Swaddling your baby is an age-old technique, used by generations of parents. It works by creating slight pressure around your baby's body, which may give him a sense of security. The sensation mirrors the pressure he once felt in your womb and helps encourage or cue your baby to sleep.
Benefits of Swaddling Your Newborn Baby
- Swaddling helps to contain a baby’s startle reflex. This is an immature reflex which is not under a baby’s control. Newborn babies can startle themselves awake and swaddling prevents this from happening as much.
- Swaddling is also an effective sleep protector as babies spend much of their time in REM sleep and, unlike older children and adults, do NOT have REM sleep paralysis. This means during sleep, your baby will essentially act out his dreams by making jerky movements, noises, and even cry out. Swaddling reduces these movements.
- Swaddling reduces the risk of SIDS as it makes it hard for newborn babies to inadvertently cover their heads or face with bedding and decreases their ability to flip over onto their stomachs, both of which have been linked to higher rates of SIDS in newborn babies.
- Swaddled babies tend to sleep better and for longer than those who are not. Swaddling tends to reduce overall crying time and periods of waking.
Does Swaddling Cause to Hip Dysplasia?
All reports that associated swaddling and hip dysplasia (DDH) come from cultures using antiquated wrapping techniques – that is knees and hips rigidly bound with cloths.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute says swaddling is safe as long as the infant’s knees can flex and the hips can flex and abduct.
Avoid swaddling legs tightly together and do give plenty of supervised floor and tummy time during the day as well!
- Remember to always put babies down on their backs to sleep
- Keep the room cool
- Don’t overdress baby for sleep
- Keep the sleeping surface free of any loose blankets, pillows or positioners
- Stop swaddling when your baby can roll over at all, in either direction, since it can pose a suffocation risk
- In order to keep baby’s hips healthy, leave plenty of room for baby’s knees to spread apart, bend up and move around in the swaddle. Just as in the womb, this position allows the hips joints to develop naturally, preventing loosening or damage to the soft cartilage of the socket. It’s fine for the upper part of the swaddle around the arms to be a little snugger.
- Swaddle with your baby’s elbows bent and arms folded on the chest. This mimics their position in the womb, ensures healthy joint development, and is calming and regulating. Babies have a natural instinct to work their finger and thumbs toward their face for self soothing; this swaddling position gives them every opportunity to do that.
When to stop swaddling
Swaddling doesn’t need to end just because your baby is a certain age. Some babies are swaddled up to 6 months.
It is common for babies to develop a sleep association with swaddling and rely on it to go to sleep. When they kick themselves free, they often protest until they are swaddled again.
Once this is happening a lot, it may be time to tuck your baby in rather than continue to swaddle them. Alternately, you could move to a sleeping bag.
What are the Best Swaddling Products?
Although a very effective sleep cue and sleep protector, swaddling can carry risks if done improperly. Always be sure to use your swaddle product in the way the manufacturer suggests. The best fabric to use is 100% cotton. An open weave, light weight cotton or muslin wrap is the most practical option. Good examples are:
- Aden and Anais Muslin Blankets
- Halo Sleep Sack Swaddles
- Double Swaddle
Don’t be tempted to use a bunny rug or blanket to swaddle your baby. They are too thick and there is too much potential for overheating. There is also an increased risk of the baby’s head and face getting covered up with a denser blanket.
Kate graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) in 1997 and a Ph.D. in 2001. Kate has since worked, lectured and written extensively about sleep and done further study in the field, including undertaking Postdoctoral fellowships in the Human Sleep and Neuroscience Programs at Stanford Research Institute and the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.