How to Swaddle your Baby
Until I started researching swaddling, I didn’t realize how much of a debate there was over the subject. As I researched and read, I discovered, though, that many of the fears can easily be taken care of with a little education and common sense, and proper wrapping techniques, as we will explore below.
What is Swaddling and what does it do?
Swaddling is the art of snugly wrapping babies in a blanket. We’ve all seen the cute “baby burritos” and wondered just how they do that. We’ll look at proper wrapping techniques in a moment, but first the reason behind the baby burrito.
Swaddling has been done for centuries, perhaps millennia. You may have heard stories of Mary, mother of Jesus, wrapping him in “swaddling clothes”. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of Indian babies wrapped and carried in papooses.
The world outside the womb is noisy and bright, and encourages free-moving arms and legs that can be a distraction to comfortable sleep. Swaddling provides warmth and security for a baby only just introduced to this new world. Particularly in the case of a newborn baby, swaddling can help soothe a fussy baby when all other efforts appear to fail.
Swaddling can be done immediately after birth. Often the delivery nurses will present your baby to you swaddled. Once the baby is a month old and becomes more active, swaddling should be done only when sleeping.
Importance of proper swaddling technique and infant care
It is important not to rely on swaddling to always soothe your baby without considering other care needs first. If your baby has been fed and changed and just simply won’t settle even though all his more immediate needs have been met, swaddling may do the trick.
Remember that babies cry for a reason. While a crying baby may be annoying or “impose” on an otherwise blissfully quiet day, there is a purpose for the crying. Take crying from your baby as a sign that they need something. Swaddling should not be used as a strategy to “shut down” your baby or to keep him from bothering you at an inconvenient time.
One of the most important things for a mother (and father) to learn is the different types of crying a baby uses. A baby will cry if he’s hungry, tired, wet, cold, angry, if the lights are too bright, or a sound is too loud (frightened) or just overall cranky. Your job as a parent is to learn these cues and respond to your baby’s needs–not just keep him quiet.
If, after swaddling, your baby’s brow is still furrowed and his fists are still clenched then there is something else the baby needs.
There are concerns that “[n]ewborns who are routinely swaddled have been found to feed less frequently, suckle less effectively, and have greater weight loss than those left unswaddled …” (Fauntleroy) Babies who are swaddled wake less frequently and fall asleep more quickly during feeding. Newborns need to eat between 8 and 12 times within a 24-hour period to keep from becoming dehydrated. Demand feeding only starts once the baby has reached 2 weeks of age, when movement of the hands and feet become part of the baby’s waking process to feed. It is during this first two weeks of age when babies lose and then hopefully gain back their birth weight. “[B]reastfed babies often lost as much as 10 percent of their birth weight in the first week when they were swaddled.” (Fauntleroy)
Don’t use swaddling as your only method of keeping your baby warm. Skin-to-skin contact with mother is the best way to regulate an infant’s temperature. Bundled babies may miss out on the physical warmth and comfort their mother’s body provides plus through skin-to-skin contact. A mother helps her baby regulate and learn comfortable levels of temperature, heart rate, breathing, and hormone levels. Skin-to-skin contact helps develop and solidify a certain synchronicity between mother and baby, which is both healthy and helpful.
It is also imperative that a baby be wrapped snugly, not tightly. The swaddle should not completely prevent your baby from moving. While wiggling and flexing and extending arms and legs and fingers may seem pointless, your baby is actually developing their muscle control and nervous system. Movement is important to allow blood to flow freely to all extremities. Some suggest that swaddling your baby’s hands at his mouth is better than by the side because this is the natural position the baby holds in the womb and it allows the baby to self-soothe.
Hip dysplasia is a concern where swaddling holds the baby’s legs straight. Hip dysplasia can lead to premature degenerative joint disease and chronic pain later on in life, including early arthritis of the hip. (Fauntleroy) That is why it is essential to make sure your baby has room to move his legs.
While the risk of SIDS decreases when swaddled babies are placed on their back, a swaddled baby should not be put on his stomach. “[A]n Australian case-control study found that among babies laid face down, those who were swaddled were at greater risk of SIDS than those (also face down) who were left un-swaddled.” (Fauntleroy) It is important to note that, by about three months of age, many swaddled babies are able to turn themselves over onto their stomach, increasing the risk again.
There are risks of increased rates of pneumonia and upper respiratory infections in swaddled babies, suspected because the swaddling is too tight around the chest, restricting expansion of the lungs.
6 Tips for proper swaddling
To address the above concerns, follow these 6 tips for proper swaddling:
1) Make sure your blanket is big enough. Receiving blankets are not big enough, and the blankets you might receive from the hospital will only last a week or two until baby starts to outgrow them.
2) The swaddle should be snug, not tight. As the baby grows, the swaddle folds need to be adjusted to baby’s growing body.
3) When you fold your baby’s arms to his body (to the side) make sure that the elbows are slightly bent and not straight.
4) Leave sufficient room in the “foot” of the swaddle for your baby to kick and move his legs. Too much freedom can make a baby feel insecure, but babies still need the feeling of resistance from kicking against something. This will also allow babies to be roused by their body movements when they’re hungry.
5) If you use the folding of the corner technique, use a smaller corner fold as the baby grows to ensure that the wrap around their neck is too tight.
6) Do not use fleece, wool or other knitted blankets for your swaddle. These materials are too thick and may cause overheating. A light cotton or flannel, or other breathing material is good.
Check out this BabyCenter.com link to view a good, instructional video on how to properly swaddle your baby.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
“The Question of Routine Swaddling” Fauntleroy, Gussie. Web. Apr 7, 2012.
Swaddling your baby. BabyCenter. Web. Apr 7, 2012.
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