Swaddling your baby – Arms in or out?

As a new mum, when it comes to swaddling and settling your little one down for the night, it’s not always a straight forward task. The only common denominator is that we all want to feel confident we are doing the best thing for our bub.

But there are so many variables to consider like should their arms be in or out? Should they be wrapped up tightly or do I give them room to wiggle?

With Facebook, Instagram and online groups taking hold as our ‘go-to’ for advice and a guaranteed quick response in the middle of the night, it can easily become overwhelming. With so many conflicting opinions and experiences it can sometimes feel hard to know what the best thing to do is.

Jennifer Hamilton, experienced mothercraft nurse and routine expert, shares her top tips.

From Birth to 3 – 4 months

Babies settle and sleep better with their arms swaddled inside and across their chest. The reason for this is that often their newborn startle reflex can hinder their ability to sleep well, so it’s best to control their arm movements and swaddle nice and snug. This is the ‘burrito’ style that you might see posted in pics and it’s important also in helping to aid longer periods of sleep which is great for bub and parent.

Gro Swaddle

From about three to four months, baby does not need to be swaddled as tightly and this is when they can begin to learn how to sleep well with their arms out.

For this stage, I typically recommend products that are hip healthy. Products that let you swaddle your baby from birth, and as they grow, provide the option to transition them to a sleep bag one arm out at a time. This way, as soon as your baby starts to roll they can stay within the familiarity of their swaddle but are able to have their arms out for safety.

How to gently transition your baby from a swaddle

You’ll probably be apprehensive about unswaddling your baby, in fear of how it will impact your baby’s sleep. However, as soon as your baby starts rolling in the cot, it is no longer safe to swaddle them, so this is the time to transition to a baby sleep bag. When a baby is learning to roll from back to front, they need their arms free to help roll back or to lift their head sideways for unobstructed breathing whilst face down.

Read our How to manage baby’s night time rolling, and follow these steps to gently and safely transition your baby to arms-out sleeping:

Step 1: Start by swaddling with one arm out for several nights, or until your baby feels settled with this change. If your baby is not adjusting well, they may require extra settling and reassurance from you for now, but rest-assured it’s only temporary.

Step 2: Then, after a week or so, move to both arms out. Depending on the temperature of the room, you might need to put a long-sleeved onesie on your baby, that also covers their hands, particularly if their flailing little fingers are scratching their face and waking them up. Expect some difficult sleep as they transition, but know that they will adjust in their own time. The important thing to remember is that it’s the safest way for them to sleep now.

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