With every newborn, a set of new parents are born. Just as you adjust slowly and gradually to your new role, your little one is trying to get used to his or her new home. This transition can often be stressful and overwhelming for both parents as well as the little one.
As parents, we want to do everything possible to help our little one transition from the warm and cozy environment of the womb into this beautiful yet unfamiliar world. We want to make the outside environment as comfortable as the womb to ensure our baby feels secure.
Swaddling is a traditional practice that has been practiced for centuries. It helps newborns transition from the life inside the womb to the outside environment with ease. Swaddling is recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) to promote sleep and to help calm infants.
What is Swaddling?
Swaddling is a method of snuggly wrapping an infant with his or her head exposed in a soft blanket. Because of its similarity to the snug fit of the uterus, many cultures and even neonatal intensive care units encourage its practice.
It is a promising method that has been practiced all over the world in different forms to promote sleep, reduce crying and promote various other benefits which we will explore in this article.
What are the benefits of Swaddling?
There are numerous benefits to swaddling from reduced arousal to temperature control. The following are some of the most important and proven benefits of swaddling.
- Calming and soothing for the baby and the parents
When inside the womb your little one is snuggled by the warm uterus all the time which makes them feel secure and comfortable. After birth, the sudden change in his or her immediate environment can induce anxiety, not only in the newborn but also in new parents.
The same intrauterine environment can be simulated by swaddling.
It creates a cozy environment that makes your little one feel warm and secure. It also helps new parents feel reassured about the safety of the baby and gives them a sense of safeguarding, reducing their stress and anxiety levels.
- Reduced startling and self-awakening, and therefore better sleep
All newborns are born with certain involuntary movements that occur in response to a particular stimulus known as reflexes.
For example, the ‘sucking reflex, which occurs when the roof of the baby’s mouth is touched which causes the baby to make sucking movements. Similarly, babies respond to sudden sounds or movements with what is known as the ‘startle reflex’ or the ‘Moro’s reflex.
Any sudden movement or loud noise causes them to spread out their arms and legs followed by crying. Startling can also occur during sleep which self-stimulates the baby, causing arousal and irritability.
Swaddled babies are less startled, decreasing spontaneous awakenings and resulting cry, allowing them to sleep better.
- Helps in regulation of temperature
As a fetus, the baby can maintain a very stable body temperature due to the uterine environment that is controlled by the mother's temperature. When the baby is born into an external environment it lacks the temperature regulation mechanism required to autoregulate its temperature and is at risk for hypothermia.
Swaddled babies can maintain a warmer and more comfortable body temperature. This has been especially important in preterm babies who lack the autoregulation that is required for temperature modulation.
- Reduces pain
Studies have found that swaddling calms the infant after any painful procedure. If your baby has had a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) stay and has required various medical procedures including repeated blood sampling, catheter insertions etc., swaddling can become part of the routine childcare to reduce discomfort.
Certain inevitable procedures like circumcision can be very painful for the baby, making them irritable and sometimes inconsolable. Swaddling can help calm and soothe these babies and reduce their pain sensitivity.
- Reduced risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
One of the most important benefits of swaddling along with having babies sleep on their back has been its reduced risk for SIDS.
A study investigating cot deaths showed infants that were wrapped and tucked-in had reduced risk of SIDS as compared to those who weren’t.
The gentle physical restraint of the limbs that are done in swaddling reduces the chances that an infant might cover his or her head with bedding, thereby reducing the risk for suffocation. Therefore, swaddling has been one of the most important recommendations for safe sleep practices to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Is Swaddling Safe? What are the adverse effects on the baby?
Like all parenting and childcare practices, there are risks and benefits to swaddling. The risks can be minimized by adopting safe and proper techniques and practicing a few precautionary measures as detailed below:
Swaddling can overheat the baby, especially when appropriate fabric or technique is not used. This is exactly why it is extremely important to use appropriate fabric like organic cotton that is breathable and light at the same time as well as helps in the regulation of temperature.
It is also a good idea to ensure that your baby’s room temperature is set so that it's not too hot or even too cold. During cold weather the heat should never be set to above 72 degrees Fahrenheit and during warm weather make sure that the room does not get too hot.
