After weighing the pros and cons of swaddling, you’ve decided to give swaddling a try. Now what?! How to swaddle your baby safely? What are the DOS and DON’TS of swaddling?
This information is based on swaddling babies FOR SLEEP. You should NEVER swaddle your baby during AWAKE time – babies need to be able to move freely and to explore their bodies and the environment around them when awake.
How to swaddle safely?
DOS and DON’TS of swaddling:
#1 Avoid hip problems and prevent hip dislocation
Babies are naturally born with loosened joints and bones – the courtesy of Mother Nature in smoothing the baby’s transition through the birth canal. (She tries!) Improper swaddling techniques can lead to hip dysplasia which can result in lifelong problems.
Never swaddle your baby tightly around the legs or forcefully keep baby’s hips and knees in an extended (straight) position. This is very unnatural for babies and something they would never do on their own.
For a healthy hip development, the legs of a swaddled baby should be able to freely bend up and out at the hips. In other words, your baby should be able to kick around while being swaddled.
There are many swaddles that enable free hip movement, like some of the swaddles shown below:
In general, experts recommend that baby’s legs are allowed to be in a frog-like position (legs apart, hips and knees bent) as much as possible, including when they’re being swaddled. If you’ve ever watched babies and kids, this is a position they’re naturally very comfortable in.
This recommendation extends to baby carriers as well – keep that in mind if you use a baby carrier or are looking to buy one. I’m a huge fan of (hip-friendly) ERGOBABY, so if you’re looking for a baby carrier that’s comfortable for you and safe for babies, read about my experience with Ergobaby and see if it might be right for you, too.
With hip dysplasia in mind, the use of exersaucers, walkers, and jumpers should be limited or avoided because they, too, can damage the soft developing hips. That’s obviously information for later on, but I wanted to mention it.
#2 Suffocation is a real risk with swaddling
Swaddled infants can easily get into a situation that restricts breathing.
Don’t use a loose blanket to swaddle your baby without close supervision. Baby’s hands eventually do break out of the fabric cocoon one day and can bring the blanket over the face.
While you should never leave your swaddled baby completely unsupervised, it’s especially important to keep an eye on things if you’re using a blanket to swaddle.
Never put a swaddled baby to sleep on her front to avoid being stuck in an airway-restricted position, or on her side which can lead to rolling over and the same dangerous scenario. When swaddled babies become trapped in a position that restricts breathing, they can’t use their limbs to naturally try and wiggle themselves out.
Always monitor a swaddled baby. Make sure there are no signs of trouble.
Stop swaddling when your baby shows signs of wanting to roll over (back to front or front to back). All bets are off even with safe swaddling practices when your baby starts to roll over in any direction.
Babies typically start rolling over between 4 and 7 months, but sometimes as early as 2 months. For this reason, it is not recommended to swaddle babies past 2 months of age.
#3 Swaddle not too loose or tight but “just right”
How to make a swaddle just right?
Swaddling your baby too tight can cause a number of problems which I talk about in the pros and cons of swaddling. At the same time, if you’re using a large blanket, you don’t want to wrap your baby too loosely which can be a risk for suffocation.
Wrap your baby snug, but don’t put pressure on baby’s chest. To ensure a swaddle is just right, you’ll need to be able to put just about two fingers between your baby’s chest and the swaddle.
If you’re wrapping your baby with both arms in the swaddle, you have the option to gently (no pressure!) lay arms down along baby’s sides, or swaddle with arms folded across the chest and elbows bent.
#4 Overheating happens
Babies can become overheated when swaddled, but this is something that can be easily avoided.
Do not overdress a swaddled baby and never swaddle in a hot environment.
Use naturally breathable swaddle material like cotton, cotton muslin, or bamboo and dress your swaddled baby accordingly. A thin layer of cotton with socks is typically enough in a comfortable room temperature.
#5 Monitor the amount of time your swaddled baby spends sleeping
The natural instinct to rouse may be diminished in a swaddled baby, so you’ll want to stay on top of things.
Don’t let your newborn sleep in a swaddle for very long stretches of time without feeding, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Newborns typically need to eat every 2-3 hours (give or take, usually more frequently when breastfed), so if your swaddled baby is regularly sleeping for long periods of time, you might need to monitor if she is getting enough milk (gaining weight steadily).
Don’t be afraid to wake a sleeping newborn to nurse. They usually go right back to sleep.
#6 To pick up on hunger cues, leave arms OUT
Technically, the main point of swaddling is to diminish the Moro reflex that causes baby’s arms to flail which scares the babies and makes them cry. But the truth is, babies need access to their hands.
Not only do babies naturally soothe themselves using their hands, they also show us they’re hungry by pulling their little fists close to their mouths or sucking on their fists.
If you want to follow baby’s natural hunger cues, consider leaving the arms out of the swaddle.
Don’t use a swaddle that’s designed to always contain the arms IF you want to have the option to leave arms out.
You can swaddle your baby with both arms out, or one arm out and the other in. Try what seems to work the best for your baby.
There you have it.
These are the DOS and DON’TS of swaddling to follow in order to avoid common swaddling risks and to make swaddling WORK for your baby (and you).
A few more notes in addition to these swaddling DOS and DONT’S:
Unswaddle your baby for feeding. Then, reswaddle for sleeping.
If you have a hunch something’s not right, act on it.
Never swaddle a baby if you’re co-sleeping. Swaddled babies can easily become trapped in an unsafe position in a family bed.
Enjoy the fleeting moments! (No matter how long they might seem right now…)