This swaddling band is the oldest item of children’s clothing in the Museum’s collection. It was made in Italy between 1575 and 1600. It is made from white linen and has a decorative trim made with lace and embroidery.
Swaddling clothes have been used by parents for centuries to keep babies warm by wrapping their limbs up tightly. They have served as a way of restricting the child’s movement and therefore keeping them safe. It was believed that babies’ limbs needed to be kept straight directly after birth so that they would grow properly.
The childhood disease rickets – which we now know to be caused by a deficiency in vitamin D – was once believed to be caused by parents kissing their children. Swaddling clothes were thought to help prevent the bowing of children’s bones, a symptom of rickets. In reality, tight swaddling clothes probably did more to encourage the disease by compressing the child’s flesh and sometimes causing gangrene.
Babies in swaddling clothes were sometimes hung from a nail in a wall to give their carers a rest and to entertain them with the surrounding environment.
The fashion for swaddling clothes faded in the UK and USA in the 1790s as doctors investigated it and parents learnt more about how to care for children. It survived into modern times in some other European countries such as Italy, and some Eastern and tribal cultures continue to use it. A modern version of swaddling, using a wrapping cloth, has come back into use in some countries, notably Australia and the USA. It is thought to help reduce the number of deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by making babies sleep better.