- Respiratory compromise
It is important to ensure that the blanket is not too tightly wrapped around the baby, which can impede the breathing efforts. Ensure you can pass at least two to three fingers between the baby and the blanket to give just enough room for chest expansion.
- Decreased Vitamin D synthesis
Vitamin D synthesis occurs when UVB rays from the sun fall on our skin. The chemical reaction that occurs produces a precursor molecule that eventually gets converted into an active form of Vitamin D.
So, it is important to note that when your baby is awake and active make sure to expose him or her to the morning or evening sun to get enough sunlight to produce vitamin D.
Remember that his eyes and skin are too sensitive for harsh direct sunlight. Your baby will most likely be on a vitamin D supplement to cover his vitamin D requirements and you may not have to worry too much about vitamin D deficiency.
- Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH)
Forcefully extending the knee or hip joint can cause the hip joint to subluxate or dislocate.
Some babies are born with particularly unstable hip joints due to incomplete formation of the joint, while some develop this during the first year of life. This condition is termed developmental dysplasia of the hip or DDH.
Forcefully extending the legs of the baby while swaddling has been known to be associated with an increased risk of DDH.
Factors to consider when swaddling your baby:
To ensure your child is safe and comfortable, it is important to practice certain safety measures:
Make sure to use organic cotton swaddle blankets to reduce skin irritation and the risk of overheating. Your best option is organic cotton swaddle blankets made from muslin fabric. Muslin fabric is breathable and hence a good choice for swaddling your baby.
- Ensure that the baby is always sleeping on its back
Most babies sleep on their backs until they start rolling over.
Some babies prefer sleeping on their chest/tummy even before they learn to roll over. Parents find that the baby sleeps better on their chest/tummy, probably due to fewer internal and external stimuli that disturb the baby enough to startle.
However, it is considered unsafe and is one of the most important risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Therefore, ensure that the baby is on her back and also, there is enough support on her sides to prevent any accidental rolling.
- Do not cover the head with the swaddle
The proportion of a baby’s head to his body is much bigger compared to adults. This helps them regulate body temperature. Covering the head of the baby can cause overheating.
Remember to fold down the corner just below the neck of the baby. For colder temperatures, use baby hats to keep the baby warm.
- Make sure it's not too tight
Very tight swaddling can cause respiratory discomfort in the baby. To ensure your baby is breathing effortlessly, make sure the swaddle is not too tight. To check this you should be able to insert two to three fingers of your hand easily between the baby and the blanket.
- Make sure the swaddle is not too loose either.
A loosely wrapped blanket can get unwrapped and this can carry the risk of falling over the baby’s face.
So, the general rule of thumb is, ‘Not too loose, not too tight but just right.
- Make sure the room temperature is not too high
In warmer climates, swaddling can cause overheating of the baby. Using cotton fabric ensures proper aeration and temperature regulation. Watch for signs of overheating like sweating, wet hair, or flushed cheeks. If your baby is warmer than usual and shows signs of overheating, unwrap the baby and lower the room temperature.
- Do not feed a swaddled baby
Although some mothers find it easier to feed a swaddled baby it is unsafe to do so.
Babies are capable of self-safety and self-regulation. They use various gestures and reflexes while feeding to indicate being full as well to indicate any danger of suffocation. Hence, always unwrap the baby when feeding.
- When starting, make sure to check your baby’s skin to ensure that it does not have rashes or any other skin problems. Babies may have skin problems/allergies and if they do develop rashes then it's better to stop swaddling from here on.
The ideal time to swaddle your baby
Swaddling can be initiated as soon as the baby is born. However, it is not recommended to swaddle the baby while breastfeeding.
Swaddling allows babies to sleep better while minimizing external and internal stimuli. Nonetheless, it can be restrictive to an awake and active baby.
Therefore swaddle babies only during naps while allowing them to be swaddle-free during feeding and playing.
How to Swaddle with a Blanket
After picking the right blanket for swaddling, it's time to learn how to swaddle a baby correctly.
- Lay the blanket flat on a bed or your changing table with a corner facing upwards. Fold down this corner by one-fourth to bring it to the center of the blanket.
