You’re finally home from the hospital, exhausted, but ecstatically happy and delighted with the newest addition to your family. It’s been a whirlwind of learning: feeding, changing diapers, dressing a newborn, bathing and swaddling.
Swaddling – How do you do that again, and why?
Amidst all the newness it’s easy to forget, and there are so many different ways to swaddle, it’s no wonder many mama’s need a helpful reminder.
Babies have been swaddled for centuries. The ancient Greeks and Romans wrapped their babies, and there are biblical references of babies being swaddled. In the mid-1990s, swaddling re-emerged in the modern world when researchers discovered a strong link between SIDS/SUIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome/ Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome) and side and stomach sleeping positions.
However, back sleeping is not the most comfortable position for babies to fall asleep and stay asleep. Swaddling helps babies to safely and comfortably sleep on their back. To adults it might look incredibly uncomfortable: to be so restricted, almost claustrophobic, unable to move or get comfortable.
But, for a baby, being all bundled up like a baby burrito is very calming, very soothing, and very comforting. The swaddle provides the perfect conditions to help your newborn sleep like a baby.
Why and When to Swaddle
Babies are generally swaddled from birth for all naps and bedtime. Although swaddling does not reduce the risk of SIDS, it does help babies to sleep on their backs, which is the safest sleeping position for your newborn. The swaddle also mimics the pressure and touch that your newborn was accustomed to while growing in your womb and helps to inhibit the Moro Reflex.
The 4th Trimester
Your baby is considered a newborn for the first 3 months of their life. This phase is also known as the 4th trimester. Even though your baby is no longer in your womb, they still enjoy the same comforts and sensations that they experienced while inside you.
Conditions in the womb are pretty snug; there is not a lot of space for your baby to move around. When your baby is introduced to the world, the vast amount of space they now have can be quite disconcerting, even a bit of a shock.
It’s also very easy for your newborn to become overstimulated by their new environment: there is so much to see, hear, and feel. Using a swaddle for naps and bedtime is a great way to provide some comfort and familiarity to your baby.
The snugness and firmness of the swaddle also trigger your baby’s calming reflex, allowing them to relax from the exciting world around them and fall asleep. You don’t need to swaddle your baby 24/7.
In fact, it’s great to help your baby get used to their newfound spacious environment when they are awake. However, swaddling for all naps and bedtime is a great way to help your baby settle, calm, and be soothed for sleep.
The Moro Reflex
Newborn babies have a startle reaction, called the Moro Reflex. The Moro Reflex is a very normal and biological response to unexpected stimuli in your baby’s environment. It could be something they hear, something they see, and even something entirely unknown to you. It can also be triggered when moving your baby from one surface to another.
For instance, the Moro Reflex might be triggered when you move your baby from your embrace to the change table. When your baby’s Moro Reflex is triggered, they feel as if they are falling, which is why they jolt and fling their arms out and then bring them back into their body. It’s believed to be a survival mechanism to prevent them from falling away from their mother.
The Moro Reflex also startles your baby as they are falling asleep and can wake them up when already asleep. This instance is where your swaddle comes in handy. Swaddling your newborn baby with their arms firmly in place prevents the Moro Reflex from waking your baby.
They may experience the startle from an external stimulus, but because they are safely wrapped up with their arms secure, they are unable to jolt themselves awake. Swaddling allows your baby to fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer.
Eight Benefits of Swaddling
1. Snug and a Bug
Your baby feels like they are being cuddled and snuggled which is essential for their sleep and their development. The cuddly and snuggly sensation the swaddle provides helps to ease your baby in their transition from your womb into the big world.
The newborn or 4th trimester is a time when your baby still enjoys many of the sensations of the womb. Being cosily wrapped up provides the security your baby enjoyed for 9 months.
Also, the gentle pressure of the swaddle mimics the feeling of being touched, being cuddled and being held. The sensation of being touched is vital for your baby’s tactile development. The swaddle allows your baby this development while you get to sit down for a moment, put your feet up and have a cuppa. They can get all the physical touch they need from you when they are awake and feeding.
2. Calms the Moro Reflex
As mentioned, the swaddle helps your baby from feeling the Moro Reflex too intensely and waking up. This natural safety reflex can inhibit your baby from falling asleep easily, and wake them up. There is nothing worse than an overtired newborn. The snug wrap of the swaddle which is firm around the arms helps to hinder the reflex from startling your baby, aids your baby to fall asleep quicker and sleep longer.
3. Helps Create a Safe Sleep Environment
Swaddling your baby stops the need for any comfort items to be placed in their crib. Objects such as soft toys, blankets, pillows, bumpers have been linked to SIDS and should not be placed in your newborn’s bassinet or crib. The swaddle provides all the comfort your baby will need.
