Every new parent can relate to feeling sleep-deprived. A key solution for reducing fussing — and thus promoting safe, comfortable sleep — is swaddling. Swaddling is the art of wrapping a baby in a blanket for warmth, comfort and security.
Swaddling can keep your baby from disturbing himself with his startle reflex, plus it can help him stay warm and secure for the first few days of life. According to Dr. Harvey Karp, renown pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, you should combine swaddling with other infant calming techniques including swaddling, side or stomach, shushing, swing, and sucking.
“Remember that in the womb, babies are snugly swaddled 24 hours a day in an environment full of rumbles and whooshes caused by blood flowing through the placenta,” Dr. Karp told BabyCenter.com. “Once born, they find the world too big. When they’re lying on their back in the bassinet or crib, un-swaddled, they often startle, flailing their arms, and get very upset! That’s why swaddling – plus a rumbly, rough white noise – are the keys to helping fussy babies stay calm and boosting their sleep.”
You should only use swaddling and sound when your baby is sleeping or crying. When they’re awake, babies need time to practice using their muscles. After two to three months most parents only wrap their babies for sleep.
Benefits of Swaddling
Recently, there has been a great deal of recent controversy surrounding the safety of swaddling. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and other children’s safety groups, when done correctly and combined with other infant soothing techniques that promote sleep, swaddling offers the potential to:
- Reduce the prevalence of placing babies on the stomach. Swaddled babies sleep well on the back because they are wrapped tightly and feel secure.
- Reduce the chance of falling asleep with the baby on a dangerous surface (even a couch or bed can be dangerous for a newborn baby).
- Reduce the chance of rolling into an unsafe position (such as into a pillow or onto the stomach).
- Reduce serious problems that may be triggered by infant crying, such as shaken baby syndrome, postpartum depression, breastfeeding failure, car accidents and maternal obesity.
Safe Swaddling Tips
So how does an overwhelmed parent ensure that they are swaddling their baby safely and securely? While groups like the AAP recommend swaddling, it is important that it be done safely and effectively. The keys to safe swaddling are:
- Avoiding overheating your baby. If you live in a warm climate or are swaddling during warmer months, try swaddling your baby in just a diaper and a swaddling blanket.
- Use the correct technique (see below). If you’re a first time parent, ask your health care provider or baby nurse to show you how to swaddle before you even leave the hospital. You’ll have plenty of time to practice those techniques in the days that follow!
- Protect your baby’s hips when you swaddle. You don’t want to wrap too tight, so that the hips have plenty of room to be flexed and open.
- Never allow a swaddled baby to sleep on his stomach. Once your baby can roll over, it will be time to transition to a sleep sack that leaves his arms free but still create a sense of security and safety for the little one.
- Lay your blanket on a flat surface, shaped like a diamond . Fold down the top corner of the blanket by about 6 inches to create a straight edge.
- Place your baby on his back so that the top of the fabric is shoulder level. You never want the swaddle blanket to touch your baby’s cheeks, which can trigger a “rooting reflex” and awaken the baby.
- First, bring your baby’s left arm down and pull the corner of the blanket near his left hand (over the arm and chest). Tuck the leading edge of the blanket underneath his back on the right side.
- Next, bring your baby’s right arm down and pull the corner of the blanket near his right hand (over the arm and chest). Tuck the leading edge of the blanket underneath his back on the right side.
- Twist or fold the bottom of the blanket and tuck it behind your baby. Keep this part nice and loose so that both of your baby’s legs can bend up and out from his body and his hips can move naturally.
- If you’re using a longer blanket or if your baby is especially tiny, you may need to wrap the blanket around the baby several times.