- Gently lay the baby face-up on the blanket, with her head just above this folded corner of the blanket.
- Gently straighten the baby’s left arm and wrap the left corner of the blanket across the baby’s body to bring it to the right side. Tuck this corner of the blanket between the baby’s right arm and the right side of his or her body.
- Now take the bottom corner of the blanket, bring it to the right shoulder of the baby and tuck it in under his or her right shoulder. Do not straighten his legs. Normally babies have partially flexed and externally rotated posture and no attempt is to be made to extend or straighten their legs. Also, make sure that there is enough room for the child to move his or her legs freely.
- Take the right corner of the blanket, wrap it across the baby’s straightened right arm and bring it to the left side. Tuck it under the left side of the baby.
There you go! Swaddling a baby is as simple as that. Swaddle a couple of times and you will be an expert yourself. Just remember to regard the natural position of the baby and use as minimal manipulation as possible. Swaddling by no means should be used for posture correction.
How to Swaddle with arms out?
While most babies enjoy being swaddled, some can find it restrictive and try to fight it. These babies may benefit from being swaddled with their arms out as this will provide the same warmth and comfort without making them feel constricted.
Here’s how to swaddle with their arms out:
- Lay your blanket flat on the bed with one corner facing upwards. Fold the top corner of the blanket halfway down, a little more than you would while folding for the regular swaddling method.
- Lay the baby face-up on the blanket with his or her shoulder above the folded corner.
- Take the left corner of the blanket and wrap it across to the right side of the body leaving the left arm free to move about. Gently tuck this corner under the right side of the baby’s body.
- Take the lower corner of the blanket and bring it up, allowing enough room for the baby to move his or her legs. Tuck this corner into the already wrapped left corner.
- Now, take the right corner of the blanket, bring it across the body to tuck under the left side of the baby’s body.
- Ensure that the swaddle is not too tight allowing you to insert at least two to three easily between the baby and the blanket.
Types of blankets to use for swaddling and what’s the best swaddling blanket?
When choosing the perfect swaddle blanket, it is important to note that the fabric you choose should be organic, breathable and have natural fibers. These factors ensure that the risks of overheating and skin irritation are minimal.
Organic fibers ensure there are no harsh chemicals or dyes used during the manufacturing process which can irritate the baby’s delicate skin.
Natural fibers like cotton or muslin are non-irritant to the child’s delicate skin ensuring skin protection. Muslin makes the perfect fabric as it is light and breathable.
Avoid fabrics like nylon, rayon or polyester which hold in moisture and heat, therefore, can cause skin irritation and rashes apart from putting the baby at risk for overheating.
Swaddle blankets are primarily made of muslin, jersey or cotton blended fabric. Here we look at these three fabrics and which one is better than the other.
- Organic Cotton Muslin
This is the most ideal fabric as cotton fibers are weaved into a breathable pattern that is light and soft. Organic certification ensures that it does not have any harmful chemicals or dyes. Check out our white muslin swaddle blanket that is free of any harmful dyes and chemicals.
- Jersey Cotton
Jersey cotton is made of cotton fibers but because of its weave pattern, it has a natural softness and stretches without using any artificial stretch fibers like elastane. We do not recommend Jersey cotton because it is not as breathable and lightweight as the muslin cotton fabric.
- Blended cotton
Cotton fabrics can also come in various blends like polyester blend, rayon blend or linen blends. This may not be ideal in comparison to pure cotton as these contain artificial fibers and are not breathable too.
How many swaddle blankets should you have?
With babies, there are constant spit ups and accidents. So, the number of swaddle blankets you need will depend on how often you do laundry. But the bare minimum you would need is three.
Most mothers prefer to have between three and seven, allowing them enough time for their laundry cycle while also avoiding too much pile up before laundry.
These blankets can be used for multiple purposes after their intended use, so don't worry if you have too many, these are an investment well-made.
These blankets can later be used as changing mats, tummy time blankets, nursing covers, burp cloths, to cover your baby’s stroller and can eventually be recycled into kitchen washcloths. Being made of cotton makes them extremely versatile in their use.
