Look at any baby registry and you’ll find a plethora of cute swaddles. After birth, the hospital nurses expertly wrap your baby up like a delicious burrito. Many find that swaddling soothes their baby when nothing else will do the trick. But how exactly do you replicate that expertly maneuvered wrap?
What it is
Baby swaddling is the practice of taking a large square of fabric and wrapping it securely around the baby. Typically, only the upper portion of the chest and head are left free, while the arms and legs are tucked inside the swaddle. This inhibits the movement of the arms and legs. It is designed to replicate the tight hugging sensation of being in the womb. This article will better help you to understand how to swaddle a baby.
The main goal of swaddling and how to swaddle a baby is to hold the arms and legs securely, inhibiting the Moro reflex. The Moro reflex is when your baby startles. You may notice their arms and legs jerk out, as if in an attempt to catch themselves from falling. The Moro reflex lasts until baby is about 2 months old. Preventing your baby from startling themselves awake may help them to sleep longer stretches, properly swaddling a baby can help a baby sleep much longer if done correctly. Properly swaddling a baby also makes it harder for your baby to roll onto their stomach, around 2-4 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies sleep on their backs until they can roll over from front to back independently, always on a safe sleep surface. By preventing your infant from rolling to their stomach, and subsequently getting stuck there, you reduce the risk of them waking and crying in frustration as well as the risk associated with stomach sleep (SIDS, suffocation).
A few things to keep in mind when choosing to swaddle a baby. Safety is important. Learn how to properly swaddle a baby so that it is not wrapped too tightly or too loosely. Finding that perfect balance is essential to safety.If you too tightly swaddle a baby it can inhibit breathing and circulation while a too loose one may allow baby to break free, leaving loose fabric near their airways. Another risk is leg and hip placement. Because swaddling may keep the legs down and straight, there is a risk for hip dysplasia or other issues with hips, especially if your baby is at risk for the concerns already. Once you swaddle a baby they should always be placed to sleep on their backs. When a baby is capable of rolling to their stomach but not back over, the risk of suffocation increases. If your baby can roll over while swaddled, it is time to discontinue use. Whenever you swaddle a baby make sure that they are not overdressed. The swaddle counts as an additional layer and you do not want baby to overheat.
Another element often overlooked in the swaddle conversation is development. We often think that holding the baby in a warm embrace will remind them of being cozy in the womb. However, a swaddle completely inhibits freedom of movement, which in fact they did have in utero (remember those crazy kicks and punches?! Babies move a lot in the womb.). Another consideration is the impact on breastfeeding. While it is very pleasant to get those extra hours of sleep, It is important to continue breastfeeding throughout the night at regular intervals until your baby has regained their birth weight and is growing at a sufficient pace. Stretching the time between feedings overnight is tempting but can impact milk production if done too soon.
How to do it
There are a few different ways to swaddle a baby but I find it helpful to master the most basic one first. Think of it as taking a 101 level class.
- To begin to swaddle a baby, place your baby swaddling blanket on a flat surface like the bed or the floor. Open it completely and place it in a diamond shape.
- Fold the top corner of the diamond down 4-6 inches.
- Place baby on the swaddle, with the top of their shoulders at the edge you just folded down.
- Take the left corner and wrap it across the arms and chest, keeping arms to the chest, to the opposite shoulder, tuck behind.
- Bring the bottom corner up to the same shoulder, securing the legs and feet without forcing them into a straight position.
- With the remaining corner, wrap it across the front of baby and tuck the corner underneath. You will need to roll baby slightly to their side to achieve this.
Each time that you tuck a corner, it should feel snug and secure without being overly tight. A too tight wrap may constrict movement, respiration, and circulation. A too loose wrap may allow baby to break free causing them to wake and put themselves at risk of suffocation with loose fabric around their face.
Learning how to swaddle a newborn can be a wonderful tool to help soothe newborns. Be mindful of the considerations and practice on a stuffed animal or doll to get the hang of it. There are many wonderful youtube videos with step-by-step instructions. And also know that just like grown-ups, babies have their preferences too. Not all babies enjoy being swaddled. Some prefer an arm free. Listen to your baby and your own instincts, as always in parenting.
By: Erin Pasquet
Birth and Postpartum Doula
Certified Lactation Counselor
Pre/Post Natal Yoga Teacher