Why Swaddle Newborns

Why swaddle? Swaddling your newborn provides nighttime peace of mind, we all need that. It also soothes your baby, meaning more sleep for both of you. And by imitating maternal touch it helps babies learn to self-soothe and eliminates anxiety.

Swaddling your newborn protects her from the startle reflex, allows her to self-soothe and stay calm and cozy, making her feel secure and preventing her from scratching herself.

You don’t want to wake your newborn baby by accidentally scratching her delicate little face. Swaddling is one of the best ways to keep their tiny fingernails away from their new skin. Wrapping your baby up like a tiny burrito also keeps her hands out of her mouth which means less potential for getting sick from germs on her hands. This may also help prevent infection from umbilical cord irritation.

Swaddling has long been used by parents as a way to help their new babies sleep more soundly, enabling both baby and parents to get a better night’s rest. Recent medical studies have shown that swaddling is also beneficial for its physiological effects on the baby. Swaddles help manage your baby’s automatic movements in their first months of life, as well as helping her feel more secure and comfortable.

What is swaddling? It’s wrapping your baby snugly in a blanket or using a swaddle sack so her arms and legs can’t flail about. Why swaddle? There are many benefits for both you and baby:

Have you ever wondered why swaddling newborns is so important? The swaddle renders a tiny baby snug and safe, just as they were when they were in-utero. This can have a calming effect on your baby and aid him or her in getting longer periods of sleep. It also helps protect against startling, which can wake them up and make them cry. Not only does this decrease the amount of sleep your baby gets, but it may make them more anxious.

Swaddling might sound outdated but some parents say it helps their baby to sleep. Here we talk about its benefits and risks, and tips for safe swaddling.

You might have seen a friend’s baby wrapped up like a cute mini fajita or witnessed the Royal baby Louis’ first TV appearance. If so, you know what a swaddled baby looks like. Here’s what you need to know about swaddling.

Why swaddle?

You might be thinking that swaddling your baby every time they go to sleep (which is a lot) seems like a lot of work, but there are many benefits to swaddling your baby. Here are some you and your baby will experience:

  • Swaddling protects your baby against their natural startle reflex, which means better sleep for both of you
  • It may help calm a colicky baby
  • It helps eliminate anxiety in your baby by imitating your touch, which helps your baby learn to self-sooth
  • It keeps her hands off her face and helps prevent scratching
  • It helps your baby sleep longer and better
  • It helps prevent SIDS by keeping unnecessary items like pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals out of your baby’s crib
  • It keeps your baby on his back while he sleeps

How to swaddle your baby

If you’ve never swaddled a baby, it might seem like a complicated process. But it doesn’t have to be. Practice the following steps a few times and you’ll be a pro.

  1. Spread out your swaddling blanket on a soft, flat surface. Arrange the blanket in a diamond shape with the bottom of the diamond pointing toward you.
  2. Fold down the top edge of the blanket. This should create a loose triangle shape. Set your baby with his feet pointing toward you. His shoulder should be just below the fold in the blanket.
  3. Arrange you baby’s right arm next to his body with his arm slightly bent. Pull that same side of the blanket up and over your baby’s right arm and body, then tuck it underneath your baby. Your baby’s left arm should be left free.
  4. Fold the bottom of the swaddle blanket up over your baby’s feet. If the blanket is long enough, tuck it behind his shoulder.
  5. Complete the swaddle by pulling the remaining side of the swaddle up and over your baby’s remaining arm and across his body.

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Safety tips

Although swaddling comes with numerous benefits, you need to make sure you’re doing it right to avoid danger or discomfort for your baby. Follow these safety tips:

  • Don’t wrap too tight. Swaddling your baby tight enough that he can’t move his hips or legs may limit the development of the hip. Aim for a tight enough swaddle that will hold your baby’s arms firm, without completely immobilizing her entire body.
  • Always lay your baby down on his back after swaddling.
  • Stop swaddling your baby as soon as he can roll over.
  • Don’t double up on blankets when you swaddle. The extra thickness could cause your baby to overheat. It can also dislodge easier, which adds to the risk of suffocation.

Swaddling your baby is a great way to get him to sleep better. When your baby sleeps better, so do you. Once you learn how to swaddle a baby, you’ll know how to do it in your sleep (literally)!

Should I Swaddle My Newborn at Night

Mothers have been swaddling their babies for thousands of years. Whether you’re a new parent or a veteran, you could probably use the extra sleep that swaddling your baby will provide.

Unfortunately, swaddling your baby might seem like somewhat of an art form. Wrap this, tuck that. It can feel confusing, especially when you’re up for a 3 a.m. feeding. Learning and practicing the art of swaddling your baby will help you get more sleep. It will also help your baby feel more secure and comforted, just like he was in the womb.

When I was in medical school, the nurses in the newborn nursery taught me how to swaddle babies. They taught me how to lay the blanket down and how to tuck the edges around the baby so that he became a little “papoose.” Sometimes it worked like absolute magic to calm a cranky newborn. Over the years, I’ve taught parents to swaddle and have swaddled my own babies.

But not only does it not always calm a baby, it’s not always a good idea. And as with everything we do in life, it’s important to use common sense when you swaddle.

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Swaddling has been part of caring for babies for centuries — millennia, really. It makes a baby feel like he’s back inside the womb — or like he is being snuggled close. It has been shown to help many babies sleep better. It can be particularly helpful for babies with neurologic problems or colic, or for babies born addicted to drugs.

It also can really help some parents get their babies to fall and stay asleep on their backs, which is what we recommend to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Some babies have trouble with sleeping on their backs because they startle themselves awake; when they are swaddled, that’s less likely to happen.

But there are downsides to swaddling. Because it keeps the legs together and straight, it can increase the risk of hip problems. And if the fabric used to swaddle a baby comes loose, it can increase the risk of suffocation.

Another warning about swaddling comes from a study published in the journal Pediatrics, which found that when swaddled babies were put on their sides or bellies, their risk of SIDS went up a lot. For those put on their bellies, especially babies more than 6 months old, the risk doubled.

Although the study can’t tell us exactly why the risk doubled, one can imagine that a tightly swaddled baby might not be able to get her head up if she started having trouble breathing — and if that swaddling blanket came loose and she was face-down, it also might make smothering more likely.

This is what I meant before about common sense. Just because something works sometimes doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone or every situation — and doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think before you do it.

Here’s what parents should consider when they think about swaddling:

  • Babies don’t have to be swaddled. If your baby is happy without swaddling, don’t bother.
  • Always put your baby to sleep on his back. This is true no matter what, but is especially true if he is swaddled.
  • Make sure that whatever you are using to swaddle can’t come loose. Loose fabric and babies is a dangerous combination.
  • For the healthy development of the hips, babies’ legs need to be able to bend up and out at the hips. Swaddling for short periods of time is likely fine, but if your baby is going to spend a significant amount of the day and night swaddled, consider using a swaddling sleep sack that lets the legs move. It may not be quite as effective from a calming standpoint, but it is safer for the hips.

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