Is it safe to swaddle a baby?
What is swaddling?
Swaddling a baby means to wrap a baby tightly in a blanket. This usually restricts their limbs from too much movement. A swaddle holds the baby in the same position snug and tightly. This is soothing to babies and reduces the natural more (startle) reflex.
Why does it help?
When you were still pregnant with your baby, they grew in a small space, eventually it became really small as they got to full term, so they’re quite used to being all tight and restricted in movement. When they’re born, there’s suddenly a whole lot of room for movement and it’s scary to them, they’re not used to extrauterine life. The swaddle reminds them a bit of the womb, it’s very soothing to them.
The benefits of swaddling
Being so tightly wrapped and having their movement restricted means it will keep the Moro (startle) reflex to a minimum, this reflex usually wakes a baby up as soon as it happens. So, reducing it will mean longer stretches of sleep.
Being swaddled is cozy and reminds babies of life inside the womb. In a study with over 300 babies, the results showed that the babies who were swaddled cried overall less than those who weren’t swaddled.
Swaddling has been found to improve the development of nerves and muscles and better organization of motor movement in premature babies.
But does the benefits outweigh the risks?
The risks of swaddling a baby
Increased risk of SIDS.
Because babies tend to sleep longer and deeper while being swaddled, it may cause them greater difficulty arousing themselves which increases the risk of SIDS.
Temperatures should always be monitored, whether you swaddle your baby or not. But a swaddle is another layer of heat for a baby and if a baby is already dressed warmly or you’re using a thick blanket for swaddling, a baby can very quickly overheat.
The risk of a swaddle being undone and suffocating a baby is very real, especially as they get bigger and stronger and start to wiggle themselves out of a swaddle. When a baby rolls over while being swaddled, they’ll have no available hands to help lift their heads or to turn back, this can be a big risk as you never know when your baby will start rolling.
Swaddling raises the possibility of stress being placed on the hip joints, if a baby’s legs are frequently secured in a position where they are straight and close together. This can cause hip joint misalignment or even dislocation.
Infants swaddled immediately after birth show a delay in initial breastfeeding, less successful suckling at the breast, reduced intake of breastmilk and greater weight loss compared to un-swaddled babies. Swaddling visually obscures feeding cues and reduces crying, thereby eliminating two key feeding prompts typically used by parents/carers.
How to make swaddling safer
Though it is not recommended due to all the risks involved, should a parent still want to do it, it’s best to do it as safely possibly to reduce the risks as much as possible.
– Use a thin and breathable blanket for swaddling.
– Do not swaddle them for too long at a time.
– Never put a swaddled baby on their stomach or side, only on their back.
– Un-swaddle baby when breastfeeding.
– Immediately stop swaddling when baby starts rolling or shows signs of being ready to start rolling over.
How to swaddle correctly
– To swaddle, spread the blanket out flat, with one corner folded down.
– Lay the baby on their back on the blanket, with their head above the folded corner.
– Straighten their left arm and wrap the left corner of the blanket over your baby’s body, tucking it between their right arm and the right side of their body.
– Then tuck the right arm down and fold the right corner of the blanket over their body and under their left side.
– Fold or twist the bottom of the blanket loosely and tuck it under one side of the baby.
– Always make sure that their hips can move freely and that the blanket is not too tight and not restricting their movement too much. You want to be able to get at least two or three fingers between the baby’s chest and the swaddle.
Alternatives to swaddling
Skin-to-skin care is the act of having a baby on the chest of a caregiver with only a diaper on, hence the term skin-to-skin. Skin-to-skin care offers many benefits to both mothers, caregivers and babies. Including soothing the baby and aiding better sleep.
Babywearing is the act of wearing a baby upright against your chest or back in a wrap or carrier. This keeps them calm due to being close to the caregiver at all times.
Babies were never meant to sleep alone. Some babies may be very happy to sleep on their own, but most will not have it. Having baby next to you in bed will make for better sleep for you both. Co-sleeping can be done safely in most situations.
Seeing as loose blankets are a suffocation risk, weighted blankets are not recommended due to the weight being put on the baby’s heart and lungs, and swaddling holding many risks, a sleeping bag may be a good option to keep baby nice and warm while keeping the baby safe. Do make sure to dress accordingly to ensure that your baby doesn’t overheat.