Last Updated on October 3, 2022 by Andre
Is Swaddling Safe for my baby? Swaddling has many benefits when done correctly. Swaddling incorrectly increases the risks of SIDS and Hip Dysplasia.
Over recent years there have been debates on the benefits & risks of swaddling your baby.
Such debates, cause many new parents concern and ask themselves is Swaddling Safe?
Together we will cover both sides of the coin so you can make your own decision to swaddle or not as every baby is different.
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It is not intended to replace the advice of your own doctor or specialist.
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With health & safety, it is always important to discuss any changes you make in consultation with your prescribed doctor, especially if you may have other underlining conditions.
Please read my medical disclaimer at the bottom.
Special Important Note:
If you have concerns regarding swaddling please consult your health care provider including the safe practices of swaddling and what to look out for during this precious time with your baby.
Is Swaddling Safe?
Swaddling has its benefits but also has risks and dangers associated with it.
As to the question “Is Swaddling Safe”
The true answer is: It depends on the baby, along with other factors that can and will create serious issues if not taken care of properly.
Every baby is different, some babies love to be swaddled while others can’t stand being wrapped up.
Incorrect swaddling, along with the baby’s surroundings can create many other risks and dangers.
Also, note some of these serious issues can happen to a baby that is not being swaddled as well.
This is where the main problems occur, as many new parents don’t know fully, how or what to look for when swaddling their newborn baby to avoid the risks from happening.
What is Swaddling?
Swaddling is a means of wrapping your baby gently in a light, thin blanket or fabric to help them feel cozy, comfortable, and secure.
The wrap covers the whole body apart from the neck and head.
The idea behind swaddling, (apart from becoming a cute baby burrito) is to help your newborn feel that security and calmness from when they were in the womb to when they came out into this world.
That is why once your newborn arrives into this world, the nurse or midwife would swaddle your baby before bringing your child back to you for their first breastfeeding.
You can think of swaddling as an intro to their new world outside of the womb.
Generally, in old times, some form of a blanket was used, these days there are much better fabric types that are safer and more breathable which I will mention later on.
However, regardless of the type of fabric used, care needs to be taken to ensure you are swaddling correctly.
This is why you need to know not just the benefits, but be aware of the risks involved to avoid any serious issues for your baby.
Do I have to swaddle my baby?
No newborns don’t have to be swaddled. If they are happy to be swaddled that is great if not that is fine as well.
The main thing is not to stress about it, just make sure your baby is happy, comfortable, and safe, regardless if they are swaddled or not.
Two methods of Swaddling.
Generally, there are two ways to swaddle and regardless of which methods you use, ensure that it is firm but not too tight as this can cause serious issues discussed in the cons below.
- The Basic Standard Method
- The Arm(s) out method.
Method 1: The Basic Standard Method
The basic standard method is where arms, body, and legs are covered with a blanket exposing just the neck and head.
This enables your newborn to stay calm and restrict unnecessary movement.
Always note not to overtighten the bodies as this can have issues as a result.
Method 2: The Arms Out Method
Using the arms out method is where you can have either one or both arms out of the swaddle which allows your baby more freedom for movement.
This is useful for those babies that don’t like to be fully swaddled.
When the time comes to stop swaddling your baby this can help in the beginning stages of not swaddling anymore.
The same technique using the above video can be done but with the arms, either one or both left out as you wrap them.
Benefits and Risks of Swaddling Your Baby
Benefits of Swaddling:
Swaddling Helps Mimic the Womb
Once your baby has come out into this world, it presents a shock to its system.
The new world is not as comfy as it was in the womb.
This is where swaddling, can be of great benefit when first starting out, especially in the few two months.
By swaddling your baby you are creating a secure and cozy environment helping them to feel that safety they had before.
This is one of the reasons why swaddling is first done after birth which helps make the transition easier.
Swaddled Newborns Sleep Longer.
Newborns who are swaddled tend to sleep longer and are more relaxed. (Refer to cons as well for this)
As babies are comfortably wrapped up in a swaddle, giving them more security which helps them to be relaxed and calm.
It helps to keep newborns from waking suddenly due to the Moro (or Startle) reflex which is a natural reaction when suddenly disturbed.
Due to this sudden reaction, your baby may throw up their hands and legs thus waking them up early than intended.
