to swaddle or not to swaddle

Well, usually my question is more like, “Have you mastered the swaddle yet?” I am a huge believer in the power or a good swaddle. Sure, it isn’t for every baby – with our first it was a lifesaver but our second was so reflux prone that even a light swaddle made her gag and sputter all night.

Above you will find a quick video with some tips. A couple points to reinforce:

  • It is generally safe to swaddle babies for sleeping though they should still always be placed back to sleep without any blankets, bumpers, or soft bedding
  • Once they show any signs of rolling, swaddles should be stopped. Often this requires a parent to linger at the bedside, patting, shooshing, or simply holding the infants hands to help with the transition out of a swaddle. Sleep sacks can be a nice way to make this transition more gradual.
  • There is concern for dysplastic hip development with extended time with hips held in full extension. Babies should be swaddled with legs flexed and I remind people it is important that they have a lot of time out of the swaddle to move freely.

Some parents insist that their babies hate the swaddle, and many are right, but others are amazed at how well it works to calm infants and help string together longer stretches of sleep.

I try to emphasize that the newborn’s brain is still making all sorts of connections and working on insulating (myelinating) all the wires. As a result, I imagine, a newborn’s experience of the world is quite noisy. All of the new sounds, sensations, GI perturbations, and hunger pangs all sort of mix together in a clash of signals that must be quite hard for new babies to straighten out. Add to that the fact that they have little control over what their unwieldy limbs are up to and you can see why a baby might fuss a lot.

Swaddling serves two functions. It reminds a baby of the womb, providing a sense of pressure and enclosure that triggers a natural relaxation response for most babies. It also takes the limbs out of the picture. Imagine you are a 2-week-old baby, trying to conduct the immature orchestra in your mind and right when you are about to fall asleep, an arm flings off the side, jolting you back into high alert…

To this end, babies often cry and squirm when you are putting them in the swaddle. The magic happens when you pick them up and give a gentle rock – often the baby will open their eyes with a look of relief as if to say “ahh, that’s nice, thanks for the help.” You can really see how the swaddle helps a baby to bring themself into a more organized state, an important first step in calming themself down.

Happy swaddling!

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