Swaddling a Newborn

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So much has been written about swaddling a newborn, the benefits, the risks, when you should start and stop swaddling and how to swaddle your newborn for sleep (a skill I never mastered).

How to Swaddle a Baby

In this post, I will discuss

  • When to start swaddling
  • Benefits of swaddling
  • Risks of swaddling
  • How to swaddle safely
  • When to stop swaddling
  • How to swaddle
  • My newborn hates a swaddle

When to Start Swaddling

There is a reason that when you see newborns in the hospital, they are all wrapped in swaddles. Being swaddled resembles the comfort of your womb; it calms and relaxes your baby and helps them sleep better.

The sooner you start swaddling, the better, this will also help create a sleep association for your baby.

Benefits of Swaddling

Swaddling, in some form, has been around for thousands of years. There is a reason for this – swaddling is effective.

  • Swaddling calms your baby.
  • It resembles your womb and makes your baby feel more secure.
  • Helps prevent your baby from waking themselves up due to their startle reflex.
  • Keeps your baby warm and snug as they do not yet have an internal thermostat.

Risks of Swaddling

There is a lot of divided opinion on the potential risks of swaddling concerning SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and hip dysplasia. 

However, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) when done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep.

You can avoid the potential risk of hip dysplasia by wrapping the swaddle loosely in a way that allows the baby's legs to move up and out. A sleeping bag offers an excellent alternative to the traditional swaddle as it allows for more movement.

How to Swaddle Safely

If you do decide to swaddle your baby, you need to follow these guidelines to ensure the safety of your newborn:

How to Swaddle a Baby

Do's

  1. Always put your baby to sleep on their back. 
  2. Make sure your baby does not overheat, keep their room cool but not cold.
  3. Keep their hips loose.
  4. Keep the top of the swaddle loose. Make sure you can fit 2 to 3 fingers between the swaddle and your baby's chest.

Do Not’s

  1. Do not have loose blankets or items in your baby's cot. These items include the swaddle, so make sure that the swaddle cannot come free. These items could increase the risk of suffocation.
  2. Do not place a swaddled baby in your bed.
  3. Do not swaddle your baby past 2 to 3 months or once they can roll over. The moment they can rollover, you need to cease swaddling your baby, although you can still use a sleeping bag that allows the arms to be out.

For further details on safe sleep recommendations, you can refer to the AAP's website.

When to Stop Swaddling

Swaddling newborns has many benefits; however, once your baby is older and starts to roll over (around 2 to 3 months), swaddling is dangerous. Your baby could roll over onto their stomach and then be unable to push up, which could lead to suffocation.

You can get your baby used to sleep without a swaddle by transitioning them. Start with leaving one arm out and then move to two arms out.

Sleeping bags with holes for the arms are perfect for this transition and are much safer than having blankets in the bed to keep your baby warm.

How to Swaddle

I could never get the hang of swaddling using the traditional muslin wraps etc. I never managed to get the edges tucked in the right way. My baby’s arms were springing out, or he was coming loose completely.

Trying to swaddle was worse when trying to do this in the middle of the night after a feed. I tried swaddles with velcro and press studs but did not find them very useful. 

I eventually swapped to a sleeping bag which I found so much easier. In my opinion, the best sleeping bags are the ones with zips and then press studs at the arms. The press studs allow you to open the armholes when your baby is ready to transition, having their arms out. 

If you want to use a traditional swaddle, there are many videos and how-to guides on platforms like YouTube that show you swaddle your baby successfully.

My Newborn Hates a Swaddle

You do not have to swaddle your baby.

If your baby dislikes a swaddle, it is perfectly fine to put them down to sleep on their backs without a swaddle.

How to Swaddle a Baby

However, before you stop swaddling know that there could be other reasons that your baby appears to not like being swaddled.

My son used to squirm so much that I thought he hated being swaddled, but I later realised that he was not objecting to the swaddle at all he was overtired and merely fighting sleep.

To prevent your little one from becoming overtired keep their wake times to under an hour. Newborns can only handle wake times of around 45 minutes so it is a good idea to get into a routine with a sleep schedule as soon as possible. This will ensure that your newborn is getting enough sleep and not becoming overtired.

So before you give up swaddles all together make sure you are putting your baby down to sleep before they become overtired or try alternatives to a traditional swaddle like a sleeping bag which is not as restrictive. 

You know what the great thing about babies is?

They are like little bundles of hope. Like the future in a basket.

Lish McBride

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