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Snooze Series: 14 Tips for Swaddling Your Baby Correctly and Safely
By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns
Swaddling newborn babies is common worldwide, but there are some key factors that make it safe to use with your baby. It’s important to learn the right ways and times to swaddle, and then to be patient as you learn. In addition, some babies take a week or so to adapt to swaddling, so if your baby resists the first few times it doesn’t mean you should abandon the idea.
At first, swaddle your baby when both you and your newborn are calm and relaxed. Don’t try your first swaddles when your baby is fussing or crying, as likely your initial attempts won’t be quite right. This is something new for both of you, so relax as you learn. Keep these important things in mind as you master your swaddling technique:
1. Swaddle only a full-term, healthy baby.
Don’t swaddle a premature baby or one with special needs, unless your doctor instructs you otherwise. Your special baby might benefit from swaddling, but your medical care professional should approve this and guide you on the specifics for your baby.
2. Begin swaddling well before 3 months of age.
Start swaddling in the first few weeks, since babies swaddled from the start will learn how to sleep comfortably within their swaddled space. After three months of age, a baby is too old to adjust to the restricted sleeping that swaddling creates.
3. Swaddle only when Baby sleeps in the same room as you.
Swaddled babies can sleep deeper and longer, so you want to be sure someone is nearby for monitoring. Ask your doctor how long of a span is safe for your own newborn to sleep without feeding, and yes, wake your baby up for feeding if necessary. Always unswaddle your newborn for feeding, especially if you are breastfeeding, but you can re-swaddle if you wish, as soon as Baby is finished nursing and ready to go back to sleep. And never, ever swaddle your baby if you are bed-sharing.
4. Balance swaddled time with unwrapped time.
Continue plenty of skin-to-skin cuddling in between swaddling times. Allow Baby to stretch out and explore natural limb movement during the narrow windows of alert times that your newborn enjoys.
5. Don’t overuse swaddling – save it for sleep or colicky times only.
A baby who is awake should be free to explore her world with all her senses. If your baby is fussy or crying, your first line of defense should be holding her in your arms or feeding her. During feeding times your baby should have the freedom move her hands and touch you. Reserve swaddling for times when your baby is clearly showing signs of tiredness, or when crying doesn’t stop with other efforts.
6. Use a light, breathable fabric for swaddling.
A wrap that is thick and heavy could overheat your baby, so look for lighter-weight choices. Your baby’s tummy, back, neck, and chest should always feel warm and dry, not sweaty (or cold.) Overheating is a risk factor for SIDS, so making sure your baby is just warm enough is the goal.7. Make sure the fabric of your swaddling blanket cannot become loose.
Loose fabric can be pulled up over your baby’s face or create excess fabric in the bed that your baby can become entangled in. Stick to blankets that are especially made for swaddling newborn babies, and tuck the edges securely.
8. ALWAYS put your swaddled baby down to sleep on his or her back.
NEVER leave a swaddled baby sleeping on the side or stomach. (This goes for an unswaddled baby too, unless your doctor specifically advises otherwise.) Studies show that swaddled babies who are placed on their stomachs are at a high risk of having their breathing impaired and that it may increase the risk of SIDS – so always remember “Back to Sleep.”
9. Leave ample chest-area room for breathing.
There should be space for two or three or your fingers to slide between baby’s chest and the fabric – plenty of room to breathe, cough or sneeze. It should be snug enough so that it doesn’t come loose, but not so tight that it affects circulation or breathing.
10. Keep the swaddle snug around Baby’s arms to prevent unwrapping, but loose around the legs and hips.
Your baby should be able to move his or her legs into the “frog” position – up and out – while swaddled. This allows important mobility for hip development. Swaddling legs and hips too tightly can cause hip dislocation or hip dysplasia (abnormal development of the hip joint.) In the womb your baby’s legs were folded and overlapped, so bent legs are their default position. Binding your newborn’s legs fully straightened can damage the joint and soft cartilage of the hip socket. And furthermore, babies usually prefer this froggy-style position and may get irritated if they can’t pull their legs up comfortably.
11. Consider using a pacifier for naps and bedtime.
Allowing a newborn to fall asleep with a pacifier when he is swaddled has been found to reduce the risk of SIDS. There is no need to replace the pacifier once it falls out of your baby’s mouth, and actually that’s what you want. Ideally a pacifier should be used to help the baby drift off to sleep rather than something to suck on all night long.
12. Don’t put your swaddled baby in a hat.
Immediately after birth your baby might be given a hat to help regulate body temperature. However, after that first day it’s like your baby’s head should be uncovered. There are a few exceptions and your health care provider will tell you if your baby can use a hat during sleep. A hat could add to overheating, or it could slip down and cover your baby’s face. Skip the hat during sleep times unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
13. Don’t put anything else in the crib.
Don’t add extra blankets, bumper pads, crib wedges, stuffed animals, toys, positioners or pillows. Any extra item placed in your baby’s bed could present a safety risk.
14. Keep your baby’s sleeping room smoke-free.
Exposure to second-hand smoke can create breathing issues and is a SIDS risk. Whether swaddled or not, your baby’s sleeping room should always be smoke-free.
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