Being Swaddled particularly with their arms inside the swaddle helps to avoid such actions thus keeping them calmer. They tend to stay asleep longer.
Swaddling Helps reduce the Moro (or Startle) reflex.
The Moro or startle reflex is natural involuntary response infants develop after birth.
It is also considered a healthy sign, however, some healthy babies may not even have it.
This is generally indicated by the sudden lifting of arms during their sleep along with leg movement.
To them, it is like free falling.
Sudden loud noises or even turning on the light can easily startle your baby.
As a result, many newborns wake up suddenly and may start to cry and be distressed.
Swaddling your baby with their arms tucked inside the swaddle helps to prevent sudden movement of their arms and legs to avoid being startled during sleep.
Generally, this reflex lasts around the 2-4 month mark
Correct Swaddling May Lower Risk of SIDS.
Swaddling and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) may always go well together but this depends on other factors mentioned in the Cons.
The main and only pro to swaddled babies and SIDS is that when a swaddled baby is placed in the supine sleep position (sleeping on their backs) have shown, according to studies by Australian and New Zealand doctors to have a 1/3 less likely chance to die from SIDS.
Always ensure your baby sleeps on their backs regardless if they are swaddled or not.
Sleeping on their back is the safest position and never place them on their sides or stomach (prone sleeping position).
Swaddled babies can’t scratch their faces.
One of the great benefits of swaddling with their arms tucked in is that they are unable to scratch their face.
This is more so in the first few weeks of birth as their fingernails are fine and can be sharp as a result.
Nothing worse than checking on your baby and seeing scratches that weren’t there when you put them to bed.
This is even more beneficial for babies that suffer from eczema.
Swaddling can benefit parents to rest well.
Mothers will know the tiredness they feel caring for their baby.
Swaddling your baby will not only help them to feel calm and secure it results in helping them to sleep a bit longer.
As swaddling helps with the startle reflex for your baby to relax ad sleep better you will find yourself getting that much-needed extra shuteye.
The result of your relaxation takes added stress from you that can help with breastfeeding as a side benefit.
Swaddling can help your newborn to make an ideal temperature.
Such breathable swaddles help to avoid overheating compared to thick blankets that keep the heat in.
Consider your baby’s temperature and environment to prevent overheating. Check their temperature regularly and make sure they are wearing suitable clothes for the weather. Do not swaddle them if they are unwell or have a fever.
Swaddling Helps to Alleviate Colic
Swaddling can help alleviate Colic that is caused by the digestive system that is still in development.
Colic tends to give gas as the body is still trying to digest food.
As a parent, you will know the painful experience and feeling of helplessness in trying to calm a baby with Colic.
Fortunately, swaddling can help to alleviate Colic by soothing the effect as it applies slight pressure on the baby’s belly which helps to give relief.
Risks of Swaddling:
Swaddling is great to help your child rest and relax to sleep well.
However, over-swaddling can prevent your newborn from enjoying some much-needed freedom as well when they are awake.
That is why they do not need to be swaddled all day, it is best to swaddle them when they are being fussy or during sleep time to help calm them down.
Overheating while swaddled
Swaddling can help body temperature to a point as stated above using a piece of breathable fabric, yet what they wear underneath is the main issue of concern.
As the babies are still developing their body functions such as regulating body temperature it is still developing.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they will keep the same temperature when swaddled.
Make sure you dress them lightly when being swaddled.
No need for your baby to wear warm pyjamas as this can quickly cause your baby to overheat while being swaddled at the same time.
It is important to pay attention and monitor your baby while asleep.
Indicators of overheating can be sweating, hair that may feel damp, cheeks that look flushed, and any signs of rapid breathing.
Why Saddling can cause SIDS
Sleeping on their stomach or placing them on their side, increases the risk of SIDS more than 10-fold.
Having a pillow or any other objects in their crib should be avoided as this can cause suffocation should they be able to roll over.
Speaking of rolling over this is when swaddling should already be stopped.
When a baby can roll over by themselves and are swaddled again this increases the risk of SIDS.
The moment you see your baby showing signs of rolling over that is the time to stop swaddling.
Sleeping with a newborn in the same bed also creates a higher chance of SIDS.
Newborns should be placed in their own cot or crib to sleep with nothing inside apart from a flat mattress.
However, the fact is the way you place your baby along with what is surrounding them is the main issue not so much the swaddling.
