Swaddling has been a long-standing traditional practice, possibly dating back thousands of years. It is generally done with a blanket, but recently products such as swaddling sleep sacks have come on the market, making it even easier.
Swaddling doesn’t come without its challenges though and it's not something that is right for every baby, so here are some things to consider first.
Swaddling your baby is a way to help them feel safe and comforted now that they are outside the womb. It can also help some babies with sleep by preventing the newborn startle reflex from waking them up.
Is Swaddling Safe?
Swaddling babies was once something we all were told to do, but recent research has found it to actually be quite dangerous on occasion. But swaddling is absolutely safe when done correctly for short periods of time.
You should not keep your baby in a swaddle all day long, and it should be loose around their hips. If you swaddle too tightly around their hips, it can lead to developmental hip dysplasia, which means that the top of the femur (thigh bone) isn’t sitting correctly in their hip joint.
Another risk with swaddling is overheating, which can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). To check if your baby is too warm, place your fingers under their shirt at the base of their neck, between their shoulder blades. If they feel hot and sweaty here, they are definitely too warm. To cool them down, take a layer of clothing off, and try to keep the room between 18 and 22 degrees celsius.
If you're choosing to swaddle your baby, choose a lightweight blanket, keep it away from their face and again, be sure it’s not too snug around the hips.
This comes from the most up-to-date research from Health Canada. They add that you might also want to consider having their hands free, or at least near their face so that they can show you hunger cues, which of course I love and appreciate.
Read more about Safe Sleep from Health Canada.
Blanket - Lightweight blanket that you wrap around your baby. Make sure to keep it away from their face and not too snug around the hips
Swaddling Sleep sack - Pre-wrapped blankets that have velcro, zippers or snaps to keep them in place. This can really help if you find that your baby loves a swaddle, but breaks free from them easily.
When Should You Stop Swaddling?
Generally you should stop swaddling around three months of age or when they start rolling over, whichever comes first.
How Do You Transition Them Out Of The Swaddle?
There are many different ways to transition out of a swaddle.
You can try leaving one or both arms out, continuing to swaddle them around the chest and abdomen.
You can try a transitional swaddle, like the Zipadee-Zip, which lets them move a bit more freely.
There's also the Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit, which actually has a bit of weight to it, and it can help baby manage that startle reflex when being placed on their back, which is often what babies have trouble with when transitioning out of a swaddle.
Lastly, you can try cold turkey, switch to a sleep sack or sleep bag, or just add a layer under their sleeper.
It may take a couple of nights, but you and your baby will adjust and get the hang of it!
Does Swaddling Work For Every Baby?
No, not every baby loves to be swaddled. You may want to try swaddling or you may choose that it’s not for your family. Every baby and family is different, and what works for one baby may not work for another.
When it comes to deciding whether or not you want to swaddle, I want you to have all of the evidence-based information so that you can make an informed decision. Unfortunately there is not a lot of education around swaddling.
If you choose to swaddle, make sure it is done safely, not tight around their hips, and Baby is placed on their back to sleep. Stop swaddling by 3 months of age or when they show signs of starting to roll, whichever comes first.
If you’d like to learn more about my prenatal classes or Bringing Up Baby membership community where we talk about this and more, you can check them out on my website birthbabysleep.ca
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Both Lindsey and Ashley contribute to the blog! Sometimes also with guests and sometimes from conversations with guests :)