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Swaddling tips & tricks

January 22, 2021 • read

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Swaddling tips & tricks

Never underestimate the power of the swaddle. Most newborns will nod off just about anywhere, so it’s usually pretty easy to get them to sleep. But thanks to something known as the startle reflex, keeping them asleep is another story. Learning a swaddling technique or two can help but the topic has become controversial in the last few years. Read on for the pros and cons of swaddling a baby, how long to do it for and how to know when to stop swaddling your little one.

Why swaddle?

The main benefit of swaddling a newborn is to increase the length of time that they’ll sleep for. So if you’re wondering “should I swaddle my newborn at night?” the answer might be yes. As mentioned, newborns have a startle reflex called the “Moro reflex,” which scientists think might be left over from when our ancestors lived in trees and babies slept clinging to their mothers. This reflex causes babies to throw their arms out and a loud noise or sudden touch can set it off. So can lowering your baby into their bassinet, which is why it can really mess with their sleep.

Swaddling a baby keeps their arms close to their body and makes the Moro reflex less likely to wake them up. It might also help them to feel secure like when they were snug and cozy in the womb. Whatever the reason, swaddling seems to work well with some babies. Not all babies love the swaddle though. For those that seem to hate it, some parents report it’s worth it to figure out how to swaddle a baby with their arms out. This way, they benefit from the comfort of being wrapped up without having their arms restricted. Others find that swaddling isn’t for their little one at all, and that’s ok too. There’s no need to swaddle your child if they’re not into it.

Is swaddling safe?

The practice of swaddling is controversial in Canada. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) states that there is no safe way to swaddle a baby and several provincial health services disavow swaddling a baby for sleeping — instead stating that it should be done to calm them before sleep. If you do choose to swaddle your baby, make sure that the swaddle doesn’t cover their head or neck. Babies should also be dressed in light clothing as hyperthermia (overheating) is a real concern. The swaddle should also be loose enough around the baby’s legs and hips that they have no trouble bending, stretching or moving their legs a little as hip dysplasia is also a risk of swaddling. One of the major concerns, however, begins the minute your little one starts trying to roll — at around two months. A swaddled baby who rolls over can’t roll themselves back, potentially putting them at risk of suffocation. So as much as you might not want to give it up, developing swaddling techniques for an older baby is a bad idea. 

A good alternative to swaddling is a sleep sack or wearable blanket. There are also a number of transitional swaddle products on the market. These adapt as your baby grows to help acclimatize them to sleeping with a less restrictive swaddle wrap gradually. They’re also great if you’re unsure whether your baby prefers being swaddled with arms up or down — some babies prefer to suck on their hands for instance.

How to swaddle a baby step by step

Believe it or not, you don’t need a manual to figure out how to use swaddle blankets. To start, lay your blanket out in a diamond shape and fold it in half so you end up with an upside down triangle. Lie your baby on the blanket with their feet at the bottom point of the triangle. Make sure their head is off the blanket, but that their shoulders are on the blanket and their arms are down by their sides. Bring the right side of the blanket all the way across the baby and tuck it under their right arm. Then fold the bottom of the blanket up over your baby’s feet. Finally, fold the left side of the blanket across the baby’s chest and tuck the end of it underneath your baby. Make sure that the baby’s head and neck are free of the blanket and that the swaddle is snug but not tight.

If you’re having trouble getting your swaddling technique down, a swaddle wrap is a nice, less complicated alternative. And they usually involve velcro so they’re less likely to come undone, which is a great bonus. As with a swaddle blanket, make sure the swaddle wrap isn’t covering your baby’s airway and your baby isn’t starting to roll yet.

As long as you know when to stop, swaddling your baby may be a great way to help them sleep longer. If you’re having trouble getting your swaddle technique down, there are a number of instructional videos out there. And you can always use a specialized swaddle wrap if all that folding is too much to handle. Now if only there was a product you could buy to get them to sleep through the night.

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