A Brief History of the Baby Blanket

If we could each revisit the moment of our birth, we’d probably learn that we all came into the world in a pretty similar fashion: naked, cold, and crying—and quickly wrapped up in a small, soft cotton blanket for warmth and comfort. When someone sends you a photo of a newborn baby to announce the family’s good news, it’s very likely you’ll spot the iconic pink and blue striped baby blanket most hospitals stock by the hundreds. It makes perfect sense, of course: it brings immediate warmth to a newborn baby (who’s usually pretty cold and also rather mad about it!), it’s easier to change than those cute little newborn onesies with all the buttons and snaps, and there’s really no need to look stylish and snazzy in the first hours of one’s life, anyway. But have you ever wondered where these cozy, perfectly tiny-person-sized blankets came from? Today, we’ll check out a short history of the baby blanket, from the prehistoric era through the 20th century and today.

History of Baby Blankets

History of Baby Blankets

Baby Blankets: B.C.

Parents and other caregivers have been wrapping their newborn babies in cloths to make them warm and comfortable for thousands of years. If you attended a Christmas pageant or admired a nativity this holiday season and spotted the infant Jesus swaddled in the Virgin Mary’s arms, we can confirm that this costume detail was historically accurate. The second book of the Gospel of Luke mentions that after Mary gave birth to Jesus in the innkeeper’s stable, she wrapped him in cloth before laying him in the manger—likely because she had little else to dress him in, given the humble surroundings. But this Biblical mention of a baby snuggled in a blanket was far from its first use. Anthropologists have determined that even the earliest humans and their predecessors used fur for dress and warmth—probably skinned from the animals they hunted for food.

Swaddling for Security: A Time-Honored Tradition

It’s likely that in your first days of parenthood, a nurse at the hospital, a more experienced friend, or a close relative taught you how to swaddle your baby for comfort and improved sleep habits—at least, that’s the idea! Several authors believe the practice of swaddling a baby to restrict the movement of his arms and legs (and encourage him to relax and snooze) began as early as the Paleolithic period, though it became less popular in the 17th century. Today, expert pediatricians do approve of swaddling your little one, but they also strongly recommend that babies sleep on their backs without any loose blankets in the crib for maximum sleep safety. That’s why the invention of the sleep sack has been such a boon to tired and nervous new parents. Zip your yawning munchkin into one of these sweet, soft garments (with or without her arms free, depending on your preference) for security and safety, since she can’t accidentally pull it over her face in her sleep.

That Ubiquitous Pink and Blue Hospital Blanket

So what’s the real deal with that pink and blue striped flannel receiving blanket you see in most of the photos people post of their newborn babies on social media? These simple, sweet blankets been made by Medline, a medical supply company based in Illinois, since at least the ‘50s, and the president of their textiles division estimates that they’ve sold about 25 million blankets since 1980—meaning that many of today’s first-time moms and dads were snugly wrapped in the same cute and classic style as their brand-new babies are today. The blankets, which are made in Karachi, Pakistan, are usually a good deal less expensive for hospitals than more decorative ones, like adorable animal-print blankets. It’s not uncommon for parents to take one or more of these blankets home with them, for treasured keepsakes as well as practical usage. After all, receiving blankets are among the most versatile and useful items you can have on hand in your nursery and in your diaper bag during your baby’s first year of life.

The Baby Blanket as a Transitional Object: Then and Now

It’s not uncommon for an older baby or young toddler to adopt a security object of some kind, whether it’s a blanket, a favorite stuffed animal, or another beloved toy. This transitional object, or “lovey,” can help the child to feel relaxed and secure as she explores the world around her, and her attachment to it is normal and perfectly healthy. Interestingly, “security blankets” in the 1920s were fastened into infants’ cribs to keep them safely inside, a practice that’s definitely not recommended by pediatricians today. Later, during World War II, the term “security blanket,” in quite a departure from its origin, came to refer to the special precautions the Allies took to keep classified information from falling into the hands of the enemy. But many of us associate the term primarily with Linus van Pelt, the adorable “Peanuts” comic strip character who is rarely seen without his much-loved blue lovey blanket—which is probably why you can refer to your child’s transitional object as his “Linus blanket” and have everyone know just what you’re talking about!

Baby Blankets Today

As we head into 2016, we can all be thankful for the variety of choices we have when choosing a sweet and adorable blanket for a new arrival, whether you’re stocking your own nursery or shopping for a gift for a friend’s little one. Instead of animal fur or plain, rough cloth, we can keep our babies warm and comfortable in gorgeous blankets made of organic materials, which are more natural, or synthetic fibers, which can sometimes be a more affordable option. You can safely swaddle your baby for bedtime in an ergonomically designed sleep sack, like this beautiful pastel blue Zzzipmesac, and your toddler can adopt a beloved transitional object like this Jakka the Giraffe plush rattle lovey for security and comfort. Clearly, there’s never been a better time to be a newborn baby! Happy shopping, snuggling, and swaddling!

 

 

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