The practice of swaddling infants has been around for thousands of years. There are even depictions of swaddled babies found in ancient Greece dating back 4000 years.
And like many things that enjoyed a comeback in the 90s, swaddling made the cut!
This age-old practice grew in popularity in the 90s when parents were advised to ensure babies slept on their backs. Enter 2019 and experts are divided on the benefits. Some swear by it and some doctors recommend against it.
With conflicting advice, it is difficult to know what to do with your own precious baby.
Let’s consider the pros and cons of swaddling, how to do it correctly, and when to stop. That way, you can make the right decision for your baby.
What Is Swaddling?
Firsty, let’s cover off what it is. Swaddling is the act of gently, but snugly, wrapping your baby up like an adorable burrito. It usually means that their arms are contained and they remain sleeping on their backs. The theory behind swaddling is that the sense of confinement mimics the familiar, restricted space in the womb. This helps a newborn baby to feel calm and adjust to life on the outside.
Reduced risk of sudden infant death (SIDS)
SIDS is a very real concern for many parents. Especially as experts cannot explain exactly what cuases it. What they do know is that sleeping your baby on their back reduces the risk. Swaddling ensures your infant remains in that position while they sleep.
Improved sleep quality
Swaddling can help settle and calm fussy babies, sending them off to sleep more easily. Some studies have shown that swaddled babies wake less frequently and sleep for longer periods. Part of the reason for this is that a swaddled infant can't startle itself awake with the Moro reflex. This reflex is a newborn's normal response to unfamiliar stimuli and a primitive form of self-protection. You may notice your baby jolts awake, suddenly stretching their arms in front of them, waking themselves up. Swaddling prevents this and therefore improves the quality and duration of sleep.
Growth and developmental problems
Tightly swaddling a baby’s entire body can increase the chance of hip problems as they grow. This is because their legs can be forced into an unnatural position and held there for long periods. This danger can be avoided by adjusting your swaddling method. Don’t wrap as tightly around the hip region to allow your baby’s legs to bend more naturally. You can still securely hold the arms and upper body in place without fear
Wrapping your baby in swaddling fabrics can put them at risk of overheating. You can minimise the risk of this by ensuring they are not overdressed underneath the swaddle. Also, keep an eye out for signs of overheating, such as sweating, red cheeks, wet hair or rapid breathing.
Increased risk of SIDS and suffocation if swaddling comes loose
Done correctly, your baby should sleep soundly and safely on their back. However, if they manage to loosen any of the material, they are at risk of becoming tangled in it or suffocated by it, however this is rare.
When Should I Stop Swaddling?
Swaddling is only recommended for newborn and very young babies. It will usually be phased out before they are four months old.
It is essential to stop the practice before your little one starts to roll over. Once they become more mobile, the swaddling becomes a health risk rather than a benefit. As soon as you see signs that they are attempting to roll over, discontinue swaddling.
I would usually recommend making the transition out of a swaddle around 16 to 20 weeks of age. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first being that their startle reflex sholud have faded so will disrupt their sleep less. The second reason is that by 4 months of age your baby will be very aware of their hands - they will be grabbing toys, bashing things, and often putting their fingers or fists in their mouth.
Of course they cannot do any of that if they are swaddled! If their hands are constantly restricted then your baby may become frustrated and you will face an ongoing battle of them trying to get their hands free during sleep time.
If you find that your baby’s hands are always trying to get out of the swaddle, or the hand area of the swaddle (if swaddling arms up) is quite wet, then that is your baby trying to tell you they want access to their hands so that they can self-settle.
Choosing whether to swaddle your baby or not is entirely up to you. If they seem happy without it, there is no need to go to the effort. Just make sure they always sleep on their backs regardless. However if it helps them to settle and sleep more comfortably, then swaddle away!
Use your instincts and understand your baby. If they become uncomfortable with swaddling or don’t seem to like it, simply don’t do it. There is no rule that you have to.
If you are unsure of whether or not your baby could benefit from swaddling, feel free to get in touch with me for a chat. The newborn stage can be a confusing time, so I am happy to ease your mind with some friendly advice. Check out my sleep packages HERE.