Is it Important to Swaddle Your Baby?
Swaddling is the act of snugly wrapping up your baby in a blanket or cloth for warmth and security. It can serve to calm and soothe your baby. The wrapping is done in such a way that the baby’s limbs are restricted. It should keep the baby from moving around unnecessarily but still maintain good circulation. This helps keep your baby from startling his own self by his own jerk reflex, and helps keep your baby warm after childbirth, until his internal ability to regulate his body temperature kicks in.
Swaddling is actually an age-old practice and it has been around for decades. The age-old practice involved wrapping infants in blankets to restrict the movement of their limbs. To further enforce restriction on movement, swaddling bands were also often used. Swaddling goes way, way back but the most popular record of swaddling would probably have to be the account of the birth of Jesus, found in the New Testament. As described in the Bible, swaddling clothes consisted of a piece of cloth or garment that is tied together by strips of bandages or similar cloth. In biblical times, the umbilical cord of an infant would be cut and tied after childbirth. The baby would then be washed. Salt and oil will be rubbed all over the infant’s body before the baby is wrapped with strips of cloth. This act of wrapping an infant was then believed to keep the newborn baby warm. It was also believed to make sure the limbs of the baby will grow straight. In those times, “unswaddled” served as a metaphor that meant abandonment.
Moving on to Tudor times, the act of swaddling would leave the baby wrapped in linen bands from head to foot. Swaddling was done to prevent physical deformities from developing and to ensure the baby would grow with straight limbs. To secure the head, stay bands were attached to the forehead and the shoulders of the baby. Swaddling would go on until the baby was about 8 to 9 months.
Swaddling cloths these modern days are now consisted of cotton receiving blankets, cotton muslin wraps, or special winged swaddles for babies. After a decline in popularity in the 17th century, swaddling is slowly and steadily making a comeback. Modern swaddling is becoming popular by the day as a way for parents to settle and soothe their irritable babies and to help their babies get longer sleep sessions with lessened disturbances. Modern swaddling cloths are now specially designed to make swaddling your baby easier when compared to swaddling with a traditional square blanket. Modern specialized baby swaddles typically come in the form of a T-shape or a Y-shape, designed with wings that can be folded around the torso of the baby or run down the shoulders and go around underneath the baby. Some parents will opt for these specialized swaddles because it is easier to properly swaddle a baby, especially when the design comes with a velcro patch or other fasteners. Large square receiving blankets or wraps are still also preferred by some parents because these blankets can provide a tighter and more custom fit, aside from the baby not outgrowing the blanket.
Reasons for Swaddling Babies
Swaddling is primarily done to help a baby feel warm, secure soothe a crying baby and promote relaxation. This translates to healthy sleep patterns for the baby and encourages growth. This method of wrapping babies is meant to mimic a baby in its mother’s womb. Babies in their mom’s bellies are in a secure and warm environment for nine months and once they are born they may find the open spaces unnerving. Swaddling helps to mimic the security of the womb to help them feel secure and keep them from being unnecessarily irritable.
Once a mother swaddles her baby and holds him/her close in her arms, it helps them feel comfort and warm. This is known to encourage them to grow and be receptive to adapting to their new environment. New born babies have jerk reflexes. They startle easily and once in a while jerk out of the blue. Swaddling them prevents this, which helps them to have uninterrupted sleep.
Aside from jerk reflexes, swaddling can also prevent newborns from waking themselves up with their own moro reflex. An infantile reflex, the moro reflex is present in babies that are 4 to 5 months of age. The reflex acts as a response when the baby feels as if he is suddenly falling and reacts to a sudden feeling of loss of support. The moro reflex has distinct components which include spreading out the arms or abduction, recoiling the arms or adduction, and is usually accompanied by crying.
Swaddling and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
In addition, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is dreaded by many parents and it is documented that babies that are swaddled have lower risks of dying from SIDS. As early as the 1990s, medical studies have recommended that placing babies on their back during sleep can reduce the risk of SIDS. Swaddling helps keep the baby in a supine position during sleep and therefore proves its contribution in lowering the risk of SIDS. Swaddling is being increasingly recommended to parents to help them lower the chance of the baby sleeping in the dangerous stomach sleeping position.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Deciding to Swaddle Your Baby
Learn the technique of swaddling from learned nurses and caregivers before leaving the hospital and performing it on your newborn yourself. Try swaddling your baby at an appropriate time and condition when your baby is well-fed, dry without any sweat and feels comfortable. Be sure that you already know how to perform it correctly. Remember that swaddling too tightly may do more damage than good. Tightly wrapping the legs of your baby straight down may result to loosened joints and damaged hips, which may ultimately lead to hip dysplasia.
