Swaddling is one of the many choices new parents face.
Current research and information is based upon swaddling babies for sleep – swaddling is not recommended during wakeful hours when the infant is moving and more active.
Naturally, the baby has a say — some will sleep well when securely swaddled, and others won’t.
A common initial question for many first-time parents is whether or not to swaddle their new baby. In some countries it remains a traditional custom but, in others, parents have gradually moved away from the practice. There are well-researched pros and cons to the practice of swaddling.
What is swaddling?
Swaddling is type of binding a baby with a wrap to restrict free movement of the limbs.
Wrapping in a swaddle is said to re-create the feeling and security of being in the womb and can calm a fretful baby. Carefully wrapping a newborn assists the baby to sleep and prevents being disturbed by their own ‘startle reflex’.
Some studies have shown that swaddled babies wake less frequently and sleep longer than non-swaddled babies. Sleep-deprived parents welcome the extra sleep that swaddling might offer.
Can swaddling be harmful?
This simple practice comes with risk as well as benefits. There are some important safety concerns of which to be aware.
A baby’s body temperature is poorly regulated and they can get cold or overheat fairly rapidly. Overheating, which increases in the colder months, has been linked to SIDS.
Swaddling on top of warm pyjamas and a comfortable room temperature can simply be too warm. Cotton or muslin wraps are preferable to rugs and blankets and the baby should not be over-dressed under the wrap. A singlet and nappy in summer and a light jumpsuit in winter should be sufficient.
As soon as an infant starts rolling—in any direction— swaddling becomes unsafe and the baby should be transitioned from a swaddle to a sleep sack or pyjamas. This is generally between three and six months.
Swaddling could possibly hinder breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, which is believed to assist the regulation of body temperature and breathing, adjustment to life outside the womb and stimulation of the milk supply.
Swaddling can help to calm babies in order for them to better feed, but some babies feed more successfully un-swaddled. If necessary, swaddle to calm and then loosen or remove the wrap to breastfeed, swaddling again for sleep. Each baby is different and the key to success is for mother to be aware of her baby’s cues.
Hip dysplasia is a condition that may be present at birth or can develop over time. Wrapping tightly around their legs and held straight puts babies at a far greater risk of developing hip dysplasia requiring treatment.
The correct swaddling technique bends the baby’s legs up and apart at the hips, by doing this action the wrap will be looser around the hips and legs.
10 steps to swaddle safely
There are safe ways to reap the benefits without the risks.
- Use a lightweight, specially designed wrap.
- Wrap tightly enough to prevent the baby breaking out.
- Loosen the wrap around the legs. The baby should be able to move its hips and knees up and out but still be wrapped.
- Wrap arms firmly but not too tightly, avoiding any pressure on the chest.
- Always place a swaddled baby on its back, never on its side or stomach!
- Avoid obstacles to breathing.
- Adjust the thermostat to a comfortable adult temperature and avoid over dressing a swaddled baby. A fan can be used if the baby or the room becomes too warm. A good temperature is between 17-21 degrees Celsius.
- A baby should only be swaddled for calming or sleeping. Unwrap the baby during wakeful periods as well as for breastfeeding.
- Immediately wean from the swaddle as soon as the baby starts to show any signs of rolling over.
- Investigate a specially designed wrap to make swaddling easy and safe.