Your baby has spent the last nine months in a cozy, warm, and secure watery world. Now, he suddenly finds himself in the real world – where it’s cold and filled with bright lights, loud noises, and weird smells. This “alien” world can be alarming and even scary to a newborn baby. That’s why mothers have swaddled their babies for thousands of years.
Swaddling – which is the act of snugly wrapping a newborn in a blanket – is comforting and soothing to babies. It helps calm cranky babies, and it mimics the tightness and security of the womb. Another reason that mothers swaddle their babies is practical. Swaddling keeps the new baby warm in the first few days after birth. Since newborns can’t regulate their body temperature yet, swaddling is one of the best ways to keep them toasty and comfy in this new world. Swaddling a baby on his back also decreases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
In the United States, you won’t leave the hospital or birthing center without a lesson on swaddling. You should not leave the hospital until you learn how to properly and correctly swaddle your baby.
Warning: Do Not Swaddle a Baby Too Tightly
Swaddling too tightly can cause developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) – their hip joint becomes dislocated, instable, or loose. If caught early, DDH can be corrected. When DDH is not corrected, it can lead to joint problems and chronic pain for the child later down the road.
To prevent developmental dysplasia of the hip, parents need to swaddle correctly. Don’t swaddle the legs too snugly. When you wrap your baby’s legs too tightly, this can loosen the hip joints and damage the soft cartilage in the sockets of the hip. This can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia.
The key to correct swaddling is to leave plenty of room for your baby’s legs to move around. Your baby needs enough room to bend his legs.
How Long to Swaddle Baby?
When your baby reaches one month of age, it’s a good idea to stop swaddling him when he’s awake, since swaddling can potentially interfere with his mobility and development. You’ll probably want to continue swaddling your baby during naps and sleeping periods, since he’ll most likely sleep more peacefully this way. When your baby no longer wants to be swaddled, he’ll let you know by crying or kicking his legs.
Many experts recommend that you stop swaddling your baby by the time he is three or four months old. By this time, your child is already used to life outside the womb and no longer needs to be constricted. Plus, it’s very important to give babies (over four months old) to have the freedom to move during the nighttime hours. Nighttime movement for these older babies helps improve their gross motor development – which they are going to need as they learn how to crawl, stand, and walk.
How to Swaddle a Baby
1.Lay out a thin, large blanket on a flat surface. This can be on the floor or on your bed. Your blanket should be specific to the season and weather outside – which means not too cold, and not too hot. Many parents use receiving blankets for swaddling.
2.Slightly fold down one corner. This is where you will be laying down your baby. The corner can be flipped inwards, or flipped outward. It’s your preference.
3.Lay your baby down on his back on the flipped corner. His head should be centered on the corner, and the top of the fabric should be at the level of his shoulders.
4.Pick up one corner of the blanket (either the right or left corner – not the bottom) and pull it snugly across your baby’s chest. Tuck the blanket under his body.
5.Fold the bottom edge of the blanket up. Make sure that you leave enough room to allow his feet to move freely. You do not want to constrict the legs, since this can lead to hip dysplasia. You also don’t want to swaddle too tightly, because it can increase the risk of your baby developing a respiratory infection or getting overheated.
6.Lift up the remaining corner of the blanket and bring it across your baby’s chest. Tuck the fabric underneath your infant’s body, so that only his head and neck aren’t covered. You can wrap the fabric loosely or tightly, depending on the type of swaddle that you want.
7.Place your swaddled baby to sleep on his back. (Placing your baby to sleep on his stomach increases the risk of SIDS).
Not All Babies Enjoy Swaddling
A majority of babies love being swaddled, but some babies don’t.
If you find that your infant squirms and cries when you’re swaddling him, this can mean that he wants his legs and arms free. Before giving up on swaddling all together, you might want to wrap your baby in a loose blanket and see if he likes it better. You can also leave his arms out of the blanket, and this may better for this individual baby.
Another word of advice – do not swaddle your baby in a room that’s too warm. Overheating can increase the risk of SIDS. Your baby’s room should always be a comfortable temperature. Again, not too cold and not too warm.