Why Do Babies Like Swaddling?
Swaddling causes a divide amongst the parenting community. Most people agree that babies like to be swaddled, but their is an increased risk of SIDS in swaddled infants, which can stop many parents from swaddling their baby. But what is swaddling and why do babies like swaddling in the first place?
What is swaddling?
Swaddling is the art of wrapping your baby to help them to feel cozy and snug. It can be done using a sheet, a blanket or a specially made swaddling garment. There are different techniques for how to swaddle, but essentially they all involve wrapping a sheet closely to your baby’s body, and restricting the movement of their arms to reduce the effect of their Moro (startle) reflex.
Why do babies like swaddling?
This is actually a really easy question to answer. When a baby is born, it has been housed in its mother’s womb for 9 months where it has been growing from a microscopic handful of cells, into your beautiful bouncing bundle of joy. So what would being in the womb feel like? It’s lovely and warm (a perfect 37°C), and by the time your baby is born, things are getting pretty tight in there.
The shock of entering life in the real world can be daunting to your baby, and it can be comforting for him or her to be reminded of their time in the womb. By swaddling your baby, they are given that sense of being held tightly, much like when they were squashed in the womb right before being born. Swaddling also tends to warm your baby since all of their limbs are held close to their body and retains the body heat from being wrapped up. Please read my important safety swaddling notes below as it can be a hazard to your baby if they overheat.
Do all babies like to be swaddled?
Most newborn babies like to be swaddled, but they can outgrow it at different ages. Some babies do not seem to like swaddling after the first couple of weeks, whereas others continue to benefit from being swaddled at 6, 7 or 8 months of age.
What are the benefits of swaddling?
If you’ve ever watched a newborn baby sleep for more than about half an hour, you may have noticed that they don’t actually sleep all that soundly at all. Whoever put together the phrase “sleeping like a baby” to mean sleeping peacefully, has obviously never watched a baby sleep!
Babies are born with the Moro startle reflex which means that when they are startled or feel like they are falling, their arms will jerk and wave around. It is thought that this happens so that if a baby were to start to fall then the reflex may help the baby to grab hold of its mother, or would alert its mother to their falling.
Unfortunately, this reflex also has a habit of causing your baby to wake up. A sudden but small movement, or loud noise can cause those little arms to go flailing, and often results in the baby crying and waking up.
By swaddling your baby’s arms, you are preventing them from flying around when startled, and therefore they are less likely to wake themselves up. This often results in longer stretches of undisturbed sleep for both you and your baby. And therein lies the ultimate benefit of swaddling 🙂 On top of that, you may also find that swaddling can help to comfort your baby when they are crying, since it provides a feeling of security.
What are the risks of swaddling?
The reason that the parenting community is divided is because it’s thought that swaddling increases the risks of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).There is still much research needed to fully understand why SIDS occurs, however, logically you can see that some of the risk factors associated with SIDS are amplified by swaddling. I’ve tried to summarise these risks below, but I urge you to do your own further research into the subject before deciding whether or not to swaddle your baby.
- Temperature – babies who are overdressed or in rooms which are overheated are more at risk of SIDS. Swaddling warms the baby considerably because of the tight wrapping, and so this can be a risk factor.
- Front sleeping – babies who sleep on their front are at higher risk of SIDS. Swaddled babies may inadvertently roll onto their tummies and be unable to roll back because of the swaddle.
- Deep sleep – babies who fall into deeper sleep are more at risk of SIDS. Swaddling helps a baby feel more secure and fall into deeper sleep since their Moro reflex is restricted.
Further to the SIDS risks, you also should be aware that their is also a risk of strangulation and suffocation from swaddling. If your baby loosens the swaddle cloth enough, it can become wrapped around their neck, or cover their face. This risk exists for any type of blanket use with babies though.
After reading the above and doing some further research, you may decide that you still wish to swaddle your baby. Here are some recommended safety tips to make swaddling as safe as possible for your child.
- Dress your baby lightly under their swaddle since they are more at risk of overheating.
- Do not put a hat on a swaddled baby, since if your baby overheats they will regulate their temperature through the top of their head. Wearing a hat would stop this from happening.
- Always lay your baby on their back when swaddled.
- Stop swaddling your baby once they can roll.
- Do not tightly wrap their legs in the swaddle as this can contribute to hip dysplasia if the legs are not allowed to freely move.
An introduction to swaddling products
Whilst it’s possible to swaddle your baby in a simple flat sheet, blanket or muslin, over recent years a number of garments have been created. These garments make swaddling easier for the parents and also safer for the baby since they are more securely wrapped and less likely to have unravelling.
These Gro Company swaddle blankets are thin blankets designed into a special shape ideal for swaddling. They are usually made of cotton and the same thickness as a sleepsuit, these are good for use during winter. You can also just use a thin flannel receiving blanket or cellular blanket, with a corner folded down, but be extra careful to ensure your baby doesn’t overheat when swaddling using a blanket.
Specifically designed for swaddling very young babies, these products very securely swaddle your baby and take away all the guesswork from the parents. The Summer Infant SwaddleMe comes in two different sizes, and they have really secure velcro fastenings on them to hold your baby all snug in the wrap. Just a word of caution – your baby will probably grow out of these very quickly, and it’s important to stop using them once your baby cannot move their legs freely inside to avoid hip dysplasia developing.
These are basically just extra large muslins and are great for swaddling your baby in summer since they are so lightweight. You will need to hone your wrapping technique to ensure your baby is secured in these as they do not have any fasteners to hold the swaddle in place. The great thing about these is that once you are no longer swaddling your baby, you can use them as a regular muslin or sheet for your baby’s needs. My favourites are by Aden & Anais as they are HUGE and super soft.
As long as swaddling is done safely, I believe it to be a great way to help your baby feel comforted and to help your whole family to get a little bit more sleep in those early newborn days.
My second child is now 9 weeks old and I’ve swaddled both of my boys after weighing up the risks and benefits. We’ve used a number of different swaddle products, and I’ll be writing a review of them in the next couple of weeks.
Has swaddling helped your baby to sleep better? At what age did you stop swaddling your baby? Did you use a fancy swaddling product or just a simple blanket or muslin? I would love to hear about your experience of swaddling and if you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below!