We even have had customers who have made a baby quilt using 3 of our organic cotton swaddle blankets.
How do you wash and care for your swaddle blanket?
In general, washing any of the bedding or clothing of a baby should involve certain care which is to be followed for swaddle blankets as well.
- Do not mix soiled clothes like cloth diapers or diaper pads with other baby clothing. Also, do not mix your baby’s clothing including swaddle blankets with any adult clothes.
- Clean any stains or spit-ups immediately after soiling. This not only allows the stains to come off easily it also prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Presoak the clothes in warm water with baby-friendly detergents and a disinfectant.
- Use gentle baby clothing friendly detergents that are free from harsh chemicals, softeners or fragrances that can irritate the baby’s skin.
- Use warm water to wash all baby clothing.
- Make sure to dry the clothes thoroughly, preferably in the sun, before storing them away. Any moisture no matter how little can cause mold infestation and also become a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Store the blankets in a warm and airy place to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria or mold.
- If you have stored the blanket for too long before use, consider washing them again before using it.
When to stop swaddling?
Swaddling should be stopped as soon the baby starts showing signs of rolling over. If a swaddled baby were to roll over to his or her face it carries a high risk for suffocation.
Rolling over is a developmental milestone that usually happens between 2 and 6 months. Babies first start to roll over from front to back before they learn to roll over from back to front. This might happen during their tummy times when they attempt to roll over to their backs.
Babies start to show signs of rolling over like wiggling side to side, lifting their hips and torso off the ground, trying to turn to their sides. As soon as you see any sign of rolling over it is time to switch to the arms out method and start the transition out of swaddling.
Tips to help transition out of a swaddle
Some babies get accustomed to the warmth and comfort of the swaddle and start to struggle to fall asleep or to stay asleep when attempting to do so without a swaddle. This again can cause irritability to the baby as well the parents. Remember any change has to be gradual to be acceptable by your little one. Here are some tips to help your baby transition out of a swaddle:
- Try the arms out method first
Try to swaddle the baby with one arm out. Once he or she gets accustomed to this, gradually swaddle with both arms out, wrapping around the torso and the lower limbs. Once they are used to this you can slowly skip the swaddle a couple of times in a day and then all together.
- Use sleeping suits
The warmth provided by the swaddle is extremely comforting and is what the baby feels most deprived of when trying to transition out of the swaddle. Sleeping suits provide the same warmth and comfort and can be used to transition
- The best time to start is at night since babies tend to sleep better at night. Then you can gradually transition into daytime naps without a swaddle.
Is it okay not to swaddle the baby?
While most babies love swaddling some may find it a little restrictive to move their arms and legs and therefore might try to fight it. If swaddling your baby makes him or her more irritable you can try the arm’s out method first and gradually transition him into a full swaddle.
Despite all the efforts if your little one still fights and is irritated while being swaddled then it's okay not to do so.
Remember the main intention for swaddling is to soothe and calm the baby, and if swaddling has the opposite effect: don't be afraid to let it go.
Can swaddling be done for preterm babies?
Preterm babies are those that are born before 37 weeks and have different needs than term babies, which is why many parents wonder if preterm babies can be swaddled.
Preterm babies can be swaddled, however, try not to extend or fully straighten their arms. Instead, try to bring their arms on their chest without exerting too much pressure to correct any posture. The rest can be done just as you would swaddle a term baby.
Infant swaddling in a preterm infant has been shown to improve neuromuscular development and to have less distress, better motor organization and better self-regulation.
Can you swaddle a baby who prefers sleeping on his tummy/chest?
Some babies may not feel the warmth and comfort they need when made to sleep on their back and hence sleep better in the prone position. However, this is unsafe and is known to be a major risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome.
Swaddling might be particularly helpful in making these babies feel secure and warm and tolerate sleeping on their backs.
It is not a good idea to swaddle your baby and have them sleep on their tummy. This is not recommended and should be avoided.
Will swaddling affect motor development?
Many parents refrain from swaddling with the belief that it puts certain restraint on movements of the limbs and therefore may affect the motor development of the child.
However, studies have shown that there is no difference in motor development like crawling or walking between swaddled and unswaddled babies.