I’ve just spent a week with a newborn and his new parents and I have been reminded how important it is to learn (early on) how to swaddle and to have the right swaddling blanket. It can be such a relief to have a happily swaddled baby and it’s so simple. But it takes a little practice and questions often come up so here’s some help getting started:
Why do it?
Since the AAP recommends we put babies to sleep on their backs we have babies who startle themselves awake frequently with arms and legs that fling up easily, even during sleep. When babies slept on tummies, their arms and legs were tucked beneath and to the side of them which helped them settle into sleep. Swaddling also mimics the close quarters of the womb which can be soothing to a new baby who can be over-stimulated out in the wild, breezy, world.
When to do it?
Any time really but here’s a one cool approach I’ve adapted from Penelope Leach: let the baby sleep without a swaddle (or a loose swaddle) during the day and then swaddle up at night so the baby starts to sleep longer stretches at night. Babies sleep cycles are about 40-45 minutes long. This means that every 40-45 minutes or so a baby rises up to light sleep with more potential for waking up. If the baby is tightly swaddled he or she will be more likely to go back down into deep sleep after a wakeful period than to actually wake up. So if you don’t swaddle during the day your day might be filled with nursing, sleeping for 40-45 minutes (or more, who knows) and then a little active awake time. At night you may get more like 3 hour chunks of sleep.
Also, you can do it throughout the newborn period and then as long as you want before the baby is too big and doesn’t need it any more.
How to do it?
(Below are three videos showing three different kinds of swaddling.)
Arms down to the side.
Don’t be afraid to be firm– not too firm, but most new parents can use a feather light touch when swaddling and it’s not enough to get the job properly done and the baby will kick off the blanket and then you start again and there’s more opportunity for the baby to get agitated. The baby will likely appreciate being confidently wrapped
Really tuck the blanket under the baby when you wrap her up.
What kind of blanket?
Use lightweight cotton blankets (put on more clothes underneath the swaddling blanket when it’s a colder season, and very few to no clothes during the very hot summer). Here are three examples I like but there are many!! The idea is about 40 x 40 and lightweight cotton or muslin. Avoid fleece or synthetic ones.
The Hudson Baby Blanket is a great deal and it’s 40 x 40 and organic.
The Under The Nile Organic Swaddle Blanket is 35 x 35 and great for a newborn.
These gorgeous Aden and Anais muslin cloths are great for the summer and come in larger sizes.
You can also buy a pre-shaped velcro swaddler but I don’t know as much about those– chime in if you have recommendations. I think it can be helpful to new parents to have options and skills with just regular old blankets– partly because you can adjust your blanket for a growing baby.
My baby hates swaddling, what do do???
Sometimes babies need to be swaddled to help them shut down and fall asleep. This means you’ve put your baby down right when he’s tired and you’re fussing with a blanket and he’s basically like Dude, pick me up again. So he cries or fusses. Know that you will pick him up. Make sure his diaper is on properly and not wet or full. Once you swaddle pick him up and try holding him straight across your body– so he’s horizontal. And sway gently back and forth. This swaying can soothe him if he’s crying. The combination of swaddle, sway and saying “shhhhhhh” and maybe gently patting him on the back as you sway is further mimicking the conditions of the womb and might make the little guy feel like the world is familiar again which will stop the crying. Remember the goal here is to help him fall asleep and regulate. It can take some fuss to get there but it should be fairly minimal once you get the hang of it. If the baby totally hates it and never comes around and you’ve tried and tried under all circumstances, then try something else. The only reason so many people teach swaddling is that it tends to work well with newborns who need help settling.
I’m worried about the heat.
Try a very lightweight or muslin cotton swaddle blanket and keep the room as cool as possible (if it’s a sweltering day) and also feel free to just put him in a diaper under the swaddle.
He kicks the swaddle off eventually, is that okay ?
The do tend to become unraveled once the baby is stronger– babies do have strong kicks. It’s fine if the baby wakes up with a loose swaddle. But also check your technique because you may be able to roll the fabric around the baby in an even more snug fashion to keep it in place longer.
Here’s the “Russian Style” of swaddle which I often see in hospitals:
Here’s another technique that can be used with the larger muslin clothes (the fabric is folded into a loose triangle first):
And here are pictures of two kinds of swaddling— in one method you pull the bottom flap up last, in the other you pull the bottom flap up on the second step.
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