Pro tip: Hold the swaddle with your baby while feeding.
By doing so, the swaddle will carry your scent, making your baby feel extra safe once swaddled and placed on their back to sleep. The swaddle also helps to keep your baby sleeping on their back, which is the safest position for your baby to sleep.
4. Prevents Face Scratching
Newborns don’t have control over their limbs. They can grasp fingers and a rattle reflexively, but they have no actual control in the direction of the hands and feet. Without a swaddle to hold their arms firmly in place, it’s easy for your baby to scratch their face accidentally. Their little nails can grow so quickly.
5. Helps with Colic
If you find yourself with a colicky baby, it can be tough to soothe and calm your baby to sleep. A swaddle can help relieve a baby with colic. Colic has a wide variety of definitions but is usually defined by the Rule of Three - 3 hours of crying a day, for at least 3 days a week for 3 weeks. Often digestion issues are attributed to colic, but it is always best to see your GP or Paediatrician if you believe your baby has colic.
6. Swaddling Triggers your Baby’s Calming Reflex
The very popular Dr. Harvey Karp who wrote ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’ lists his 5’s which all help to trigger the calming reflex in your newborn baby. The first ‘S’ in his list is swaddling, and Karp explains that ‘swaddling is the cornerstone of calming by decreasing startling and increasing sleep.’
7. Helps to Regulate Temperature
Your newborn baby is unable to control their body temperature. A light swaddle is a great way to help keep your baby warm, but not overheat. Never double swaddle for extra warmth, overheating has been linked to SIDS.
If your baby is red and sweaty, remove any bedding or clothing immediately. If you are concerned they may be too warm or too cold, feel your baby’s chest, tummy and back of their neck. They should feel a comfortable temperature. A good rule of thumb is your newborn will need one extra layer than you are wearing.
8. Extra Rest for Mum and Dad
Newborn babies love to be held, and parents love to hold their babies. You should enjoy as many cuddles as both you and your baby need. However, sometimes you need a rest too, or something to eat, or a shower, or some sleep. The first few months with a newborn are exhausting. A swaddled baby is comforted, feels safe and secure even when not in their parents' arms.
1. When you swaddle your newborn, it is essential you use correct swaddling techniques. The swaddle should be firm around the chest and arms and loose around the hips and legs.
You don’t want the swaddle too tight that it restricts breathing, and your baby should still be able to move their legs around. Swaddling too tight around the legs and hips and restricting movement of your babies lower limbs can lead to the development of hip dysplasia.
2. Never double swaddle or use thick blankets to swaddle. Overheating is linked to SIDS, and if you baby looks red, hot and sweaty, you should immediately remove any bedding or coverings. The optimal room temperature for your baby’s sleep is between 18-20 degrees. This may seem cold, but this is the perfect temperature to help your baby with their production of melatonin.
Melatonin is a sleep hormone that is stimulated by dark and cooler temperatures. You can always check that your baby feels comfortable by feeling their chest and back of their neck.
3.Swaddling does not decrease the risk of the SIDS, and it is critical always to place your swaddled baby to sleep on their back. Never put your baby swaddled to sleep on their stomach or side. These are unsafe sleeping positions for your baby, and increase the risk of SIDS.
4. Do not swaddle if you have decided to bedshare with your baby. It’s easier for your baby to overheat if swaddled when bed sharing and they cannot move covers away from themselves or their faces.
6 Ways to Swaddle Your Baby
There are many different ways you can swaddle and many different swaddling products that you can use. Contemporary swaddling is firm around the arms and loose around the hips and legs to allow for movement and proper physical development.
Swaddle Technique One
Lay the swaddle with the top folded down. Lay baby in the middle of the swaddle with your baby’s shoulders in line with the fold.
Lay baby’s arm by their side, pull one side of the swaddle over your baby and tuck underneath. It should be firm, but not tight.
Lay your baby’s other arm by their side and pull the swaddle firmly over their body and tuck underneath.
Lift the bottom of the swaddle up over your baby.
Fold one side under your baby.
Fold the other side all the way around, twist the end, and tuck into the front of your babies swaddle.
Swaddle Technique Two
You can also lay your swaddle in a diamond shape and fold the top down. Place your baby with their shoulders along the fold.
Lay your baby’s arm by their side and pull one side of the swaddle over your baby and tuck underneath their body.
Pull the bottom of the swaddle up and tuck under your baby shoulder.
Fold the other side of the swaddle over the baby and tuck underneath.
