Swaddling Your Baby – The Basics

When it comes to baby sleep we constantly hear first time parents asking ‘where do I begin?’, ‘what kind of swaddle do I use?’ and ‘when do I need to use a baby sleep bag?

With so many options, it is hard to know where to begin. Here is a simple guide to understanding swaddling your baby – the basics of the what and when of swaddles/wraps and baby sleep bags.

Benefits of Swaddling are:

  1. Reduces the spontaneous movements called the moro or startle reflex
  2. Feel secure and safe – replicates sensation of being in the womb
  3. Helps to keep baby sleeping on back, limited movement around the cot/bassinet
  4.   Will sleep longer and sounder
  5. Swaddled babies experience less anxiety,
  6. Swaddling prevents face-scratching
  7. Swaddling in the hands-over-heart position is the preferred sleeping position for babies; in this position they learn to self-soothe and can get back to sleep on their own.

Things to consider when swaddling your baby:

  1. It is important to make sure that your swaddled baby always sleeps on their back (as all babies should), as studies found that the chance of SIDS was increased when a baby slept on their front or side.
  2. Swaddling is best to do when babies are younger and less mobile, so consider stopping when your baby can roll. Baby’s arms need to be out when they can roll.
  3. No matter what swaddle technique you choose, always ensure that the product has stretch so that baby can still move their limbs. Also ensure that you do not over tighten around the hip area as this can lead to under development of the hips.
  4. The recommended room temperature is between 16-20°C. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when dressing your baby for sleep. Overheating a baby is an associated SIDS risk factor.

When choosing a Swaddle there are two types of swaddles to consider:

Traditional Swaddle/Wrap

This is generally a standard square shaped piece of fabric, in a muslin, cotton or jersey cotton fabric composition.
These are the traditional types of swaddles that our parents used with us and are most commonly recommended by maternal health system.

Traditional swaddles are ideal for day sleeps or warmer evenings:

  1. Cost effective – babies sleep for shorter periods during the day but more often so you may require more of these – especially consider having a wash and wear
  2. Lightweight fabrics – temperatures during the day are generally warmer than evenings
  3. Unravel naturally (no poppers or zippers) – ideal for shorter day sleeps of 1-2 hours
  4. Versatile – can be used as a blanket, burp cloth and breastfeeding cover

Traditional wrapping should be firm but not too tight. Tight wrapping with legs straight and positioned together increases the risk of abnormal hip development. Loose wraps are hazardous as they can cover baby’s head and face. See here for more on Safe Swaddling.

Constructed Swaddle

These are the more complex swaddle options available, ensuring that baby’s arms are tucked in securely so as not to wake themselves and often offering the opportunity to transition baby to arms out when they begin to roll or no longer enjoy being swaddled.

Ergopouch Swaddle

These options are great for evening sleeps:

  1. Baby cannot get arms out – more chance they will sleep longer
  2. Easier to use than a traditional swaddle – no origami required
  3. Easy access for nappy changes
  4. No chance of over tightening around the hips
  5. Allows for easier transition to baby sleep bag – start with one arm out and then progress to two arms out
  6. Can move to arms out if baby does not like to be swaddled
  7. Often available in varying weights of fabric – cosy and light options
  8. Safer alternative to loose bedding

Signs your baby is ready to transition out of swaddling

Swaddling a baby can become a safety issue once your baby is able to roll over. You don’t want a securely swaddled baby to roll over onto his stomach, since that could be a risk factor for SIDS.

Swaddling may prevent an older baby who has rolled onto their tummy during sleep from returning to the back sleeping position.

Most transitioning begins at approximately 3-6months but every baby can be different.

These are some signs that can indicate it’s time to stop swaddling your baby:

  1. Your baby wakes more frequently during the night
  2. Seems uncomfortable/restless
  3. Starts to come out of the swaddle
  4. Begins to roll over

When do I use a Baby Sleep Bag?

A baby sleep bag is designed to replace loose bedding, to ensure that no blankets end up over babies face or eliminate the opportunity for baby to get tangled in bedding. This is the second stage recommended after swaddling to help reduce this SIDs risk.

When your baby begins to roll (normally around 3 to 4months) it is time to start transitioning to a baby sleep bag.

Grobag Buzz-y Bee

How do I transition out of a swaddle?

Start with day sleeps as these are generally shorter. Over a few days, start by swaddling your baby with their arms out. Try one arm out first, and then when they are comfortable with that try releasing the second arm, only swaddling from the chest down.

At the same time, you should gradually loosen the tension of the swaddle/wrap. If you feel that your baby misses the feeling of pressure from the swaddle, put them in a baby sleep bag and place your arm gently across their upper body. As they start to settle, you can then take your arm away. For more on How to transition baby from swaddle see here.

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