When you become a parent, one of the biggest discussion topics is sleep (or lack thereof). Though newborn babies need lots of sleep, many struggle to settle. After being curled up warm for months in the womb, they arrive suddenly in a completely foreign world with plenty of space and inconsistent temperatures.
Meet the Swaddle
Swaddling is a practice that has existed for centuries. In fact, it’s believed to have been practiced for over 6,000 years. Though it’s often seen as old-fashioned, many parents rely on it to ensure their baby sleeps well (which means they can also rest too). Essentially, swaddling provides the baby with a familiar sensation of being in the womb; they’re comforted and sleep longer.
Just like any recommendations on raising babies and children, it’s important to make sure you get swaddling right. Yes, you want your baby to doze off, but you also need to make sure their sleeping environment is safe. Now, let's jump straight into the details of safe swaddling and how to use it to promote good sleep routine for your little one.
Swaddling helps your baby sleep longer
What is Swaddling?
Swaddling is a technique to comfort a baby and promote good sleep. When you swaddle a baby, they’re wrapped up snugly in a blanket or muslin, with their arms and legs wrapped inside. Many parents who practice this technique refer to their blanket-wrapped baby as a baby burrito – and it’s clear to see why.
There are many benefits of swaddling for the baby, both physically and emotionally. These include:
- Keeping the baby warm while they’re sleeping.
- Limiting the Moro reflex, or startle reflex, which can disturb a baby’s sleep.
- Providing a sense of security by simulating the cozy womb environment – many practitioners now refer to the first few months of a baby’s life as the fourth trimester, as they navigate the difficult transition between life inside the womb and life outside the womb.
- Keeping the infant calm – it can even help with colic.
- Providing comfort during vaccinations or a heel prick test.
Swaddling helps keep baby calm and give parents a chance to rest longer
There are also benefits for parents too. Here are some of them:
- With a well-swaddled infant, it is easier to hold your little one and pass him or her between parents.
- For breastfeeding mothers, it also makes feeding easier as it prevents the baby’s hands from getting in the way, which is common with a hungry baby.
- Finally, if the baby sleeps better and longer, so then do the parents!
However, it’s important to follow safe sleep recommendations and swaddle your baby safely.
How to Swaddle the Baby
Here’s how to do it safely using swaddle blankets:
- Lay out the blanket and fold the top down to form a triangle.
- Lay your baby in the center of the triangle. The swaddle should come to their shoulders.
- Wrap the swaddle from one side over their body, keeping the baby’s arm straight and down on that side. Tuck the swaddle under their body.
- Next, pull the swaddle from the bottom up and tuck it into the part you’ve just wrapped around.
- Place the other arm on the baby’s chest, then wrap the swaddle across the body and tuck it under.
- Make sure the baby’s arms are wrapped tightly.
Watch the video for the full step-by-step guide:
Different Kinds of Swaddles
The swaddle above is the most common type you'll see, and the one that many midwives and nurses use. Here are some of the most commonly used ones.
The hands up swaddle
If your baby doesn’t seem to like having their hands and arms wrapped in a swaddle, you can swaddle with their arms near their faces. There is even such a thing as an arms-free swaddle. Here is an instructional video from Enso Prenatal on how to swaddle with the hands-up method.
The burrito wrap swaddle
The burrito method is very similar to the method detailed above. The difference with this technique is that the baby’s left arm and left shoulder are both wrapped inside the first wrap. Check this video to see the complete guide.
When to Swaddle Your Baby
As long as you follow safe sleep guidelines, you can swaddle your baby whenever you think it will benefit them. This might be for nighttime sleeping, naps, or even for comfort during the day.
You can swaddle your baby all night if you wish, but you should be mindful of not over swaddling your baby, as swaddling a baby’s legs for too long during each 24-hour period could increase the chances of hip dysplasia. When a baby is content and awake, there is no benefit to swaddling, and this is a perfect time to develop their core muscle strength with tummy time.
You can stop swaddling when your baby show signs of rolling over
It’s important to stop swaddling when your infant is showing signs that he or she might soon be able to roll over. Once a child can roll over, there is an increased risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) as they may roll face down onto their crib mattress and not be able to roll back over. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that parents stop swaddling their babies at around two months for this reason.
When swaddling is no longer possible, parents can use a sleep sack, which provides a great and safe transition from swaddling.
When your baby outgrows the swaddle, you can try using sleeping bags
Tips for Safe Swaddling
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when swaddling is done properly, it is safe. When swaddling is not done correctly, it can cause problems. This includes problems with the hips (hip dysplasia) or even suffocation. Here are some safety tips for swaddling:
- Make sure the swaddle is wrapped properly. While there should be room to move the feet and legs, there should be no loose fabric, as this will put the baby at risk of suffocation.
- Make sure the swaddle isn’t too tight. While your infant shouldn’t be able to have their arms break free, it should be loose enough that you can get two or three fingers in at the top.
- Ensure the baby does not feel too hot. If he or she looks flushed or is sweating, remove the swaddle and reduce the temperature in the room.
- Even when you’re not swaddling, babies should be placed on their backs for safe sleep. The same goes for swaddling. This is known to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- There should be adequate room for a baby to move their legs and hips. If a baby’s leg can’t move, they have an increased risk of hip dysplasia.
- Stop swaddling when your baby is showing signs of being able to roll.
Swaddling safely is essential, but so is a safe sleeping environment. Both the baby’s crib and any other places they nap during the day need to be free from loose bedding, pillows, and soft toys. Additional soft bedding isn’t needed when an infant is swaddled.
Although many parents choose to swaddle their babies to avoid their startle reflex waking them up, it is worth being aware that this reflex is a natural way for babies to rouse themselves. When prevented from doing so, it could increase the risk of SIDS.
Swaddles shouldn't be too tight to avoid hip dysplasia.
Are sleep sacks and swaddles the same?
No. Many parents use sleep sacks from birth instead of swaddles or blankets. Essentially, a sleep sack is like a sleeping bag for babies. Their legs go inside the bag and the bag goes over their shoulders. With a sleeping sack, the arms are free to move and are uncovered.
Can newborns sleep unswaddled?
Absolutely. Many parents choose not to swaddle their babies at all. Some experts even advise against it. Like lots of baby sleep recommendations (sleep training, for example), there are conflicting arguments about swaddling. If you’re unsure that swaddling is for you, speak to a sleep consultant or your infant’s health care provider.
Always check with your pediatrician to get the best advice on sleep safety
Swaddling Your Baby Safely for Comfort
As we’ve seen, there are many benefits to swaddling your baby – it’s comforting to the little one and promotes longer sleep for them and you! However, it’s important to be aware of the risks of improper swaddling and ensure you know how to do it safely. Following our step-by-step guide will help you get to grips with it. If you’re unsure, you can always ask a healthcare professional to show you the safe way to do it. Finally, enjoy your baby burrito while you can – as soon as they’re showing signs of rolling, baby burritos are things of the past!