Swaddling (wrapping) your baby makes them feel secure and calm, so is a good way to get them settled. It reminds them of the feeling of being warm and safe in the womb, so for those initial weeks in the world it provides security and a familiar feeling for them.
A new baby also needs time for their own internal thermostat to start working properly, so swaddling keeps them warm and cozy until they can manage their own body temperature a bit more efficiently.
Your baby has come into a world with many new and confusing sights, sounds, tastes and body sensations. It’s no wonder they feel a little overwhelmed at times. Swaddling can help your baby to calm down when they’re feeling over-stimulated. (A cuddle will also help them to feel secure.)
Swaddling may help your baby to sleep for longer. Research has concluded that young babies go to sleep more quickly once they were swaddled, and they were less likely to open their eyes or cry during sleep.
- Practice beforehand on a doll or similar so you can wrap confidently before attempting it on your baby!
- It is best to swaddle your baby when they are calm. If they are already over-tired and fussy, they might become more unsettled.
- In cold winter weather, put the baby in pyjamas first and then swaddle them. In warmer weather, just a onesie or diaper will be enough.
- Use soft, breathable fabric for your swaddle – cotton, linen or light wool would be good.
- Lay a blanket on a flat surface like a diamond and fold down the top corner about 6 inches to form a straight edge.
- Place your baby on their back so that the top of the fabric is at shoulder level.
- Bring your baby’s left arm down. Pull the corner of the blanket near their left hand over their arm and chest, and tuck the leading edge under the back on their right side.
- Bring your baby’s right arm down. Pull the corner of the blanket near the right hand over their arm and chest, and tuck the cloth under the left side.
- Twist or fold the bottom end of the blanket and tuck it loosely behind your baby, making sure that both legs are bent up and out from their body, their hips can move, and legs can spread apart naturally.
- A good demonstration and advice video can be viewed at http://www.babycenter.com/2_how-to-swaddle-a-baby_10347122.bc
- Your baby may initially cry or resist the swaddle, this does not necessarily mean you should take it off them – they may just need time to adjust to the new feeling.
It is always important to think of safety with swaddling your baby:
- Your baby should NOT sleep face-down when swaddled. If your baby is starting to roll onto their tummy while they are asleep, then it is definitely time to stop swaddling.
- Swaddling is just for sleep time, the baby should not be swaddled for too long. Babies need to move and wriggle to grow stronger and develop motor skills.
- It is recommended that you do not swaddle the baby’s legs too tightly. Baby’s legs are not naturally held in a straight line, they are generally bent at right angles which helps develop the hip joints properly. Swaddling legs tightly for long periods can keep the baby’s legs straight and may inhibit the hip joints developing properly.
- Make sure your baby does not get too hot, do not use heavy blankets to swaddle.
- If you are planning to undertake sleep training/sleep routines with your baby, you should unswaddle them first and let them adjust. Sleep training is focussed on getting your baby to self-soothe, and they need to be unswaddled to achieve this.
When to stop swaddling your baby
Generally you can stop when they are about three to four months of age. Babies are born with a startle reflex, called the Moro reflex, and swaddling can help reduce the effects of the reflex waking them. If your baby has a strong Moro reflex they may startle themselves awake. However there is no set rule on age to stop, so you can make your own decisions on this. Some parents chose to continue until the baby is 6 or 7 months old.
If your baby can break free of their swaddle, it doesn’t always mean they are ready to stop, but if they are often breaking free and you have loose blankets in the crib, then it may be time to stop.
Some babies are easy to stop swaddling, if they are becoming resistant to the swaddle or are more independent, then they will adjust easily. However, some babies may take longer to adjust to the new “feeling” of settling themselves without the swaddle. Some tips to help with the adjustment are:
- Unswaddle gradually – leaving one leg or one arm out of the swaddle for a few days before loosening it more.
- You could try a swaddle strap, which swaddles arms but leaves legs free. This is also a great option in warmer weather, when swaddling in full would be too hot for the baby.
- Changes in swaddling can cause disruption to sleep for a while, so be prepared for an unsettled baby during this time.
- Many older babies are great at escaping the confines of a swaddling wrap; however at the same time they want to be swaddled as they fall asleep. This may result in your sleep being disrupted as you are woken numerous times throughout the night to re-swaddle your baby. Try using a larger wrap.