Swaddle bathing: What is it?

A swaddle immersion bath can reduce stress in newborns and help them maintain a more stable body temperature compared to a traditional sponge bath. Find out more about it…

swaddle bathing
Image by Ann Street Studio

Swaddling can make newborns feel secure and help them get to sleep. But did you know that the same technique can also be used at bath time to create a more positive experience for both babies and parents? Here’s everything you need to know about swaddle immersion bathing.

What is swaddle bathing?

A swaddle bath involves loosely wrapping a newborn in a swaddle blanket and immersing them in a tub of warm water up to their shoulders. Each limb is then individually unwrapped, washed and placed back in the swaddle. The baby’s back and torso can be washed by massaging them gently through the blanket to minimize disruption.

What are the benefits?

At UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, swaddle bathing has been offered to parents as an alternative to traditional sponge baths since 2017. Registered nurse Edna Sailer, who implemented the practice, says that it’s made both parents and babies happier.

According to a small study she conducted, only 38 percent of babies cried during the swaddle immersion bath versus 93 percent who cried during the sponge bath. Not only were the babies less stressed when they were swaddled, but their body temperatures also remained more stable. This helped to maintain healthy glucose and energy levels.

Parents also reported a more positive experience with swaddle bathing. Sailer says that their satisfaction had a “domino effect” on their other experiences at the hospital, including breastfeeding, sleeping and their confidence when taking their baby home.

“To be honest, I was a little sceptical at first,” says mother-of-two Dana. “I thought the blanket would be annoying and I didn’t see how we would wash our daughter properly with it in the way. But when we put her in the bath all wrapped up and she didn’t even wake up, I was amazed! She was so peaceful and calm – my husband swears she even smiled. Compared to my son’s first bath where he howled and shook the whole time, it was such a pleasure. We’ve been doing it at home and it’s great.”

A separate study found that swaddle bathing also reduced stress and helped to maintain body temperature in premature newborns. Given all these positive results, swaddle bathing is being offered in an increasing number of maternity wards and NICUs around the country.

How to give your baby a swaddle bath

Here are some of Sailer’s guidelines for a successful swaddle bath:

  • Newborns only need to be bathed once a week, but you can wash them two or three times a week if it makes you more comfortable. Daily baths can cause skin irritation.
  • Place all the supplies you need (Baby tub, Non-toxic baby bath products, swaddle, washcloth and towel) beside the tub before you start.
  • The water should be comfortably warm, between 99.9 and 103.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Swaddle your baby loosely before immersing them in water up to their shoulders.
  • Support your baby throughout and never leave them alone in the tub.
  • The bath should last five to ten minutes to avoid a drop in body temperature – seven or eight minutes is ideal.
  • Towel your baby off quickly after the bath to ensure they don’t get cold.
  • Wait at least 24 hours after birth or circumcision to give your baby a swaddle bath.
  • Want to see what a swaddle bath looks like? Watch a nurse performing swaddle bath on a newborn. Naw!