The Science Behind Receiving Blankets: How They Provide Comfort and Security to Infants

by Mark Jacobovits

The Science Behind Receiving Blankets: How They Provide Comfort and Security to Infants

Photo by Leah Kelley

As parents, we constantly seek ways to provide comfort and security to our newborns. One simple yet remarkably effective tool in achieving this is the humble receiving blanket. These soft and cozy wraps have been a staple in baby nurseries for generations, and their use goes beyond mere tradition.

There's a science behind receiving blankets, explaining how they offer comfort and security to infants. In this comprehensive blog, we'll delve into the fascinating world of receiving blankets and explore the science behind their soothing effects.

What are Receiving Blankets?

Receiving blankets are lightweight, usually square or rectangular pieces of fabric that are specifically designed for use with newborn babies. They are typically made from soft, breathable materials like cotton, flannel, or muslin.

These blankets are an essential baby item and serve various purposes in caring for newborns and infants. Here are some common uses and characteristics of baby blankets:

  • Swaddling: One of the primary purposes of receiving blankets is swaddling. Swaddling involves wrapping a baby snugly in a blanket to restrict their limb movements gently. This practice mimics the feeling of being in the womb, providing comfort and security to the baby. Swaddling can also help babies sleep better by reducing their startle reflex.
  • Nursing Cover: Blankets can be draped over a mother's shoulder or around her neck to serve as a discreet cover while breastfeeding in public. They provide privacy for both the mother and baby during nursing sessions.
  • Burp Cloth: These blankets are excellent for draping over the shoulder or lap to protect clothing from spit-up and burp spills. Their soft and absorbent nature makes them ideal for this purpose.
  • Changing Pad: It can be used as makeshift changing pads when you need to change your baby's diaper in a pinch. They provide a clean and soft surface for diaper changes.
  • Stroller or Car Seat Cover: On chilly days, it can be used to cover a baby in a stroller or car seat to keep them warm and shielded from the elements.
  • Tummy Time: Placing a blanket on the floor during tummy time can make the surface more comfortable for your baby. The soft texture encourages them to spend time on their tummy, which is important for their development.
  • Play Mat: When you're on the go or visiting friends and family, a baby blanket can be used as a clean and safe surface for your baby to play on.
  • Comfort and Security: Babies often form emotional attachments to their receiving blankets. The familiar texture and scent of the blanket can provide comfort and a sense of security, helping them self-soothe and calm down.

Receiving baby blankets come in various designs, colors, and sizes, but they are typically smaller than standard crib blankets. They are designed to be easy to wash and maintain, making them practical for frequent use with babies who may have accidents or spills.

These versatile blankets are a staple in a newborn's layette, and parents often find creative uses for them beyond the ones mentioned above. They are not only functional but also serve as sentimental keepsakes, carrying memories of a baby's earliest days and moments of comfort and care.

The Importance of Swaddling

Receiving blankets are often used for swaddling, a practice that involves snugly wrapping a baby in a blanket or cloth. Swaddling has been used across different cultures for centuries and continues to be a trusted method for soothing and comforting infants. The science behind swaddling and blankets lies in their ability to recreate the secure and confined feeling of the womb.

  • Mimicking the Womb: The womb is a warm, tight, and secure environment where babies spend nine months of their development. When they are born, the transition to the open world can be overwhelming. Swaddling helps recreate the snugness of the womb, making babies feel secure and comfortable.
  • Reducing the Startle Reflex: Newborns have a strong startle reflex, which can often wake them up and cause distress. Swaddling with a blanket helps restrict their limb movements, reducing the likelihood of sudden jerks and startles during sleep.
  • Enhancing Sleep Patterns: Research has shown that swaddling can improve sleep patterns in infants. By providing a sense of security, receiving blankets can lead to longer and more restful sleep, benefitting both the baby and exhausted parents.

The Power of Touch

One of the most critical aspects of receiving blankets' effectiveness is their tactile comfort. Babies have highly sensitive skin, and the soft, gentle texture of these blankets provides a comforting touch that can have a significant impact on their well-being.

  • Skin-to-Skin Contact: It allow parents and caregivers to maintain vital skin-to-skin contact with their babies while keeping them warm. This contact not only promotes bonding but also regulates the baby's temperature and heart rate.
  • Texture and Sensory Stimulation: The texture of blankets offers sensory stimulation for infants. Soft, breathable materials provide a gentle touch that can be soothing and calming for a baby's sensitive skin.

Temperature Regulation

Newborns are unable to regulate their body temperature as effectively as adults. Receiving blankets play a crucial role in helping maintain a baby's optimal temperature.

  • Warmth: These blankets act as insulators, keeping babies warm without overheating them. Proper temperature regulation is essential for a baby's comfort and overall health.
  • Breathability: Many receiving blankets are made from breathable materials like cotton, which ensures proper airflow, preventing the baby from getting too hot or sweaty.

A Sense of Familiarity and Comfort

Babies are incredibly perceptive, and they find comfort in familiarity. Receiving blankets often become associated with a baby's scent, touch, and the soothing presence of their parents. This sense of familiarity can have a profound impact on a baby's emotional well-being.

  • Scent Association: Babies have a strong sense of smell, and they can recognize the scent of their parents. Receiving blankets carry these familiar scents, providing reassurance and comfort to the baby.
  • Transitional Object: As babies grow, receiving blankets can serve as transitional objects that provide comfort during times of stress or separation from parents. These blankets become a source of security and emotional support.


The science behind receiving blankets reveals the multifaceted ways in which they provide comfort and security to infants. From mimicking the womb's environment to regulating temperature, offering tactile comfort, and fostering a sense of familiarity, these blankets play a vital role in the well-being of newborns.

Parents and caregivers can rest assured that wrapping their little ones in these soft, cozy blankets is not just tradition; it's a scientifically backed practice that promotes comfort, security, and healthy development in infants.

So, the next time you swaddle your baby in a receiving blanket, know that you're not just keeping them warm; you're also providing them with a soothing, secure, and scientifically proven source of comfort.

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