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Swaddling a Baby- Everything You Should Know About It!

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Swaddling the baby is a traditional method for long uninterrupted sleep. But it is not advisable to wrap the baby after a recommended period.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham

Published At October 21, 2022
Reviewed AtApril 3, 2024

Introduction:

Did you know? Swaddling, a sleep enhancer for babies with troubled sleep, could be problematic if continued after certain months of age. If your answer is no - Well, It is. Swaddling soothes the newborns giving them the feeling of a mother's womb. Though some pediatricians do not suggest swaddling, they agree that it eases and calms the baby to sleep. Before practicing, it is necessary to know the correct way to swaddle, its merits and demerits, when to stop swaddling, etc., rather than following it as a mere tradition.

What Is Swaddling?

Swaddling the baby is a postnatal tradition started by the nurses immediately after birth and followed by the parents and family after that. It involves wrapping the baby's body, excluding the neck and head, and using a comfortable blanket to give them comfort as a mother's womb. It is practiced worldwide and is considered one of the postnatal care that a baby requires. Swaddling and making the babies lie on their backs provide the baby stability during sleep and help them sleep longer. Though it helps with sleep, there are certain demerits to swaddling when followed for a period more than advised.

What Are the Types of Swaddling Clothes?

Swaddling clothes are designed in various patterns and shapes. They are available for purchase in any baby store and can be chosen based on the parent's preference. Some of them are simple square or rectangular blankets, while the others are sack-like and allow zipping the baby up. Some have additional flaps on the side that wrap across the baby's body and can be secured with sticky strips.

How to Swaddle a Baby?

The right way of swaddling the baby involves the following steps;

  • Ensure that the baby is relaxed and in a calm state.

  • Use a light, breathable cloth, preferably cotton, to swaddle the baby.

  • See that your baby does not wear multiple layers of clothing underneath the wrap, as it can cause overheating.

  • Lay the cloth flat while folding the top corner.

  • The baby should be laid on its back, with the head positioned above the fold.

  • Hold the baby in place, tuck in the left corner of the cloth to the right side of the body, and vice versa.

  • Then the bottom of the cloth should be folded and tucked on one of the sides.

  • Take care not to wrap it tightly or let it loose. Also, make sure that the neck and head are not covered, as it might suffocate the baby.

  • Adequate space should be left so that normal chest expansion occurs uninterruptedly and maintains normal breathing. Also, make sure that the baby can move the hip freely.

What Are the Benefits of Swaddling?

  • Swaddling helps the babies have an uninterrupted, comfortable, and quality nap for a longer period.

  • It is also said that swaddling recreates the mother's womb atmosphere for the baby and helps with the transition phase that the baby goes through post-birth.

  • Swaddling minimizes the parent's worry about making the baby fall asleep and get some time for themselves which is impossible when the baby is not asleep.

  • Research shows that preterm babies who are swaddled during hospitalization have shown developmental benefits such as less physiological distress, improved neuromuscular and motor development, etc.

Swaddling a Baby

What Are the Risks of Swaddling?

Pediatricians, parents, and caregivers give mixed opinions on swaddling a baby. There are a few complications associated with wrapping for a longer period, such as;

  • If the baby is not swaddled correctly, it could roll and lie on its stomach, which could become fatal to the baby. SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is a condition in which healthy babies die due to unknown reasons. Though it is said that lying on the stomach is a common cause of SIDS, there is no strong evidence to prove this claim.

  • If the wrap is too tight, the babies could suffocate and have difficulty breathing, which could be fatal as well.

  • If the baby is wrapped in thick or multiple-layered blankets or if there are multiple layers of clothing under the swaddle, overheating occurs in babies. Overheating can result in sweating, heat rashes, damp hair, etc.

  • Hip dysplasia (abnormality in the hip joint when the thigh bone does not correctly fit the pelvis) could occur in babies when the legs are set straight and swaddled tight.

  • Delayed postnatal weight gain is noted in certain conditions if the newborns are swaddled immediately after birth.

When to Stop Swaddling the Baby?

  • Ideally, it is recommended to stop swaddling when the baby starts rolling over, which is usually between two to four months of age.

  • When the baby starts to roll over, they try to shift from lying on their back to lying on the stomach, which can result in various complications as well as SIDS.

