I remember when I saw my daughter for the first time. She was wheeled into my hospital room in a bassinet all swaddled up. She looked like the cutest baby burrito ever. There is a reason why the nurses had swaddled my daughter.
Because nurses know one of the secrets to a happy and calm newborn: swaddling. Swaddling is an ancient method for wrapping newborns in a thin blanket.
Here is a comprehensive guide to swaddling a newborn, so that you can become a pro in no time and possibly get a little extra shut-eye.
Why Swaddle a Newborn?
When you swaddle a newborn, you help your little one to stay calm and sleep more soundly. A swaddle makes your newborn feel safe and secure as they adjust to life outside of the womb.
Swaddling helps prevent flailing of their arms and legs which can trigger the startle reflex and potentially wake them up. And if they do wake up, they might be even more upset because they were startled awake and it might take a while for them to settle down.
Swaddling keeps your newborn warm and cozy until their internal thermostat does its thing.
How to Swaddle a Newborn?
There is more than one method you can use to swaddle a newborn. The basic gist is that your newborn’s arms should be tightly bundled inside of a blanket and their feet still have quite a bit of room to move. Although not too tightly bundled or you could cut off the circulation from their arms.
I wrote an article that details a step-by-step guide on the method I used to swaddle my daughter when she was a newborn.
Is Swaddling Safe?
Now you might be wondering if swaddling is even safe since generally blankets and baby sleep don’t mix well. While it is true that swaddling is not entirely without some risks, if you follow some safe sleep guidelines the risks can be reduced.
When the swaddle blanket comes to lose or unwrapped during sleep there is a risk it could cover your baby’s face, thus creating the risk of suffocation. This is made worse by the fact that a newborn that is swaddled tends to sleep extra soundly. So, if their faces get covered by the blanket, they are less likely to wake up and change positions.
Here are some sleep safety tips that are important to keep in mind:
- Always place your baby on your back. Whether you are swaddling your newborn or not. It is the safest position and reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- No lose items in your baby’s crib. This includes blankets, stuffed animals, and anything else you might place in the crib. The risk of suffocation is too great.
- Keep your baby cool. Swaddling can cause overheating which increases the risk of SIDS. Keep the room at a comfortable temperature year-round (68 to 72 degrees.) There is no need to dress your baby in layers. Typically a pair of sleeper pajamas and a swaddle blanket are enough to keep your little one nice and cozy. Watch for signs that your baby might be too hot. Sweating, damp hair, flushed cheeks, heat rash, and rapid breathing are all possible signs. (1)
Is It Okay to Not Swaddle a Newborn?
Some babies do not like to be swaddled. And that is totally okay. It seems to make them more upset than calm.
And it seems like every time they are wrapped up inside of the swaddle, they try to make a break for it every single time. But before kiboshing a swaddle for your newborn, there are alternatives that you can try.
If your baby is always trying to break their arms free, then try swaddling them with their arms out of the blanket. The extra freedom might be more appealing and keep them calmer and happier.
Does your baby love to kick? Then you might want to try a velcro swaddle sack. Because of the velcro, they are harder to get off. The zip-up cocoon style swaddle can be helpful as well.
You might have to try different methods of swaddling as well as different swaddles to find the one your newborn likes best. Once you find one your baby loves, make sure you stock up in case your baby spits up or has a diaper leak. And if you can’t find one that your baby loves, then feel free to ditch the swaddle and move on.
When Should You Stop Swaddling?
Swaddling can be a lifesaver for a newborn. But as babies grow up it can become dangerous, as well as interfere with normal and healthy development. It can prevent your baby from practicing age-appropriate motor skills.
So is there an age that you should stop swaddling your baby? You should stop swaddling when your baby becomes more active and starts to try to roll over. This can happen as early as 2 months but usually happens around the 3 or 4-month mark.
Be aware that once your baby has outgrown swaddling, they are much too small and young to sleep with a blanket. Still dangerous and a hazard to your little one.
To keep them cozy while still practicing safe sleep guidelines, try a sleep sack. These wearable blankets add a layer of warmth. Some are even designed to help babies transition from a swaddle quicker and easier.
Swaddling can definitely seem intimidating. But you will be a seasoned pro in no time. And if you were on the fence about even trying it with your newborn, give it a shot and see if it makes them calmer and happier. If not, you can always move on.
Have you tried swaddling? How does your newborn like swaddling?