To Swaddle Or Not To Swaddle

by | Mar 30, 2017 | Sleep Consultant

To Swaddle Or Not To Swaddle

For a new parent this can be a defining moment. The decision to swaddle or not to swaddle your new baby is something you may have to consider. If you’re the mum of a newborn, chances are you’ve already been told to swaddle your baby, or maybe it was a no-brainer for you. I do love a good newborn swaddle (and there are such gorgeous prints out there) so yes, I do recommend you give swaddling a try. Most newborn babies also love a good swaddle, but what are your options for a houdini baby, and for how long should the swaddling last?

In this blog I’ll discuss the benefits of a swaddle, when to give it up, some options for the next step and how to wean your baby off it when the time’s right, or if it’s become a problem.

THE BENEFITS

Swaddling is a great way to both calm a fussy baby and to help your newborn sleep in the early months.

At such a young age your child isn’t use to so much open space, so being swaddled is comforting as it helps remind your little one of what it was like in the womb. In addition it feels nice. Most babies love the confines of a nice soft blanket. It gives them a sense of warmth, security and helps initiate the calming reflex.

Over and above the calming benefit, the swaddle is also helpful for sleep as it contains the startle reflex of newborns. This startle reflex (also called the “falling” or morro reflex) is when your baby spontaneously throws his or her arms out. A newborn can do this a few times in the process of falling asleep, and when it occurs, it startles him and wakes him up again. When in a swaddle, the tight wrapping helps still your child’s arms, and thus it’s easier to sleep as he’s not constantly ‘startling’ awake. The swaddle thus encourages your little one to sleep longer and more solidly.

There are a numerous ‘how to swaddle your baby’ videos on YouTube. It’s all about finding a technique that suits you best. The most important thing to note is that the arms are wrapped securely while the swaddle is looser from the waist down to allow the legs to splay out.

BUT MY BABY DOESN’T LIKE IT

This one’s pretty simple; if your baby doesn’t like the swaddle, don’t use it. In saying that, It takes humans – no matter the age –  time to get use to changes. Sometimes it will take a few days for your little one to get use to the swaddle, so give it a good few goes before you decide your newborn really doesn’t like it.

These days there are some great alternatives for babies who don’t like the traditional wrapped swaddle but are a bit young for a full arms free sleeping bag.  Jaxs and Co have a lovely Angel sleep sack option called the swaddle to sleeves. This is a two-in one product to give you options dependant on your baby’s preference and it can change with your little one. Alternatively, in summer you may like the Ooh Bubs legs out swaddle.

A WORD OF CAUTION

There are a couple of cautions with swaddling, over and above not wrapping the legs tightly. You’ll want to make sure your baby isn’t too tightly wrapped for too long, and be aware of the season and/or temperature in your baby’s room so they don’t overheat (it counts as an extra layer). Swaddling should be kept for sleep times or if trying to calm an unsettled baby.

There is another caution with swaddling that isn’t always apparent until an older age. For some babies it can become a sleep prop (a sleep prop is anything you think you need in order for sleep to come easily).

As your baby grows, there will likely come a point that your child will start to kick free of the swaddle as he’ll want to get to his hands and suck his fingers (usually around the 3 month mark but this varies with every baby). As he gets older he’ll have more control of his movements and want to explore. So he’ll wriggle his way out of the swaddle for freedom.

This freedom isn’t in itself a bad thing. BUT, if he thinks he needs to be tightly wrapped for sleep to happen, he’ll then cry when he’s out of his swaddle and finished playing. This is when it becomes a problem, as you’re in and out of his room 3 – 4 times a night, having to rewrap him.  If this is happening, you can be pretty sure he is dependent on the wrap for sleep, and you have the problem of being woken up every sleep cycle to rewrap him again (broken sleep being the worst for everyone).

There is no need to panic about this, but it does pay to be aware of it, so you can transition your child out of their swaddle before it becomes a problem.

WHEN IS A GOOD TIME TO STOP SWADDLING?

I recommend transitioning from the swaddle before the 3-month mark. This will help reduce the likelihood of having to rewrap constantly as mentioned above.

The 3 – 4 month mark is also when a lot of babies start rolling, and you really want them to have the ability to move their arms BEFORE they’re ready to roll-over.

I recommend a weaning technique to remove the swaddle from your newborn. And you can start this around 10 weeks of age.

How does that go? let’s have a look…

HOW CAN I WEAN MY BABY OFF THE SWADDLE?

NEWBORNS ( 0 – 3 months)

If you have a newborn ready to wean off the swaddle (around 10 weeks old), you can do this gently. Start by leaving one arm out of the wrap for a few days, then both arms out for a few more days, then wrap from the waist down for a few more days, after which time they’ll be ready to be out of it altogether.

From then on I recommend a sleep sack which still allows for the comfort of the blanket and will keep them warm as they kick around.

If your little one is under 3 – 4 months, she may not quite be ready for a full arm-out sleeping bag yet. In this case, a transition sleep sack is a great option as it continues to confine the arms (which is also great coming into cooler weather), but also allows movement so she can explore her hands and roll safely. I recommend the Angel sleep sack for this transition stage; this NZ curated sleep sack also prevents your baby from soaking through the sleeves when she chews on her hands (a very normal developmental stage).

However, if your newborn has managed to get out of her wrap at an earlier age (you’ll know if you have one of these Houdini babies) and still has a significant startle reflex, you may like to try something like the love to dream when a newborn. It is still a much tighter fit, but impossible to get out of and then you can move to a 50/50 love to dream swaddle. The 50/50 lets you transition before baby can roll.

FOUR MONTHS PLUS

If your child is 4 months and up and you’re still swaddling, you may have a sleep-prop dependency at this point. If this is the case sometimes there is no easy way to wean off it. Your baby could now depend on being tightly wrapped to fall asleep. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

The best way to handle this is to just remove the tight swaddle all together. Depending on the age of your child you can move to a transition sleep sack, full sleeping bag, or just PJs. Now this transition WILL take a few days, and your baby may protest the change; it may be a tough few days. Change can be hard. But after this time you’ll have a baby who has learnt to sleep well, arms free, and there will be nothing to kick off and no more constant cries to be rewrapped at night. Isn’t that worth it for a better sleep long term?

As with any sleep prop dependency, even if you leave it until they’re older, you will still go through a withdrawal period when you finally need to change. Yes, I have seen 2-year olds swaddled to sleep as they haven’t learnt any other way. So I really do think prevention is better than the cure.

There you have the quick run-down on swaddling. Hopefully it’s helped you understanding the why, and when to move on. If you’ve made the transition to a sleep sack, at what age did it happen?

If you’ve read this far – how about a bonus? If you’d like to purchase a Jaxs and Co angel sleep sack, you can also use the code CHERISHED15 for 15% off.

And if you are having sleep issues either with or without the swaddle, I’d love to help! I work individually with families via my phone calls and sleep packages.  I also offer a free 15 minute ph consultation so I can get to know a little more about your situation, and see how I can best help.

Want more sleep news? If you haven’t already signed up to my monthly newsletter, you can do so here. And follow along on Facebook and Instagram for weekly tips and blogs.

Because everyone needs a good night’s sleep!