Baby cereal and baby-led weaning, vaccinate or not, crib vs. family bed, there is another controversy surrounding parenthood – swaddling! To swaddle or not to swaddle? What are the pros and cons of swaddling? Is swaddling safe?
Here is what you should consider when you’re trying to decide whether you should swaddle your baby or not:
Benefits of swaddling
Babies can’t regulate their temperature very well, so swaddling helps keep them warm.
Proponents of swaddling conclude that babies are calmer and fuss less when swaddled. When you wrap a newborn snug in a blanket, you’re sort of recreating the feeling of being back in the womb which can help infants relax as they adjust to the new world around them. Hence, they may cry less.
Overall, swaddling has been shown to be a beneficial tool in promoting infant sleep. Keeping baby’s arms tucked in inhibits the Moro reflex (AKA the startle reflex) that babies are naturally born with.
The Moro reflex makes babies reach up and outward suddenly in a reaction to a loud noise or a quick movement, or sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Their flailing arms upset them and wake them up from an otherwise peaceful sleep, often causing them to cry.
But something so seemingly innocent that has been done for literally centuries has come under scrutiny in the past few years.
Risks of swaddling
There are a few concerns associated with swaddling that all parents should be aware of. But between you and me, don’t expect to get this kind of information from your pediatrician.
According to this paper that was published recently in the Academic Journal of Pediatrics and Neonatology, less than half of pediatricians educate parents of newborns about the pros and cons of swaddling. The study further points out that over half of the surveyed pediatricians were NOT educated about swaddling at any point of their training or career which kind of explains the previous sentence.
In case your pediatrician is keeping mute on the topic of swaddle-related risks, this is what you should be aware of if you’re swaddling or planning to swaddle your baby:
— Swaddling can increase the risk of hip problems and dislocation
In utero, baby’s legs are bent and crossed and can move freely. In addition, the bones and joints of babies are intentionally loosened at birth by maternal hormones. Given how tight the birth canal is, soft bones are one of nature’s ways to ease the childbirth process for both the mom and the baby.
When infants are swaddled, their legs can be forced into an unnatural position which can loosen hip joints, force the hips out of sockets, and damage the soft cartilage of the socket.
— Swaddling can increase the risk of suffocation
Improper swaddling techniques can lead to suffocation.
Swaddled infants can get stuck in an airway-restricted position if they happen to roll over.
Technically, rolling over is made much more difficult in a swaddle. But if it happens, a swaddled baby won’t be able to use his limbs to wiggle himself out of a situation that restricts breathing and may get stuck in a face down position, making breathing difficult or impossible.
— Swaddling too loose or too tight
Swaddling your baby too loose with a large blanket can lead to suffocation.
When you swaddle your baby too tight, you’re risking cutting off your baby’s circulation.
Another risk of tight swaddling is compressing the chest wall which can impede breathing. When babies are swaddled too tight and aren’t able to take full breaths, they can be more prone to respiratory problems and prolonged healing.
— Swaddled babies can become overheated
Another risk of swaddling is that when babies are swaddled with both arms and legs inside the swaddle, they may be unable to cool themselves off when needed.
Overheating can cause abnormal breathing which happens to be one of many factors associated with SIDS.
— Swaddling can lead to too much deep sleep
The main benefit of swaddling is that babies tend to sleep longer and better when swaddled. Hooray, right?
But here’s the thing: it may not necessarily be in the best interest of babies.
First of all, longer sleep can interfere with the initiation of breastfeeding and with frequent feedings that are crucial early on.
Breastfeeding is a very natural process that is made possible not only by basic human physiology but also thanks to the innate connection that a mom and baby have. Nursing isn’t just an automated body response of a female to having given birth. It’s a process that’s fully synced with mom’s capabilities and baby’s needs that’s largely based on two simple things: supply and demand.
When a newborn is purposefully made to sleep for longer times, it can result in reduced milk supply which can lead to slow weight gain, premature formula supplementation, and an increased risk of dehydration.
Some women seem to have a harder time maintaining breastfeeding if this delicate balance is disrupted early on, so if you’re breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed your baby, this is something to keep in mind.
In addition, even though infants frequently startle themselves awake which often causes them to cry (hence the use of a swaddle), it is possible that this may be a natural protective mechanism that shouldn’t be suppressed. #MotherNatureKnowsBest?
— Lack of movement in a swaddle
No matter how gentle, swaddling is a form of restraint.
Swaddled babies can’t freely wiggle or feel with their fingers and toes which are all part of a healthy developmental process. (Though you do have the option to swaddle your baby with his arms out.)
If you swaddle your baby with arms in, you’re also more likely to miss early feeding cues.
There you have it.
These are the pros and cons of swaddling.
It’s up to you to weigh the benefits and risks of swaddling and make an informed decision.
Leaning towards swaddling? Don’t skip the DOs and DON’Ts of SAFE swaddling!