duty" is so vague that ANY parent that swaddles a baby could be charged with that. The articles mention that the women sometimes put blankets over the heads of the babies. I know I certainly put blankets over my child many times. It was certainly better than leaving her exposed to the elements and environment (e.g. other people's kids coughing over her and trying to touch her, smoke blowing in her face, rain falling directly on her, people getting too close as she was trying to nap). At what age does that become a criminal act?
My baby seemed to fall asleep better when I played loud songs for her. Perhaps it's because she was used to hearing lots of music since we had a saxophonist practicing in the house every day. If I played Bird Parker or Coltrane a few feet from her crib, she'd fall fast asleep. Other babies might be inconsolably agitated with the same treatment. What's comforting/comfortable depends on what the child is used to. It's not particularly scientific to judge what a baby finds comforting by basing it on what certain other babies prefer. I don't think there's a single parent in this country who hasn't violated "best practices" or done something with their baby that would terrify some other baby. I just don't think that means they/we should all be charged with child abuse.