To swaddle or not to swaddle? This question has been pondered by many a new mom, and the guidelines on the topic can be a little hazy. It's one of the first things the baby may experience after being born in a hospital, and yet there are a dizzying amount of different reports touting both the benefits and risks of wrapping a baby.
Let's excuse new parents for their confusion on the matter, as there is a LOT of conflicting information out there, and it seems even doctors have a hard time deciding on what the best advice is.
The truth is, that just like any other parenting decision, there are pros and cons to swaddling the baby, and most of it comes down to learning the facts and making sure the baby is swaddled safely in order to avoid the risk that makes swaddling a dangerous choice. Some parents swaddle while others refuse, and both groups have been raising healthy babies for centuries.
Swaddling can be a great tool for moms and dads, just like a pacifier or white noise machine, and you can use all the help you can get when it comes to soothing your baby and making it through the roller coaster ride of new parenthood. Swaddling is something you have to be comfortable and confident with, and when in doubt, speak to a doctor your trust.
15 What Is It?
Swaddling is a way to wrap newborns so that their arms are restricted from too much movement, while their tiny legs still have enough freedom to bend and move with ease. Your baby will typically be swaddled shortly after birth to help keep the baby warm and calm after they come into the world, but whether you choose to continue to swaddle your baby after you leave the hospital is a matter of choice. There is a specific way to wrap your baby in swaddling blankets to order to keep them safe and secure, and while the technique can take a few tries to get right, there are newer products on the market that help take the guesswork out of wrapping your baby safely.
14 Why Do People Do It?
People swaddle their babies for the same reasons that they use for anything else they do to their new babies - to keep them happy, and to help them sleep. Newborns are the original sleep deprivation culprit, and anything that helps mom and dad get a good night's sleep is going to be popular with parents. The rationale lies in the startle reflex of babies, called the Moro Reflex. You know that twitch you sometimes get as you're drifting off to sleep when you almost feel like you're falling? Newborns experience that regularly as their little bodies get used to the freedom of the outside world. This can keep them from falling asleep, or can wake them often once they do, so swaddling is a practice that not only keeps them warm after birth, but also keeps their arms more restricted and prevents them from waking themselves up.
13 Why And When To Swaddle
Swaddling can be a great comfort to a newborn and there are several reasons why swaddling your new baby is a good idea. Wrapping the baby shortly after birth and in the first weeks of life helps the baby keep warm as their new bodies take time to learn how to self-adjust their body temperature. Don't forget, your baby had your body to dictate all the changes it needed, included body temperature, and it takes a little while for their tiny bodies to adjust. Also, swaddling helps baby sleep, which also helps mom and dad sleep, which makes everybody happy. Just make sure that you only swaddle until about two months of age, or earlier if your baby learns how to roll over. As with other sleep recommendations, swaddled babies should be placed to sleep on their backs.
12 Why And When Not To Swaddle
There are some risks to swaddling your baby, particularly as your baby grows, so paying attention to your baby's development is important. Babies who are more than two months of age and/or have learned to roll over should not continue to be swaddled, as they run the risk of suffocation if they turn on their tummies and are not strong enough to roll back onto their backs.
Swaddling also carries the risk of overheating, so babies shouldn't be swaddling with too much clothing, and you should take care to monitor your baby's temperature - if they start sweating or show any sign of breathing difficulties, the swaddle should come off immediately. If there are any concerns about development issues related to mobility, including the healthy development of their arms, hands, hips or legs, then swaddling should be avoided to prevent further agitating any of these conditions.
11 Where Should The Swaddled Baby Sleep?
So now that your baby is safely swaddled, where should that adorable little baby burrito sleep? The AAP recommends that a swaddled baby should be sleeping on their back in a bassinet or crib, without any loose bedding or other suffocation hazards, like stuffed animals. While this sounds like it will make your baby's crib look kind of boring, you're absolutely right, but it's also the safest thing you can do for your baby. Parents who choose to co-sleep might want to reconsider swaddling their babies - the added body temperature and pillows and blankets pose both overheating and suffocation risks, and parents will want to consider these risks carefully. A swaddled baby should also never be placed to sleep on their stomach - once your little one learns to roll over onto their tummy, the swaddling will need to stop.
