Chances are if you are expecting or if you are a new parent, you have probably received a lot of advice on how to get your baby to sleep better. From white noise to strategic feeding and diaper changes, it can seem like there are as many tips as dirty diapers.
Luckily, there is one sleeping tip you may have heard about that can be a game changer to help your little one rest more peacefully. Swaddling not only helps your baby sleep better but it can also improve their health.
What is swaddling?
Swaddling is an age-old technique of putting your infant to bed by wrapping him snugly in a lightweight blanket to help him feel safe and secure.
Typically, you use a lightweight cotton or muslin blanket or an adjustable swaddle sleep sack to prevent his arms from moving too much while leaving room for the legs to bend. This mimics the womb by placing a slight pressure on his body, helping him feel safe and less disturbed by his startle reflex.
Swaddling can help baby sleep better! You may have noticed when your newborn is sleeping his body will jerk slightly. This is his Moro reflex or his startle-reflex. It’s perfectly normal and a sign of a developing nervous system. Essentially, it happens because your baby is still getting used to the outside world and the external stimulation can be a bit overwhelming. When he’s sleeping, he may hear a loud noise or feel a sudden touch which creates a sensation of free-falling. The startle reflex typically begins when they are first born and can last until they are about four months.
Swaddling is the easiest way to calm your baby’s reactions by helping him feel safe and secure, as though he is back in the womb. The soothing pressure of the blanket mirrors the pressure he felt in the womb and can encourage him to fall asleep.
It is essential to keep your baby on his back, as sleeping on the side or the stomach may lead to SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
When Should You Swaddle?
Most people swaddle their babies during the newborn stage and start to shift it out of the bedtime routine when they turn three or four months old. Many babies will stop having the startle reflex when they are around five or six months old.
You can swaddle your newborn anytime you put them down in the crib, whether it’s for a nap or for the night. Though you should make sure whenever you put your baby down to sleep he is on his back. It might be helpful only to swaddle your baby at night to promote longer sleeping cycles.
DO make sure you use a proper swaddling technique. Aden + Anais have a great “How to Swaddle” video with a step by step guide that you can follow.
DO place your baby on his back and follow the “Safe to Sleep” guidelines. Make sure he can’t roll over while swaddled.
DO keep his legs loose. Babies swaddled too tightly in the hip and leg area can develop issues with their hips that may even lead to hip dysplasia. Make sure his hips and legs can move and bend to promote hip-healthy swaddling.
DO leave enough room between the chest and blanket. Leaving the space of two fingers between baby’s chest and the blanket ensures he will have enough room to breathe.
DO use a light sheet. Using a light blanket will prevent your baby from getting overheated while being swaddled, allowing him to rest comfortably.
DO consider a sleep or swaddle sack. A sleep or swaddle sack are often adjustable and can make it easy to leave room for the chest and hips. Some of them even have zippers at the bottom to make diaper changes a breeze!
DON’T swaddle too tightly around the hips, legs, or chest. Wrapping too tightly can create discomfort and health issues.
DON’T swaddle too loosely. If the blanket comes undone, it can become a hazard that may prevent your baby from breathing properly.
DON’T place a swaddled baby on his stomach or side. Both sleeping positions are known risks for SIDS.
DON’T swaddle when your baby rolls over. If your baby is strong enough to roll over, he may end up falling asleep on his stomach, increasing his risk of SIDS. The safest sleep position is on his back!
DON’T use a heavy blanket. Overheating can also create a higher risk for SIDS. If you notice your baby is warm to the touch, has flushed cheeks or a rapid heartbeat, cool your baby down as quickly as possible.
If you have any questions, ask your pediatrician about the safest way to swaddle your baby.