Anybody who is acquainted with the finding of neurophysiology knows that vast changes start taking place in a normal full-term baby’s brain when born. What happens almost from the start is a steady culling of thousands of neurons from among the millions of excess neurons the baby was born with. The excess is necessary to ensure that every possible perception from an enormous range of environmental sights, sounds, tastes, smells and makes a mark somewhere in the brain and will, if continued to be stimulated, start to form networks.
From the moment of birth, the culling continues at a steadily decreasing rate until puberty. By then, neurons that have never been stimulated will have died and those that remain encompass all the main skills that the individual will then have for the rest of his life. If mathematics or the sounds or speaking of a foreign language have not been taught by then, they can only be learned with the greatest difficulty from then onwards — and then very imperfectly.
I was thinking this afternoon about the swaddling of children from the Bronze Ages through to the Middle Ages from birth and often carried on for eight or nine months thereafter, Surely, I thought, this early cramping must have considerable effect on the growing mind of the child — its mental abilities and psychology but also on his physiology. Some swaddling is still done in many Third World countries though I don’t know which ones. It would be very interesting to know.
I did some searching on the internet. Very little research has been done except by those who say it is physically harmful. It might cause Sudden Death Syndrome or cause dysplasia of the hips, though it’s unproved. The first person to criticize swaddling openly was a Swiss surgeon, Felix Würtz. He maintained that he has seen children who were twisted and lame when swaddling bandages were changed and, to his consternation, re-swaddled. But also, does eight or nine months of swaddling cause intellectual damage and psychological damage? Their perceptual world was so much more restricted and prevented the mildest of adventures with their arms, hands and legs.. After Würtz, it took another hundred years or somewhat more for opinion to start changing.
But here’s a thing, though! What about the awakening of intellectual thought in Galileo’s and contemporaries’ time? Was the anti-swaddling culture change a factor in the beginning of the scientific revolution, the precursor of the industrial revolution? Was this another reason why the industrial revolution started in Europe and nowhere else?
I wouldn’t be surprised. But we will never know because we can’t set up controlled experiments with some children being swaddled and others not.