For Babies Who Escape
Lay the swaddle in a square shape with the top folded down. Place your baby’s shoulders in line with the top of the fold.
Lift your baby’s arm up under the fold and bring it down by their side, then tuck the swaddle underneath your baby.
Do the same for the other arm.
Bring the bottom of the swaddle up to your baby’s chin.
Fold one side the of swaddle underneath your baby.
Fold the other side of the side of the swaddle under your baby and tuck into the front of the swaddle.
For Self Soothing
Lay the swaddle flat and fold the top of the swaddle over. Lay your baby’s shoulders in line with the top of the fold.
Hold your baby arm up with a bend at the elbow.
Fold one side of the swaddle of the over and tuck under your baby. Make sure your baby’s fist is poking out the top of the swaddle.
Bring your baby’s other arm up with a bend at the elbow, wrap the swaddle over your baby, and tuck underneath.
Pull the bottom of swaddle up.
Fold the swaddle underneath your baby on one side and then the other. You baby should be able to bring their fist to their mouth to self soothe.
Lay your swaddle down and fold down the top side down.
Put your baby’s arm up underneath the fold and leave in an up position.
Fold the swaddle over your baby with their arm over their chest.
Do the same for the other side.
Fold the swaddle over your baby and fold underneath
One Arm Out Swaddle
Lay your swaddle in a diamond shape and lay your baby with their shoulders in line with the top of the fold.
Lay your baby’s arm flat by their side and fold over and under their body.
Bring the side over you baby and underneath leaving one arm out. This technique is a good swaddle technique for babies who like to self settle. It is also an excellent swaddle technique when beginning to transition away from using a swaddle.
Bring the bottom of the swaddle up.
Pull one side of the swaddle over the top of your baby and tuck underneath.
Fold the other side over and underneath your baby.
My Baby Hates Being in a Swaddle
First of all, don’t give up! Swaddling has too many benefits. Remember: your baby doesn’t have conscious control over their limbs, and usually, flailing arms and protesting can be because your baby is already overtired and overstimulated. Once you get them swaddled, they will feel calmer, more relaxed and ready for sleep. Make sure you try a few different swaddling techniques to find one your baby likes.
Have wind-down time before you swaddle your baby for sleep. Give your baby a feed, play some beautiful music or white noise and make sure your baby is feeling nice and drowsy when you swaddle them. If you cannot get your baby comfortable in a traditional muslin wrap, there are many different swaddling products that your baby may enjoy, such as the Miracle Blanket, The Wombi or The Love to Dream Swaddle.
My Baby Always Escapes the Swaddle
As your baby grows, getting out of the swaddle and waking up will be quicker. Check out swaddle wrapping technique number three for ‘Babies Who Like to Escape’. Or it might be time to level up and out of the traditional swaddle blanket and into a designed swaddle wrap or sleeping bag.
If he or she is still too young for a sleeping sack, check out The Miracle Blanket, The Wombi, The Love to Dream Swaddle, Halo Sleep Sac Swaddle or the Ollie Swaddle. I’ll have an article coming soon comparing all the swaddles and which one will be best for your baby. But I stress not giving up on swaddling your baby.
When to and Why Stop Swaddling
You know that your baby is ready to transition out of a swaddle when they begin to roll. It’s the time to remove their swaddle and transition to a sleep sack. The reason is that it is unsafe for your baby to sleep on their tummy in a swaddle as it increases the risk of suffocation.
Once your baby can roll around, they can safely assume any sleeping position that they deem comfortable. Always check with your GP or paediatrician if you have any concerns.
Your baby’s Moro reflex also starts to disappear around the four-month mark, so they no longer need the swaddle, and they have more control over their limbs and are less likely to jerk themselves awake.
If you do prolong transitioning your baby out of the swaddle, it can become a complicated sleep association to change. We never want our little ones to grow up, but grow up they do, and swaddles are no longer needed once the Moro reflex has gone and your baby can roll.
How to Stop Swaddling
It’s a great idea to transition to a sleep sack. A sleep sack is an excellent sleep association that your baby will enjoy right into their toddler years. You can transition slowly from the swaddle by swaddling with one arm out and then swaddling with both arms out.
Next, remove the swaddle and use a sleep sack as part of your naptime and bedtime routine. A sleep sack is also a safe way to provide your baby with bedding that won’t get kicked off during the night. The coldest part of the night is at around 3 a.m., and many babies can wake at this time feeling cold. With a sleep sack, they will be comfortable and warm the whole night.
Swaddling is comfortable, helps with safety, provides security, and is helpful with your baby’s physical development. The muslin wraps are a great place to start with your newborn. Before you know it, you’ll be able to swaddle your baby with your eyes closed.