It is said that – “Learning lasts for life – from cradle to grave”. Cradle symbolizes the beginning of life. A cradle is associated with a new-born and is one of the first items on the essentials list of parents while getting ready to welcome their little one.
The practice of using a cradle for baby sleep is very ancient. Mahabharata, an Indian epic which dates back to ~1000BC is an encyclopedia of early Indian culture. Krishna who is the most worshipped Indian God, is one of the main characters in that epic. There are references of a swinging cradle used by his mother for baby Krishna.
Cradles are of different types and vary from culture to culture. Here, I am going to focus mainly on cloth based hammock.
Typically a hook which available in the ceiling for hanging a fan is used to suspend the cloth. The cloth is typically a cotton sari. The sari is around 5m in length and 1.2m in breath. This perfectly suits the purpose. No special stand is required and the height can be adjusted as per the individual needs. These hammocks can hang just over the beds of the parents. This makes it easy to access the baby, keep a watch and swing the baby. The images below give an idea of the arrangement of the sari based hammocks.
Cloth hammocks are popular because of the ease to set them up. In the following picture a Sari is tied across two poles in the frontward of the house. The baby is sleeping peacefully inside it on a sunny afternoon as the sari provides good aeration while light summer wind blows.
The other kind of cradle used is having a four legged stand. The horizontal rod that connects the legs of the stand is used for suspending the cloth hammock. This type of swing is called a Ghodiyu and has it’s origins in Gujarat, a state in West India. The cloth hammock has a string attached which can be used for swinging the baby to sleep.
The common ideology here is the place where the baby sleeps is a cloth which can take the shape of the baby. The cloth hugs the baby and gives a cozy feeling experienced in the mother’s lap or arms. The baby feels the warmth around itself because of the cotton cloth surrounding it. The cloth keeps the baby warm and snug.
The cloth cradle differs from the bassinets or cribs that have a firm base for the baby to sleep as shown in the pictures.
Babies sleep for longer durations in the first 3 months of their life and sleep on their back all the time. Sleeping on a firm flat mattress causes the back part of their head(occiput) to flatten. This is also known as Flat Head Syndrome or positional plagiocephaly. Newborn period between 2 to 4 weeks is when the skull is maximally deform- able. Also if an infant favors sleeping in the same position most of the time or spends too much time with his or her head flattened against a crib mattress, repeated pressures causes that area of head to flatten.
More information on flat head syndrome and it’s prevention can be found here.
Using a jholi or a cloth hammock naturally prevents flat head. It distributes the pressure equally and gives a nice round form to the head. Also the problem of infant favoring sleeping with head rotated to either right or left side does not occur.
This concept of hammock is key to a bed designed by a company called UbiMED. They have designed a “hammock mattress” which cradles the baby’s body and redistributes pressure away from soft spots. This mattress needs to be placed on a regular crib mattress. The place where the baby rests is made up of netted material. This adds springiness and the cuddly feeling of an hammock.
I realized that India is not the only country with the tradition of using cloth based hammocks. I found a post on Facebook page for all lovers of Native American cultures. This post describes the swings used by Native Indians for babies. They are hammock based swings with 2 ropes, 2 wooden pieces and a soft blanket as shown in the picture here :
This blog discusses why the Native Americans preferred the usage of hammocks.
The comment’s section of Facebook post from “Like Native American Traditional” contains some very nice pictures shared by parents who have used cloth based hammocks.
In recent times more and more baby products with hammock based designs for baby sleep are surfacing. A young father based on his parenting experience for his daughter created a hammock swing for safe sleep that can be attached to the crib. Crescent Womb swing is shown in the picture here :
Crescent womb lists the advantages of using hammocks for sleep here. Specifically hammocks help babies sleep restfully and reduces wake-up because of startle reflex. This is because the hammock hugs the baby and even if they wakeup because of startle, they cuddle back to sleep as the hammock gives them a feeling that somebody is holding them in their arms. These hammocks are designed for providing good aeration. The base cloth is a netted material to avoid any SIDS risk.
Amby Baby is a company based out of Australia. They are making baby hammocks since 25 years. On their website they explain how the hammock is useful for restless sleepers and short nappers. The swaying motion of the hammock helps relieve colic for colicky babies and the slight incline towards the head helps in containing reflux.
Another New Zealand based company called Natures Sway makes baby hammock based swings since 1993. They describe that these hammocks help make the transition of the baby from womb to the real world harmonious. The hammock encourages easy sleep with a gentle bouncing motion and curved line that will minimize pressure on your infant’s developing spine and cranial bones.
However, there have been some preconceptions about hammocks being unsafe for baby sleep as they do not have a firm sleep surface. Hence Natures Sway have conducted a study on the oxygen levels
in hammocks compared to a bassinet with the help of University of Auckland. Here is a blog post explaining their findings:
They observed, there were no differences in obstructive apnea or oxygenation in infants who slept in the hammock compared with the bassinet, suggesting that the hammock did not compromise the upper airway. Also since the hammock had soft mattress, it prevented flat head syndrome. The paper related to their findings can be found here.
Another good article on hammocks for baby sleep :
In Singapore and Malaysia (as well as other Southeast Asian communities), the yao lan or traditional baby hammock, is a popular choice among some mums for getting their little ones to sleep.
These hammocks are also known as as sarung buaian or buai, cloth cradles or sarung cradles.
In Chinese, yao lan means ‘swinging basket’ — and this is literally what is is. It is basically a hammock made of cotton cloth or batik, attached to a spring, and hung from the ceiling or a door-frame.
Traditional hammocks are now finding their way in hospitals .Interesting read about how hammocks are used in incubator by nurses in Brazil. Instead of being placed in conventional cots newborns at the University Hospital of Marilia, Brazil are placed snugly in miniature hammocks. The nurses believe the womb-like nature of hammocks make it an ideal bed for full-term and premature babies.
Even the modern bassinets from companies making baby gear are emulating the hammock feel. For example, SwaddleMe bedside sleeper does not have a firm base and the place where the baby sleeps just looks like a hammock.
In summary, it appears that all the cultures across the world used traditional hammocks a few centuries ago and now seem to be rediscovering the benefits in the current age through science.