First, a little bit of trivia: ever notice that pretty much every picture of a baby born in the hospital is wearing the same blue and pink striped blanket? That's because Illinois-based company Medline supplies almost every hospital in the US, meaning that unless your baby was born at home, your little one was probably bundled in that iconic pink and blue swaddle. Once you leave the hospital, you'll have to choose a swaddling blanket for yourself.
Swaddling blankets should be thin so that they can wrap and tuck easily around your infant, as thicker blankets will easily become loose and can pose a suffocation hazard. Thick blankets or those made of synthetic materials should also be avoided as they are more likely to cause overheating for your baby. Stick with natural materials, like cotton or muslin, that are easy to wrap and are breathable fabrics. You can also opt for swaddling blankets that are already cut and stitched with velcro and zippers that take some of the guesswork out of wrapping your baby safely.
While everyone develops their own technique, there are basic steps to making sure you swaddle your baby safely and securely. First, with your swaddling blanket of choice, lay the blanket like a diamond down on somewhere flat, like a bed or change table, and fold the top corner down so that you have a straight edge at the top. Lay your baby on their back on top of the wrap so that the top of their shoulders lines up with the top of the blanket.
Starting from either the left or right side, place your baby's arms down to their side, and pull the same side of the blanket across their body snugly, tucking the edge of the fabric under their back. Do the same with the other side, tucking it under their body. Finally, fold up the bottom edge of the blanket and loosely tuck it behind your baby, but be sure that your little one can freely bend their legs up and out, and that their hips and legs can move easily. This may take some practice to get right, but making sure that your baby is wrapped safely and securely is worth the extra time.
8 Benefit: Longer Sleep
Let's be real, the main reason why parents choose to swaddle their newborns is to get some much. needed. sleep. Babies who are wrapped in swaddling blankets tend to sleep longer, and that is all the sales pitch a new parent needs to hear. Due to that Moro Reflex that can regularly make your baby twitch and reach for the sky, newborns can wake themselves up pretty easily, besides the fact that they are still getting used to all these new sensations of being wet, cold or hungry. All this translates into little sleep for parents, so swaddling in the early weeks can help both babies and parents get some much-needed shut-eye. As your baby grows that startle reflex will begin to fade, and they'll be able to sleep for longer stretches of time, so that swaddling will no longer be necessary.
7 Benefit: Comforting To Baby
Think of the swaddling blanket as your baby's first security blanket, as being wrapped snugly can also be very comforting for a newborn. While being wrapped up like a burrito might feel a little claustrophobic for adults, newborns were used to being curled and cozy inside a womb for months, and the freedom they are experiencing outside your body can be little overwhelming at first. While swaddling to make your baby sleep is great, it is also a good tool to help your baby feel safe and secure during some of their waking hours too. As long as your baby gets lots of other opportunities to move freely throughout the day, like floor tummy time, or during those hours you'll want to spend just watching their little beautiful face, swaddling is a safe way to help cranky babies feel safe and supported.
6 Benefit: Reduce SIDS
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword, but swaddling has been linked to a reduction in the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in newborns. The theory is that swaddling helps in two ways: first, swaddled babies are more limited in their movement and tend to sleep more soundly, preventing them from moving too much and accidently rolling onto their tummy; second, as swaddled infants need to be placed on their back in order for the swaddle to hold, the practice of wrapping your baby actually helps you remember to place them safely on their back to sleep. As long as babies are swaddled safely, and only swaddled under two months of age, swaddling can be considered one way to reduce your baby's risk of SIDS. Keep in mind that this benefit is linked only to newborns under two months of age. SIDS is still a risk for babies older than two months of age, and that's when the tables turn.