What Are the Substitutes for Swaddling?

  • In the initial stages of transition, using the same swaddle, one hand is left free, followed by the other hand and legs in the coming days, rather than wrapping the baby's hands and legs.

  • Using a sleep sack or sleep bag with holes in the neck, hands, and leg regions is not as suffocating as a wrap yet gives the baby a feeling of the swaddle.

  • The baby should be laid in a crib without blankets or swaddles that could cover the baby's face.

  • Pacifiers are given to make the baby fall asleep easily.

  • Variations in temperatures can disrupt the baby's sleep, so it is essential to maintain an average temperature in the sleeping room.

  • Refrain from doing things that might wake up the baby; the sleeping atmosphere should be peaceful.

  • Following a consistent sleep schedule helps the baby fall asleep quickly.

  • Feeding the baby and ensuring that the baby is not hungry before falling asleep.

Conclusion:

There are mixed opinions on swaddling the baby. However, it depends on the preferences of the parents and the family. Doing it is fine but doing it right is what needs emphasis. Before practicing it, it is necessary to know the right way to swaddle the baby and when to wean your baby from swaddling. Consult with your pediatrician if your baby has any birth complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

Is Swaddling at Night Necessary for Newborns?

 
Swaddling can help the baby sleep for longer, during the day and night. Swaddling is done to reduce the “startle or Moro” reflex. The startle reflex is a reflex that is present at the time of birth and is a protective mechanism. So, it is better to swaddle the baby, especially at night.

2.

Is Swaddling Safe for the Baby?

In some cases, swaddling has shown to increase the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and unintentional suffocation when the babies are placed on their stomachs to sleep. So it is important to monitor the baby when swaddled, so they do not roll over.

3.

Till How Many Months Can the Baby Be Swaddled?

 
Swaddling should not be done when the baby starts to roll over. So it is better to stop swaddling the baby when the baby turns two to four months old. Some babies even start to roll over as early as two months. Hence, swaddling should be avoided in such cases. When the babies roll over, they may not be able to roll back over, which can be dangerous.

4.

What Are the Bad Effects of Swaddling on the Baby?

The bad effects of swaddling on the baby are:
Increased risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). 
As the swaddling cloth is an extra clothing layer over the body, it can cause overheating of the baby.
When swaddling is not proper, it can increase the chance of developing hip dysplasia.
Swaddling can increase the risk of tying around the baby's neck if swaddling is improper.

5.

What Is the Alternative to Swaddling the Baby?

Instead of swaddling, a sleep suit or sleep sack can be a better alternative. The suits will keep the baby’s hand in T-shape and prevent rolling. Also, make sure to keep the room cool while sleeping, as the suit can keep the baby warm

6.

Can SIDS Be Prevented by Swaddling the Baby?

Instead of preventing SIDS, it is seen that swaddling can increase the chances of SIDS. But some studies also show a decreased incidence of SIDS by swaddling.

7.

Can You Burp the Baby When They Are Swaddled?

To burp a swaddled baby, hold the baby outward facing away from the body, then pat and rub the back of teh baby. Even if the baby has fallen asleep, try to burp them for a few minutes before placing them back to sleep.

8.

How Tightly Should the Baby Be Swaddled?

To understand how tightly a  baby should be swaddled, place two fingers between the chest of the baby and the swaddle. If the two fingers can fit between the baby’s chest and the swaddle, then the swaddle is correct- not too loose or tight.

9.

What Is the Importance of Swaddling a Baby?

 
Swaddling is the process of wrapping the baby with a breathable blanket to imitate the feeling of touch in the baby so the baby can feel calm and relaxed. Also, swaddling protects the baby against the startle reflex, improving the baby’s sleep. It will also keep the baby's hands off the face and prevent scratching.

10.

Is It Alright to Breastfeed the Baby When Swaddled?

The baby should not be breastfed while the baby is swaddled as they can cause overheating. Also, the baby should be swaddled while they are asleep and should be removed once they are awake from sleep. Breastfeeding while swaddling also inhibits some of the important reflexes. The baby should be able to move to latch better and nurse more effectively and freely.
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Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham
Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham

Pediatrics

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