Last updated January 7th, 2021
Swaddling is a traditional and proven technique that lends babies and new parents their greatest need – a good night’s sleep. Newborns are very light sleepers and are easily startled by noises. Wrapping them snugly is a useful sleep training that will help them transition to the outside world from their mother’s womb. But how long do you swaddle a newborn and sleep outside their comfort zone?
Swaddling is recommended for newborns up to infants about two months old. Swaddling is meant to keep them secure and regulate their body temperature. Babies are more stable and have reduced mobility if you swaddle them to induce longer naps and sleeps.
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How Long Do You Swaddle a Baby: Our Expert Recommended Tips
Right after the baby is born, maternal nursing care encourages mother-and-baby skin contact for at least an hour. But after this, babies are snugly wrapped in blankets to keep them cozy and warm. This is how they are arriving at their parents from the nursery – in cute little bundles.
Why is swaddling important?
Every baby is born with a Moro reflex or a startle reflex. It is an involuntary response to the triggers on their surroundings. So if you have noticed your baby jolting, it is perfectly normal.
Swaddling gives babies the kind of comfort to keep their reflexes at bay. It helps in encouraging babies into a positive sleep association that will establish their bedtime routine. And it will also help in calming even the colicky little ones.
You can swaddle your baby from 12 to 20 hours every day. But of course, you will need to remove them from their cocoon as you change diapers, bathe, or massage them. They also need to feel their parents touch whenever possible to foster a loving bond.
Every passing day, you need to let them out of the swaddle to slowly wean them out of it.
How to Safely Swaddle a Baby?
There are a lot of controversies surrounding swaddling and the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). But the American Academy of Pediatrics or AAP reiterates that it is safe to swaddle babies up to two months of age.
At about two to three months old, babies start to move a lot. Some may even start to roll over, but it is really variable since babies develop at different rates. When they are showing signs that they are ready to roll on their stomach, then you need to transition them out of their blankets. There is a danger if they fall flat facedown from squirming.
Many mothers are distraught and confused about the safety of swaddling. The anxiety spurs from the tendency of SIDS and risk on their bone development. While this rings a slight truth, the fact is, swaddling is perfectly safe. This ancient practice has helped many parents and babies since prehistoric times. All you need to know is how to safely swaddle your baby.
Swaddle your baby snugly, not too loose, not too tight.
A loose swaddle can get unwrapped during the night and can pose a risk of suffocation. Tight swaddle prevents the mobility of those tiny feet that can cause hip damages. In wrapping babies, make sure there is a three-finger space allowance between the blanket and his chest. It should be just below the shoulder and not over it.
The bottom part of the swaddle should be able to accommodate the baby’s feet when it is flared out. A loose blanket over the swaddle is not recommended as it increases baby suffocation risk. And remember not to swaddle your baby too much.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute warns against tight swaddling. Babies are naturally born with bent legs from their fetal position in the womb. There’s no need to worry as this will straighten over time. If you swaddle their legs tightly, it may loosen their joints and damage their soft cartilage.
Swaddle with arms down
In parenting school, it is relatively easy to dress up and swaddle a doll. But in real life, it can be challenging especially for new parents. But, should it be arms up, down, or cross?
Swaddling with the arms down is the safest way when bundling infants. It greatly helps in suppressing their startle reflexes. They will also be more relaxed in this position. If their arms are tucked to the sides, they will less likely to bunch the linen to their face. This is more prone to happen if you swaddle them with crossed arms.
Don’t swaddle while breastfeeding during the day
The purpose of swaddling is to encourage sleep. When breastfeeding, you need to coax the child to eat as much as he possibly could. That’s why you need to keep him alert, which may defeat the purpose if you breastfeed him swaddled. There are two different rules in breastfeeding swaddled or not.
During the daytime, you should breastfeed the baby without a swaddle. They need to actively use their hands to nurse and reach out to you. This will also help you determine their hunger or fullness cues.