True a baby that is swaddled and has its arms tucked in may contribute to SIDS if they are able to roll along with other factors.
This needs to be taken into account which are the main reasons for SIDS.
The only true way to help reduce or even prevent SIDS is by placing your baby on their back to sleep.
Tight swaddling Can Cause Hip Dysplasia.
When an infant is swaddled too tightly and their legs are kept together and not able to move freely can cause Hip Dysplasia.
This creates a problem for the infant where it can affect the hip to not grow properly due to an overtighten swaddle.
While in the womb their legs are bent and open.
So when swaddling, ensure there is room for movement of the legs and hips and not kept next to each other with no room for movement.
Always ensure that when swaddling your baby their legs are allowed to have some freedom of movement this will allow the hips to develop properly.
Swaddling While Breastfeeding is Not Recommended
The reason for this is that babies need human skin-to-skin contact when breastfeeding.
This is part of the bonding experience that is being developed between mother and child.
Besides, they should be awake, and not being swaddled during breastfeeding is a great time to feel that freedom and allow the baby to focus on the feed.
Babies generally use their arms and hands to locate the nipple and be able to create a letdown and latch on properly.
If they are swaddled this can easily create further discomfort for the baby initially.
Another factor to be aware of is that when feeding their body temperature increases and the last thing you would want is overheating while trying to breastfeed and being swaddled at the same time.
Remember swaddling should be used for keeping a baby calm and relaxed and to go to sleep when it’s time.
If they are swaddled and then struggle to settle down to feed properly can create more discomfort not just for the baby but also for the mother.
Once your baby is full from the feed and later burped then you can swaddle your baby which will help them to relax more after their feed and this will help them to go back to sleep for a longer period.
Swaddling may cause prolonged sleep
We know that swaddling can help a baby sleep longer but this doesn’t mean you can skip their feed because they are sleeping longer.
A regular pattern during feeding should always remain.
Too long of sleep can easily interfere with breastfeeding which a baby needs regularly.
If a baby sleeps too long between breastfeeds this also disrupts two important factors with breastfeeding.
That is supply and demand the fewer feeds they get (demand) the less supply of milk will be produced by the mother (supply).
Unfortunately, it may not be an easy fix or good feeling waking your baby when they look sound asleep but the simple fact is they need the nourishment.
This is one of the disadvantages of swaddling and allowing them to sleep longer.
So timing although not always as easily said as done, is crucial for both mother and baby.
Important Keys to Know When Swaddling Your Baby
- When your baby is swaddled and about to sleep please ensure your baby is placed on their back only.
- Do not use any pillows or have any other materials around.
- There are no set times to swaddle as each newborn is different however here are the most common times parents would swaddle their baby.
- At night when it is time to sleep can help them sleep longer.
- Quick naps during the day again help to relax and sleep for longer periods giving the mother time to rest more.
- Swaddling can help calm your baby to a quicker and better sleep.
- Swaddling can help to soothe and calm down crying babies other than reasons for hunger, nappy changes or gas Etc.
- Swaddling should be used for sleep only or when they are fussy.
When Should I Stop Swaddling?
According to parents, and other authorities the best time to stop swaddling is when your baby shows signs of being able to roll.
Two months is normally the consensus of when to stop swaddling.
Yet some babies may take longer some have been known to roll earlier some even up to 4 months.
This will all be dependent on your child, but please take note of any rolling action even the slightest movement you may see regardless of the time frame.
If they are starting to show signs of even the slightest movement to their sides it may be time to stop swaddling.
As you have already gathered that each baby is different some may not want to be swaddled at the start.
That does not mean giving up straight away.
Test it out for a week or so as some babies may need time to get used to being swaddled.
When they do you may find they sleep better and longer with more calmness to their nature.
If it does not work after trying, that is fine not to swaddle as that may not be for them.
Swaddling can be very beneficial for both babies and mothers when sleeping,
However, when awake, it is best to unswaddle your baby as they still need their freedom and to be able to develop their growing bodies and movement when awake.
So letting them wave their arms and legs up in the air can be fun, this would be a great time to spend some fun time playing with your baby.
When it is time to sleep, they can become that cute burrito once more as you swaddle them to sleep.
I would love to hear about your experience swaddling your baby and how your baby went.
Let me know in the comments below.