After giving birth (and even before) mothers hear so much advice on how to treat their newborn, including the term “swaddle.” But why swaddle a baby, and what is swaddling anyway? Many people label the few months of your baby’s life as the “fourth trimester” because newborns want to be near their mothers at all times. They are so used to being snug and warm in the womb that being out in the world can be overwhelming for them. Because of this, it may be difficult for parents to help settle their babies when they seem inconsolable. If your newborn is fed, burped and doesn’t have a dirty diaper, swaddling may help calm them down and even help them drift off to sleep!
Newborns are in a bit of shock during the first few weeks of life because everything is so new to them. They spent nine months safely curled up in their mother’s womb. Now the world feels too big, too loud, and is too stimulating for their developing senses, so they cry to let those around them know that they are distressed. Their cries and complaints can indicate that they’re just having a hard time calming down because they’re no longer in the womb. Swaddling is a technique most moms are taught in the hospital as soon as their babies are born. Because their first few hours and weeks outside of the womb can be stressful, swaddling your baby is a good idea to help him or feel secure. The sensation of being wrapped with their arms and legs inside the blanket will remind them of being in the womb, which wasn’t too long ago!
When I had my baby, the nurses brought my baby to me wrapped up in a blanket and with a hat on. I for one was complaining that the room was too hot, but the nurse explained that babies don’t know how to regulate their own body temperature at first because they’re used to being kept warm in their mom’s belly. When I watched the nurse change my baby’s diaper for the first time, my daughter cried and cried as she lay in her bassinet unclothed. She cried until the nurse wrapped her up again and she used two blankets! Wrapping your baby snuggly with a blanket helps keep them warm.
Babies are born with many natural reflexes, such as a rooting reflex which makes them turn their face toward a stroke on their cheek with an open mouth, which comes in handy if you are trying to breastfeed. Another reflex is the Moro reflex, or startling reflex. It occurs when a baby hears a loud noise or feels like they’re falling. They flail their arms and legs away from their bodies. It’s their way of practicing how to protect themselves from harm. It’s adorable, until it wakes them up! Research suggests that newborns sometimes feel like they’re falling when they’re asleep, and when their arms and legs flail about, it wakes them up. This can happen over and over. Swaddling helps prevent them from waking themselves up.
If you choose to swaddle your baby, remember to use a thin, breathable fabric and don’t wrap their legs too tight or you can cause hip dysplasia.
So the next time you have gone down and checked off everything on your mental checklist of reasons why your baby may be crying, try swaddling him or her. It may give you both a chance to relax.
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