If you’ve never had a newborn, the thought of wrapping your baby up so tightly that they can’t move their arms might sound like a crazy idea. But many parents will tell you that many newborns are comforted by swaddles—they tend to cry less and sleep more when they’re snuggly wrapped.

What is swaddling?

If you’re new to the notion of swaddling, the concept is quite simple. It’s a way of wrapping a blanket around your baby tight enough so they can’t wriggle out. Swaddling is great for a few reasons:

  • It prevents the newborn startle reflex from waking them by keeping the baby’s arms tight to their sides.
  • Newborns feel comforted and calm in the tight, womb-like wrap.
  • It keeps your baby warm while they sleep without any loose blankets, which can be a suffocation hazard.

Babies, when they are inside their mothers’ wombs, are snuggled up in the womb. Wrapping them up in a blanket, especially newborns, gives babies the same familiar feeling of comfort and curbs uncoordinated movements that can make them irritable.

Baby benefits from being curled up, especially in the first month of life, but until about 3 to 4 months of age, they may be more comfortable sleeping on the blanket. As they are able to release themselves from the blanket, showing that they are able to sleep without being restrained, it is time to stop using it.

How to wrap your baby to sleep better?

Having a newborn child means that a lot of worries will arise. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first baby or if you’ve had others, worries of all kinds take over for parents during this period, especially related to the baby’s sleep. Doubts on how to roll your baby to sleep better are on the top list.

An example of this is when the baby starts having trouble sleeping and this starts to get out of mum and dad’s control. To learn how to wrap your baby to sleep better, we must first understand what is happening, what is causing this problem, how the baby’s sleep works and the importance of this for him.

How does the baby sleep work?

First of all, it is important to know how a baby’s sleep works and how it changes over a short period of time. Knowing what the patterns are and how they change allows parents to often understand the sleeping problems that the baby has presented, or even come to the conclusion that they are not so serious problems.

It is common knowledge that babies do not usually follow the times we are used to sleeping and, for this reason, they often wake up at “inappropriate” times. It happens that they are not used to day and night and it can take months before they understand this 24-hour cycle, associating it with sleep.

Besides the fact that sleep schedules are not regulated, there are also the different needs that a baby has. Early in life, we tend to sleep more than in adulthood and also spend much less time in the deep sleep stage, which explains why babies are often easily woken up.

Should all babies be swaddled?

Generally, swaddling is safe for all newborns. But if your baby has hip dysplasia or other hip issues, swaddling may aggravate that. Be sure to check with your pediatrician if that’s the case for you.

If you’ve never had a newborn, the thought of wrapping your baby up so tightly that they can’t move their arms might sound like a crazy idea.
CREDIT: FAMILY MEDICINE FORUM / TWITTER

Also, because all babies are different, some just don’t like being swaddled. Or, they may be fine with having their torso swaddled, but want their arms free.

What are the risks of swaddling my baby?

Swaddling your baby too tightly may affect her mobility and development. If her legs are held pressed together and straight down, she’s more likely to develop problems with her hips (hip dysplasia). Make sure that you give your baby plenty of room to move her legs and feet, and in particular, room to bend her legs up and out at the hips. Here are some potential risks when swaddling newborns:

Hyperthermia (overheating)

This can occur if a baby is bundled up too much, especially in the summer. The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) suggests using a lightweight blanket, and keeping the baby’s head uncovered at all times.

SIDS

This refers to unexplained death in the first year of life. A swaddled infant must always be placed supine, or on the back. The concern after two months of age is the baby being able to roll from side to side while swaddled and potentially obstructing the airway. To further reduce the risk of suffocation, the CPS strongly recommends keeping soft materials such as pillows, comforters, sleep positioners, bumper pads and stuffed animals out of the sleep environment.

HIP Dysplasia

Swaddling raises the possibility of stress being placed on the hip joints if a baby’s legs are frequently secured in a position where they are straight and close together. This can cause hip joint misalignment or even dislocation (known as “developmental dysplasia”). In 2011, the International Hip Dysplasia Institute launched a campaign to promote “hip-healthy swaddling,” where an infant’s top half is wrapped snugly, but the bottom half has the opportunity for movement.

This means that wrapping technique is critical. The swaddle blanket should allow for movement at the hips and legs, and should be loose enough that a hand can fit between the blanket and the baby’s chest so that breathing is not restricted. But, the wrapping job can’t be so loose that it unravels and the blanket becomes a hazard.

What are the types of swaddles?

It’s a good idea to register for a couple of different types of swaddles to see which one your baby prefers. Swaddles typically fall into two camps:

Traditional swaddling blankets: These are large, thin blankets that you wrap baby up in like a little burrito. They can be used for other things post swaddling, like blankets and burp cloths, but there’s definitely a “how do you do this?” learning curve!

Swaddling sacks and pouches: Easier to navigate for new parents, these tend to come with things like Velcro, snaps, and zippers to help you get that snug swaddle.

If you’ve never had a newborn, the thought of wrapping your baby up so tightly that they can’t move their arms might sound like a crazy idea.
CREDIT: SASHA EXETER / BABYLIST

How long do you swaddle?

Newborns are usually swaddled until about 3 or 4 months or as soon as they are able to roll over. When your baby starts rolling over around, swaddling can be dangerous since babies shouldn’t lie on their stomachs without being able to use their arms. But then many babies have difficulty falling or staying asleep without the cocoon-like feel of a swaddle.

A transition blanket is a good solution for that time in between swaddling and your child being old enough to use a loose blanket. It’s a wearable blanket that’s designed to let your baby’s arms be free, but still provides the coziness of a swaddle.

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Babylist. 2021. The Best Swaddles That’ll Help Baby Fall Asleep Quicker. [online] Available at: <https://www.babylist.com/hello-baby/best-swaddles> [Accessed 6 May 2021].

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