On the other hand, babies need to associate nighttime with sleep. That’s why it will help if you keep him in a swaddle even when breastfeeding. If he feels comfortable enough, he will doze off soundly and eventually make this as his routine. Besides, being able to control his reflexes will help him sleep better through it.
Lying baby on his back is the safest
If you have a fussy baby, swaddling will benefit him greatly. It will provide him his comfortable place, and a safer one at that. The NICHD (National Institute of Health and Human Development) strongly recommends letting the baby sleep on his back.
We would often receive anxious questions from mothers about the tendency of choking if babies are lying on their backs. But it is a myth that you need to stop believing. The fact is, babies can actually clear fluid from their nasal passages when sleeping on their back. But if your baby has an underlying medical condition, your pediatrician will recommend the best sleeping position for him.
When to Use Swaddle or Sleep Sack?
As we have mentioned, once the baby starts to roll over, swaddle will compromise safety. So as they get a little bit older, some parents will transition babies in sleep sacks. Sleep sacks are wearable blankets that help keep the baby warm during the night.
Unlike swaddles that restrict their body movements, sleep sacks only keep babies’ legs loosely confined and arms free. To keep it simple, swaddles are for infants up to two months of age. Sleep sacks are for older babies and toddlers.
But, is there a danger of overheating in the swaddle or sleep sack?
During the warmer season, infants can get overheated in their swaddles. You can tell that the baby is hot if he has flushed cheeks, damp hair, and is sweating. Some may exhibit rapid breathing and even develop heat rash.
Avoid this from happening by keeping their rooms at a cooler temperature. During the cold season, the thermostat should ideally be at 16 to 20°C. A baby’s room should neither be too cold nor too hot.
You can check whether your baby is cold or hot by touching the back of his neck. You can pop in a few fingers underneath the swaddle on his back to check if the temperature is just right. Avoid overdressing your baby underneath the swaddle as well. You can use a thin, breathable fabric swaddle blanket during warm weather and warmer ones in cold seasons.
Swaddling Steps: How to Do it Correctly
If you have been to a parenting school, they may have taught you how to properly do it. Swaddling is very simple and easy to do. And you can surely perfect it in no time with a little practice.
- Begin by spreading a blanket out in a diamond shape in front of you. Fold the topmost corner over.
- Lay your baby face-up on the blanket and keep his shoulder just above the fold. Hold his left arm straight and pull the same corner of the blanket over his body.
- Pull the blanket across his chest and tuck the edge under his right body, below the armpit. This will leave his right hand free.
- Hold your baby’s right arm down and pick up the remaining cloth. Pull the cloth across his body, wrapping the arms and chest. Tuck the cloth securely under your baby to secure the swaddle.
- Pick up the bottom edge of the blanket. Make sure that your baby’s legs have a wiggle room and that his legs bent up and out. Twist the edge or fold it underneath to secure the swaddle.
Infants are both fascinating and anxiety-inducing to care for. There are a lot of baffling questions, unfounded fears, and excitement the moment you hold your bundle in your arms. As you transition into a baby-centered life, your baby also adjusts to the world outside the womb. Keep your baby comfortable and safe with the right techniques. Trust your instincts, and you will seldom go wrong with it. And if you have questions, don’t hesitate to bring it up to your pediatrician.
Infants are both fascinating and anxiety-inducing to care for. There are a lot of baffling questions, unfounded fears, and excitement the moment you hold your bundle in your arms. As you transition into a baby-centered life, your baby also adjusts to the world outside the womb.
Swaddling does not only create a cozy and warm environment for a newborn. It also prevents triggering their startle reflex and soothe them to sleep. From birth to the second month, swaddling is a trusted technique in putting babies to sleep more than the lullaby. Eventually, as they gain mobility, you need to wean them from swaddle into their sleep sacks.
Keep your baby comfortable and safe with the right swaddling techniques. Trust your instincts, and you will seldom go wrong with it. And if you have questions, don’t hesitate to bring it up to your pediatrician.
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.