In newborns, developmental hip dysplasia is quite common. Other factors that may increase the risk of hip dysplasia include family history, breech delivery, and gender. Girls have higher risks. It is quite fortunate then that modern technology now allows doctors to screen babies at birth for the condition.
In order to prevent hip dysplasia when swaddling your baby, leave enough room at the bottom of the cloth so that your baby has enough space to bend his legs up and down, and in and out from his body. The baby should be able to move his legs freely at the hip. This may be achieved easily by using a large blanket, which can wrap the arms in place while still allowing the legs some space to flex and the hip to properly develop.
Factors Surrounding the Practice of Swaddling Babies
While swaddling makes babies keep warm, in some cases it has been known to cause babies to overheat. There are debates on whether it also prevents babies from attaining healthy weight gain. Some say the restriction of movement hinders the flexibility of the baby’s limbs, and this may restrict the rate at which they develop mobility skills. Many child experts do not refute that swaddling may have disadvantages, but the common understanding is that the disadvantages of swaddling are attached to improperly swaddling babies.
However, there is a lot of agreement that when children are properly swaddled, they benefit a lot from it. Of utmost importance is the benefit they give to infants and babies in terms of sleep. Swaddled babies are known to sleep better for longer as compared to un-swaddled babies. Sleep is an important ingredient in the growth of babies. Increase in the number of uninterrupted sleep sessions that a baby gets encourages optimum growth.
One thing that is a factor in correctly swaddling a baby is the tightness. You must learn the art of swaddling the baby so that they feel comfort and are not excessively restricted. Of importance is the ability of your baby to access their hands. Babies love to suck their hands because it helps them to self soothe. It’s normal for babies to suck their thumbs when they are upset or want to settle down for a nap. This is due to a reflex known as the Babkin reflex, which is a natural hand to mouth reflex. Therefore, having their hands accessible to their face is important when swaddling.
Swaddling is an important baby care technique, but it requires the right skill to swaddle your baby so that they can benefit from it.
How to Swaddle Your Baby
- Spread the swaddle cloth out flat with a diamond orientation. One corner at the top should be folded over with a depth of about 6 inches in order to form a straight edge.
- Place your baby on his back on the sheet. His neck should be resting against the fold of the sheet so that the top edge of the blanket is at shoulder level.
- Position your baby’s left arm down. Pull on the corner of the blanket that is nearest to his left hand and bring that corner over his arm and chest. The leading edge should be comfortably tucked under his back on the right side of his body.
- Similarly, bring the right arm of your baby down. This time, pull on the corner of the blanket that is nearest to his right hand and bring that corner over his arm and chest. The cloth should be tucked under his back on his left side. By this step, only the head and neck should be exposed. Rolling your baby slightly to get the blanket around him may be helpful.
- Take hold of the bottom part of the blanket and twist or fold it. Tuck this end loosely behind your baby. Be sure to leave enough space for your baby. There should be enough room so that your baby can move his hips and knees freely, bend his legs up and out from his body and spread his legs naturally apart.
Important Reminders When Swaddling Your Baby
- Familiarize yourself with the risks. Incorrect swaddling may increase the risk for hip dysplasia. Tightly swaddled infants may lose their ability to cool their body temperature down and may lead to hyperthermia. Other risks involved with swaddling include increased risk of respiratory infections and delayed recovery from post-natal weight loss.
- Keep your baby in a supine sleeping position and closely monitor him so that you may prevent your baby from rolling over while he is swaddled.
- Be on the lookout for signs that your baby might be feeling too warm. Remove your baby from his swaddle blanket once he starts sweating, breathing rapidly and starts having flushed cheeks and heat rush. Don’t cover your baby’s face with the swaddle cloth to avoid hyperthermia. Regularly check his temperature just to be sure.
- Avoid swaddling your baby while he is awake once he is about a month old. Swaddling can interfere with the development in mobility of your baby. Only swaddle your baby when he is asleep or taking a nap.
- Consider a less restrictive form of covering for sleep once your baby starts learning to roll over. This happens often around 4 to 5 months. While trying to roll over, your baby will need his hands and arms free in order to adjust his head after rolling over.
- Using a blanket that is too small may result to loose and ineffective swaddling. Poorly made swaddles can be kicked off by a baby who is awake. Be sure to properly wrap your baby in a secure and comfortable manner so that the blanket will not come loose and remain wrapped around your baby during sleep.
- There is no predetermined length of time in keeping a baby swaddled. So long as your baby seems comfortable in his swaddle and he has enough leg room to move around his legs and hips, you may keep him in his swaddle.
- It may be for the best if your remove your baby from his swaddle during breastfeeding so that his hands may be free to touch and explore, and make latching on easier.