A tight, baby-blanket-bundled newborn is one of the most universal images we associate with new babies. Historians believe that swaddling has been around, in various forms, since the caveman days (aka, Paleolithic period). Over the centuries, swaddling has been used for purposes of protection, soothing, proper growth, and convenience.
Today, swaddling is used in most countries as a way to help soothe and encourage infants to sleep for longer periods of time. The tight wrap of a swaddle mimics the snug comfort that babies experienced in the womb, which is believed to provide feelings of comfort and security for newborns. In recent years, we've learned a lot about newborn instincts, needs, and development. With all of the new research and studies -- is swaddling still a good thing, and is it even safe? Let's take a look at what the experts have to say.
Swaddling - Is it Safe?
From the American Academy of Pediatrics:
"When done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep."
So the short answer is, yes, swaddling is still considered safe for babies. The longer answer includes vital information about how to swaddle so that baby is safe while sleeping, most importantly avoiding accidental death from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Swaddling is safe when:
- Baby is placed on her back to sleep at all times, including while swaddled
- Swaddling is stopped by 2 months of age, before baby begins to roll over on his own (or earlier if you notice attempts to try and roll over)
- Swaddle is not so tight that it would be difficult to breathe, move hips, or affect physical growth; but not so loose that the blanket could unravel and cover baby's face
- Baby does not overheat - use a light, breathable blanket appropriate for swaddling, and consider the temperature of the room and what baby is wearing; look for signs that baby may be too hot like flushed cheeks and sweating
- Blanket does not cover baby's face
Not All Babies Should Be Swaddled
Even though swaddling is considered safe when done correctly, there are some babies for whom swaddling is not recommended and may be unsafe.
Do not swaddle or talk to your doctor about the safety of swaddling if:
- You co-sleep
- Your baby has breathing difficulties or is at a higher risk of SIDS
- Your baby can roll over
- Your baby does not seem to enjoy swaddling, is not comforted by swaddling, or "fights" being swaddled (it's not for every baby -- follow your baby's cues!)
Swaddling How-Tos and Techniques
There are a few basic tips to know when swaddling a baby.
Nurses are pros -- You may think you have swaddling down by the time you leave the hospital because you've watched a handful of nurses magically swaddle your baby in 2 seconds flat, but the reality is that it will take time, practice, and a few tears before your get it just right. Take a deep breath and have patience. If you're really struggling, call in back up -- other experienced parents, your doula, or your childbirth teacher may be able to show you a few tricks.
Certain blankets work better than others -- Light flannel/cotton receiving blankets and linen or muslin baby blankets are the best options for swaddling. You want a lightweight blanket that stretches, but not too much. As for the size, most lightweight newborn blankets are sized similarly, but you will know when you have one that's too small or too big. Too small and swaddling will be extra difficult or near impossible, and too big and you will have lots of extra fabric that will likely make your swaddle too loose and fluffy. Some blankets are marketed specifically as "swaddle blankets" and seem to have worked out the magic size. Try different sizes and blankets types to see what works best for your baby.
Try a sleep wrap instead -- If you're not having much luck with using a blanket to swaddle, consider using one of the many wearable sleep swaddle wraps on the market. Some act simply as a wearable blanket, offering extra warmth at night, while others provide "wings" with zippers and/or velcro to make swaddling easy.
Specific swaddle techniques -- If you're looking for step-by-step instructions for swaddling, look no further than Google. There are tons of illustrations and YouTube videos. I personally like the illustrations from Mama Natural and the videos from 7 Swaddles.
Make sure baby spends time unswaddled -- Babies need to wiggle, wriggle, and touch -- and spend time skin-to-skin -- for physical, mental, and emotional development. Consider breastfeeding baby without swaddling, or at least allowing baby's hands to be free during breastfeeding, as research suggests babies use their hands to grab and knead at the breast purposefully when feeding.