5 Risk: SIDS
Most of the risks that are associated with swaddling are linked to improper swaddling, or swaddling a child beyond the age of two months. When parents don't safely swaddle their babies, or continue to do after two months of age, swaddling can actually increase the risk of SIDS for your child. Babies who are swaddled tend to sleep a little more soundly, and can be more difficult to arouse from that sleep, and doctors believe this decreased arousal sensation can be a risk factor for SIDS.
The idea of SIDS is a nightmare for new parents, especially because there is still so little that is known for sure about the syndrome. However, one of the strongest links is that babies who sleep on their stomach are at a greater risk for SIDS than those who sleep on their back, so babies who are swaddled past two months of age and who roll onto their stomach are at the greatest risk. The fact is that while babies may learn to roll from back to front, they may not learn how to roll back over for some time. There really is not much you can do to keep your baby from rolling over once they learn how, but keeping their arms free and the crib free of blankets or other suffocation hazards, and therefore not swaddling them, is important.
4 Risk: Breastfeeding issues
While most babies are swaddled shortly after birth, some studies show that delaying skin-to-skin contact with mom immediately after birth can cause latching issues. This may be due to the fact that the baby's arms and hands are restricted, and therefore interfere with some of the natural movements babies make as they wiggle and nudge their way to find mom's breast.
In a study that examined the connection between swaddling and breastfeeding, babies who had skin-to-skin contact nursed better in the beginning than babies who had been swaddled. It is important to note that in the long run, swaddled babies nursed just as well as un-swaddled babies, but this data is about babies who continue to breastfeed for the long term, and doesn't include mothers who decided not to breastfeed.
Early success in breastfeeding can be crucial, as mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding in the beginning, such as latching issues, are more likely to end breastfeeding early or not breastfeed at all. The American Academy of pediatrics still recommends breastfeeding for the first six months as the the best nutritional option for your baby, so getting off on the right foot might mean you want to forgo swaddling until you and baby get into a good breastfeeding rhythm.
3 Risk: Dependency For Sleeping
Like any tool you might use for getting your baby to sleep, be it white noise machines or pacifiers, babies can get overly used to the practice, turning swaddling into a bit of a crutch. When your baby gets too big and strong for swaddling, this can wreak havoc at bedtime. Sleep aids, like swaddling, are helpful for the short term, but if you depend on them to help put your baby to sleep, they will eventually backfire. Babies will need to learn to self-soothe, so they can get themselves back to sleep during normal wakings in the night, but they need the opportunity to practice these skills in order to develop them. Without these self-soothing skills, babies will continue to need your help for falling and staying asleep, and this can start to feel overwhelming really fast, especially if you are feeling sleep deprived. Swaddling is a temporary measure, and as your baby grows you will need to decide which methods you will try to help your baby help themselves to sleep.
2 Risk: Overheating
Moderating body temperature, as well as a bunch of other body processes your newborn has never had to deal with before, takes some time for a new body to learn. Babies that are swaddled too tightly or with heavy, unbreathable fabrics may have a hard time moderating their body temperature, leading to hyperthermia, or reaching higher-than-normal body temperature. This can be dangerous for young babies, and care should be taken to monitor your baby's temperature if you decide to swaddle. If at anytime you notice your baby sweating, then the swaddling should be loosened or removed to allow their body temperature to return to normal. Use your judgment when deciding when temperatures may be too much to swaddle your baby, especially during heat waves or any other uncontrollable heat inside or out.
1 Risk: Hip And Joint Issues
A baby swaddled properly should be able to freely move their legs and hips, but babies who are repeatedly swaddled too tightly for the whole length of their bodies are more at risk of hip and joint issues, which can significantly affect their physical development. Hip dysplasia is the dislocation of the hips, and can cause serious issues in mobility in crawling and walking, and affect the growth of your baby's legs as they age. In babies, Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip, or DDH, can be caused by incorrect swaddling, and some babies can actually be born with the condition. If your baby already suffers from hip dysplasia, swaddling should be avoided as it can worsen the condition. If you baby develops hip dysplasia, you should stop swaddling and work with your doctor on therapies that can help your baby with their healthy development.