What Should I Know About Swaddling?

Margo Upson

Swaddling is an ancient practice of wrapping young babies in blankets or swaddling cloths. It helps to comfort an infant, and usually allows them to sleep longer. Being wrapped securely makes a baby feel safer.

Many babies are comforted by being swaddled.
Many babies are comforted by being swaddled.

This form of wrapping has always been common in European and Asian cultures. It has recently found a renewal in popularity in the United States. Attachment parenting movements, along with concerns about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), has lead to an increased awareness of the benefits of swaddling. There are several brands of blankets available, as well as specially designed “pocket” blankets with Velcro tabs on the sides to make wrapping babies easier.

A swaddled baby tends to sleep longer.
A swaddled baby tends to sleep longer.

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Before a baby is born, it is held in its mother’s womb. The space is cramped, cozy, and warm. The baby is then born into a cold world where it is able to flail its limbs about wildly. This can be a very scary experience for a new infant. Swaddling can recreate the experience of the womb by securing an infant’s arms and legs close to its body. Blankets also help to keep an infant warm, locking in body heat.

Swaddling has many benefits. It can help an infant keep an even body temperature. Young babies don’t yet have a way of moderating this themselves. A swaddled baby sleeps longer, as they are prevented from startling and waking themselves up. Wrapping can be a great way to soothe a fussy baby, because it makes babies feel safe and secure. It also keeps a baby from accidentally scratching himself with his fingernails.

Keeping a child wrapped in this way can also reduce the risk of SIDS. Infants should not be put to bed with any soft bedding. This is because the infant could turn into the bedding or accidentally pull a blanket over its face and suffocate. Swaddling helps to prevent this. A swaddled infant is still kept warm, but cannot pull the blanket over its face.

There are some risks associated with swaddling. The first is hip dysplasia, due to the tightness of the cloth around the baby’s legs. By not keeping an infant swaddled for long, only doing it for an hour or so at a time, this risk can be almost entirely negated. Another option is to swaddle the arms snuggly, but to leave the legs loose. The risk of overheating can be slightly higher for a swaddled infant. If swaddling a baby, keep in mind the temperature of the environment, and choose a blanket accordingly. There are lots of lightweight cloth options.

Some babies need to adjust to the idea of swaddling. It may also take a couple tries for new parents, or new caregivers, to figure out how to correctly swaddle an infant. Most infants outgrow this type of wrapping by four months of age, some a lot sooner. By the time a child is starting to learn how to roll over, even by accident, swaddling should be ceased. Some children figure out quickly how to work their arms out of even the most secure swaddle. For these children, the possible time frame can be incredibly brief.

The risks associated with swaddling a baby are minimal, if caregivers are careful to check for overheating and loosely wrap the legs. It can work well for soothing infants suffering from colic, or just having a fussy period. Most importantly, wrapping an infant in this way may provide a way to achieve that longed for dream of new parenthood: sleep.

Swaddling can help treat a baby with colic.
Swaddling can help treat a baby with colic.

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