Books Love & Life

How Traditional Indian Practices Like Jholi-Swinging Benefit Babies

Traditional Indian methods of caring for newborns are beneficial and practical, says Dr Farah Adam Mukadam.

Traditional Indian methods of caring for newborns are beneficial and practical, says physician and mother of two Dr Farah Adam Mukadam in her book New Borns and New Moms out this month. An excerpt:

Dr Farah Adam Mukadam

I was gifted a jholi and it came with its stand and custom-made cloth sheets that could be easily fastened to the hooks on the stand. My daughter slept with me during the night and in the jholi during the day.

The traditional Indian jholi is a DIY swing of sorts for the baby to sleep in. A sheet of cloth is fastened to a support at the two ends and a pouch-like bed is made for the baby. This may seem like the poor man’s crib, but it does come with its inherent benefits.

One, when the baby is put in the jholi, the cloth plunges down as it isn’t a rigid surface. This shape-shifting bed is great for the development of a round head.

Two, the baby feels cocooned in the jholi and sleeps much better during daytime naps. It functions similar to a swaddle but with less pressure on the chest.

Three, the rocking motion of the jholi is great for the brain development of the infant. The part of the brain (the vestibular system in the inner ear) responsible for posture and maintenance of the body’s balance is stimulated by the rocking motion.

Four, sleeping in a jholi makes the baby favour a flexed posture and prevents an extended back and neck that happens by sleeping flat on a bed. This flexed posture promotes normal motor development in a baby as he or she grows up.

All shapeshifting beds aren’t good for the baby though. Water beds have often resulted in deaths by entrapment or suffocation. The ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign of the 1990s is now replaced by the ‘Safe to Sleep’ campaign of the 2000s.

Dr Farah Adam Mukadam

In this campaign parents are advised to avoid excess bedding and water beds, to put the baby to sleep on his back and to use a pacifier.

How about we remove all of those unnecessary campaigns and just start ‘Next to Mom’, ‘Jholi for Nap’ and ‘Breastfeed at Night’ campaigns? How many more babies need to die in their cots before those sleep scientists realise it is called ‘cot’ death for a reason?

The Indian Art of Making the Head Round

Aside from co-sleeping and the jholi, there is another intervention that makes the head round. A cotton cloth is tied around the circumference of the baby’s head during the day which applies mild pressure from all sides on the soft mouldable baby head.

Therapists are using baby helmets along the same principle in babies with plagiocephaly but with a more rigid material (as the baby is older and the head is less mouldable).

In fact, mothers of newborns are advised to gently press the head of the baby into a spherical shape while breastfeeding. A newborn’s feeding sessions last over a good half hour. Spend five-10 minutes of that time gently massaging the baby’s head into a round shape and that will prevent any flatness.

Bath Time

In India, maalishwalis have been bathing babies on their legs before the invention of plastic tubs and bath chairs. There are no assistants to help out either.

The baby is made to lie on one’s legs, given a deep massage and bathed in hot water. And it is the best way to do it. Even if the baby wriggles and resists, you can manoeuvre your legs to get better control. In addition, you know exactly what your baby is feeling.

If you missed checking the water temperature, the water pouring on your baby will come on your legs and you can adjust the temperature to your requirement. The baby is comfortable, and both your hands are free to oil and soap the baby and you won’t miss any spots. Often to your pleasure, at the end of the bath the baby falls asleep by the time he is in the towel.

Excerpted with permission from PAN Macmillan Publishing India

Lead representative image: Pranav Kumar Jain / Unsplash. First published in eShe’s August 2020 issue

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