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…

Happy swaddled baby

Is there anything cuter than a teensy baby sleeping peacefully in their crib all swaddled up like a burrito? 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:

  1. The benefits
  2. The risks
  3. How to minimize risks
  4. How to swaddle correctly
  5. Whether or not to swaddle

The Benefits of Swaddling

Swaddling has been practiced around the world for centuries because of its many benefits. These include:

  • 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

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 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.

More on Baby Sleep…

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.