Swaddling is so important for a number of reasons but I can’t even tell you the number of times I hear parents say; “It just seams so cruel” or “I can’t get my baby to stay swaddled”.
If you can’t get your baby to stay swaddled then your not swaddling them properly.I think sometimes parents forget that this tiny little baby just spent 9 months in a very tight little space called the womb. They felt safe and warm. Then the baby is born and is allowed to flail (definition of flail: wave or swing or cause to wave or swing wildly) about like a fish out of water, could you get to sleep or stay asleep if you were flailing about? Well neither can your baby.
My favorite excuse is this; “but they cry when I swaddle them”. I say that’s ok they will get use to it and stop crying if you are consistent. Consistency is key though. If you give in and un-swaddle them after a few minutes every time you try to swaddle them they will always cry until you give in. I hate to tell you this but this action is your baby training you to do what he or she wants you to do.
Here are a few reasons why swaddling is so important:
- Reduces SIDS– In 2007 the Journal of Pediatrics did a meta-study of research on swaddling. One of the many positive results was that swaddling reduces the rate of SIDS. The current assumption is that swaddling makes it hard for newborn babies to inadvertently cover their heads or face with bedding and decreases their ability to flip over onto their stomachs, both of which have been linked to higher rates of SIDS in newborn babies.
- Safety Note: Never put baby to sleep on their stomach. Never EVER put a swaddled baby to sleep on their stomach. If your baby is able to flip from their back to their stomach WHILE swaddled, then your swaddling days are over. Swaddling is only to be used for babies on their backs. Being swaddled while sleeping on their stomach creates a greater risk of SIDS than sleeping on their stomach alone.
- Improve neuromuscular development– Many people feel that a newborn needs to have their hands free so that they can practice using their arms, figure out how to get their hands into their mouths so they can self-soothe by sucking on fingers, etc. However most of the movement of your newborn baby’s limbs is actually unintentional and random. Immobilizing their arms actually helps them to develop better motor skill organization. Swaddling is especially helpful for premature babies.
- Sleep better– Your newborn baby will sleep better and sleep longer if you put them to sleep while swaddled. Swaddling prevents newborn babies from startling themselves awake with random arm movements. And swaddling “stimulates sleep continuity.” This is a quote from the Pediatrics study that is a fancy doctor way of saying that it helps them to sleep longer. While newborns are renowned for their ability to take short naps all day long, certainly our goal is to help them settle into longer continuous windows of sleep. And swaddling will help them to do that quite effectively!
- Basis for soothing- Swaddling your baby may not immediately soothe your crying baby or lull them instantly to sleep. In fact the process of being swaddled may make them frustrated and thus (briefly) cry more loudly, convincing some parents that their babies “hate” the swaddle. But swaddling creates the foundation for which other soothing techniques (white noise, motion, etc.) build upon. Start with the swaddle and then layer on additional soothing techniques (pacifier, loud white noise, movement) to calm a crying baby and encourage sleep.
- Cry less- Babies cry regardless of what level of mastery in baby soothing you have achieved or how easily soothed your baby is. However, in addition to helping other soothing techniques to work more effectively swaddling alone seems to result in a 28% reduction in crying.
Now that you know the benefits to swaddling how do you properly swaddle a baby?
There are a few different blanket designs but do to the growing problem of improper swaddling and the growing concern of Hip Dysplasia I suggest to all new parents, Doula’s and baby nurses to use a swaddling blanket that will keep the baby’s arms from flailing and also give the baby room to pull their legs up to prevent hip dysplasia. I will save you some time and skip over the riff raff, my swaddling blanket of choice is the miracle blanket. How to swaddle with the miracle blanket
For more information on Hip Dysplasia see our post entitled “Hip Dysplasia, what is it and how to prevent it?”