Should You Swaddle Your Baby?
Your mom swears that swaddling is the best way to get your baby to sleep through the night, but your best friend heard that it was dangerous. We look at the pros and cons of swaddling and share our favorite swaddle picks.
Is there anything cuter than a teensy baby sleeping peacefully in their crib all swaddled up like a burrito? (Nope!)
For parents of fussy or colicky babies, swaddling can also mean the difference between being up all night and getting a good night’s sleep.
But with some studies showing that swaddling can cause everything from hip problems to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), many parents have been left wondering whether the age-old technique is still safe to use or should be left in the past.
In this article, we will discuss the following information about swaddling:
- The benefits of swaddling
- The risks of swaddling
- How to minimize the risks of swaddling
- How to swaddle correctly
- How to prevent flat head syndrome
- Whether or not to swaddle
- The best materials for swaddling
Scroll down to learn more!
The Benefits of Swaddling
Swaddling has been practiced around the world for centuries because of its many benefits.
It helps calm unsettled newborns by making them feel snug and secure like they were in the womb
It helps babies fall asleep and stay asleep longer by minimizing the startle reflex (when they involuntarily throw out their arms and legs in response to a stimulus)
It helps babies stay on their backs while they sleep, which reduces the risk of SIDS
It soothes babies who suffer from neurological problems, colic or drug addiction
It prevents face scratching
The Risks of Swaddling
Nothing is perfect in life or parenthood! There are also a few risks associated with swaddling, including:
It increases the risk of hip dislocation and hip dysplasia (an abnormal formation of the hip joint) if a baby’s hips are swaddled too tightly
It increases the risk of suffocation if the swaddle fabric becomes loose and covers the baby’s face
It nearly doubles the risk of SIDS if swaddled babies are placed on their sides and that risk is even higher if swaddled babies are placed on their stomachs, according to a study published in Pediatrics in 2016.
How to Minimize the Risks of Swaddling
Babies don’t need to be swaddled, so you might want to skip it entirely if you’re worried about the risks and your baby sleeps well without swaddling.
But if you do choose to wrap up your baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends following these guidelines to reduce the risk of SIDS and hip dysplasia:
Use the safe swaddling technique described below every time you swaddle your baby and make sure the blanket is snug enough that it won’t come loose and cover their face.
Always place your baby to sleep on their back.
Always put them to sleep in their crib or bassinet (not in your bed).
Stop swaddling your baby before they’re able to roll onto their tummy (around the age of two months).
Don’t place any loose blankets or soft toys in your baby’s crib because they could cause suffocation.
Don’t use wedges, positioners or special sleep surfaces that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS because they haven’t been shown to work.
Use swaddles that are appropriate for the weather and monitor your baby for signs of overheating (sweating, damp hair, flushed cheeks, heat rash and rapid breathing) when swaddling during the summer months.
Make sure the swaddle isn’t too tight around your baby’s hips. They should be able to bend their knees up and out at the hips. Swaddling sleep sacks are a good option because they have a loose pouch that allows plenty of hip movement.
A pacifier is another great way to help soothe your baby to sleep.
Your baby’s crib should be in a smoke-free environment.
How to prevent positional flat head syndrome
Flat head syndrome (medically referred to as plagiocephaly), is when a flat spot appears on the back or side of your baby’s head. Because a baby’s skull is designed to be soft and not fully closed (so it can fit through the birth canal), they’re most at risk during the first four months of their life.
While there can be other causes for plagiocephaly (like being a multiple with not much room to move in the womb or having a congenital birth defect diagnosis), the most common form is positional, which basically means spending too much time in one position.
Signs can include:
- Flat spot or spots
- Lack of a soft spot on the skull
- Uneven eyes and/or ears
- Slanted shaped head
- Hard ridges on the head
To avoid positional flat head syndrome, try:
- Ensuring your baby does adequate tummy time when they’re awake.
- Positioning your baby in an infant lounger instead of lying them on their back for play or rest time.
- Holding or wearing your baby in a carrier for part of the day instead of having them lie flat.
- When laying your baby on their back, ensuring their head doesn’t always tilt in the same direction. You can do this by alternating their position every day. One day, place your baby with its head toward the head of the crib and the next day, place your baby with its head toward the foot of the crib.
How to Swaddle Correctly
Here’s how to swaddle your baby safely according to the AAP:
Spread the blanket out flat with one corner folded down.
Lay your baby on their back on the blanket with their head above the folded corner.
Straighten their left arm and wrap the left corner of the blanket over their body. Tuck it between their right arm and the right side of their body.
Tuck their right arm down and fold the right corner of the blanket over their body and under their left side.
Fold or twist the bottom of the blanket loosely and tuck it under one side of your baby. Make sure that their hips can move and that you can get at least two or three fingers between your baby’s chest and the blanket.
To Swaddle or Not to Swaddle?
Like most parenting decisions, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to swaddling. The best you can do is weigh up the risks and benefits and make the decision that feels right for your family.
The Best Materials For Swaddling
When shopping for a swaddle, you want to make sure that you opt for clean materials such as organic cotton muslin, bamboo muslin, or pima cotton.
All free from harmful chemicals such as pesticides, formaldehyde, AZO dyes, and flame-retardants, these types of materials offer breathability, which is important for babies who need help regulating their body temperature.
Scroll down to see our favorite non-toxic swaddle picks!
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- Once you become a parent, you’ll often receive a lot of conflicting advice (sometimes unsolicited) on where your baby should sleep, and for how long. The most important factor to consider is what’s safe for your baby? Where should your baby sleep? And what are the potential dangers? Sleep Consultant, Lauren Olsen, discusses sleep safety for your baby.
- For more on what should baby wear to sleep, Lauren Olsen discusses topics including safe sleep wear for babies and toddlers, the ideal room temperature, crib bedding recommendations and more.