Updated: Apr 29
If you're ever feeling bored and find yourself without a new episode of your favourite reality TV drama to enjoy, dive into the comment section of any social media post referencing swaddling...The drama is real!
But really, what is the consensus on swaddling, is it necessary? Helpful? Harmful even? Let's dive in...
Why do we swaddle babies? Babies are essentially born 4 months early (thanks to their very large heads!) and because of this, their nervous system (among other things) is very immature at birth and they have little control over the movements of their body. Their startle reflex in particular can wake them from much-needed sleep and their jerky arms and legs send them into fight or flight mode. Swaddling calms this reflex and keeps their limbs against their body and still, which encourages the baby's body to remain in a restful state during sleep.
Do babies like being swaddled?
In the womb, babies are cushioned in the weightless environment of their amniotic fluid, which keeps their body curled into a cuddle-like fetal position. Once born, their startle reflex activates and without the cushioning of the womb and their fluid, they feel "panicked" without this support! By swaddling their arms and torso during sleep, babies are reminded of this cuddle-like embrace of the womb and can enter into a restful state.
Remember, as a grown adult, our bodies do not experience the world in the same way as a brand new infant! To you it may seem restrictive or claustrophobic, but to a newborn, it is tremendously comfortable, and comforting. If you have ever experienced restless leg syndrome (hello third trimester), you'll have a basic understanding of how it feels to have an immature nervous system, it's exhausting...
How do we do it safely?
When swaddling your baby, we need to make sure their lower body is unrestricted to keep their hips healthy. Make sure baby's knees can still separate into a froggy leg position and ensure the swaddle is fastened/wrapped securely, with no loose fabric that could creep over baby's face. At the first sign of rolling, it's time to get rid of the swaddle to keep baby in a safe position for sleep.
What if my baby hates being swaddled? Babies' love for being swaddled is intrinsic and though there are always outliers, very rarely do they actually hate it! If baby protests during swaddling, it's much more likely that they are overtired and don't want to be messed with. Try swaddling 15 minutes earlier for the next sleep in a calm, relaxed room with dim lights. A couple of minutes of skin-to-skin or baby massage before getting started can also really help encourage baby to relax ready for swaddle time and sleep.
How do we ensure healthy hips when swaddling? Always look for a swaddle that has been approved by the international hip dysplasia institute and if using a traditional swaddle blanket, make sure the wrap is loose around baby's legs and hips, and that baby's knees can still separate into a "froggy leg" position
When do you stop swaddling? As soon as baby shows signs of rolling, time to get rid of the swaddle. If your baby reaches 12 weeks with no signs yet, start to slowly wean baby from the swaddle as the first signs of rolling can be accidentally missed.
What should we look for in a swaddle? Best/worst features to look out for?
Velcro swaddles: Make sure the velcro is of thick, good quality, to keep strong Houdini babies from bursting the fastening open. Thin velcro panels do not hold up well with multiple washes!
Fabric: Choose a season-appropriate fabric and check the tog rating against the average temperature of your home, to prevent overheating
Weighted swaddles: Reports of incidents with weighted swaddles are on the rise and there simply is not any clinical research to support safe sleep for infants with weighted swaddles. They are a huge safety concern, not to mention expensive, so just don't go there, it isn't worth the risk
Don't size up! I know baby clothes don't last long but, sizing up with a swaddle can cause the swaddle to ride up over baby's face and put them at risk of SIDS. Go by the weight and height range of the product, instead of S/M/L or age guideline
Which swaddles do you recommend? Ergopouch cocoon - By far the easiest to use and the temperature regulating material makes the safety rating excellent
The Happiest Baby Sleep pea - Secure for the Houdini babies with a mesh panel at the hips to make sure hips and legs are in a healthy position at all times
Woolino Baby Blanket Swaddle If you're looking for a traditional swaddle blanket, the Woolino is made of a wonderful temperature regulating fabric and is big enough to securely wrap baby and keep knees and hips open. This takes practice, but when done correctly, traditional swaddling is the safest!
Do we need to spend loads on fancy swaddles? Definitley not. Always choose quality over a bargain but, if an expensive swaddle promises to get your baby sleeping through the night, it is always too good to be true; don't waste your money.
How many swaddles should a mom own? Before baby's arrival, don't overdo it. You'd be surprised how attached you get to some models and loathe others! Choose 2 options and see how you get on once baby is born. When you find your favorite (which will happen quickly swaddling multiple times per day) order 3-4 of the same so that you're not without if baby has a late-night blowout.
Are arms up swaddles true swaddles? Arm-up swaddles are transitional swaddles and great for babies that continually resist full swaddling or, who are about to transition out of swaddling in a month or so. Some babes just love their arms in the air and this is a great option for these babies! Though they won't completely blunt the startle reflex, it does help
How do I stop swaddling? Cold turkey? Transitional?
*Keep a close eye on rolling progression from 8 weeks old
*At the first sign of attempting to roll, remove swaddle cold turkey. You don't want to miss that first roll while you're sleeping and rolling while swaddled puts baby at risk of SIDS
*To slowly transition, start with one arm out for 3 nights (or arms up swaddle), followed by both arms out and torso swaddled for a further 3 nights, then remove altogether. They will adjust quicker than you'd think!