Swaddling 101 - The Pros & Cons and How to Swaddle - The Wee Bean

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  • February 25, 2018 4 min read


    To swaddle or not swaddle…that is the question. This practice has its controversies and being new parents ourselves, we wanted to ensure we get the lowdown on the pros and cons.

    Swaddling is believed to date as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans. The premise around swaddling is that it mimics the baby’s experience in the womb by creating a sense of security and warmth. During the first month or two of a baby’s life, they need to adapt to the environment outside of the womb, which is much colder and airier. When babies are born they also have what is called a Moro reflex (i.e. they haven’t yet learned how to control their limbs so they are prone to flail their arms in their sleep) and this can cause them to wake themselves up in the middle of the night. 

    As a result, swaddling simulates the comforting feeling they had in the womb and also acts as a way to calm your baby to help promote more effective sleeping and feeding when the time comes. According to Dr. Jessica Lanerie, M.D., these cozy cocoons will help babies sleep longer, deeper and quieter, with less spontaneous arousals to interrupt their slumber.

    Naysayers will often bring up the topic of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Some experts say that swaddling helps during the early stages by preventing the baby from rolling onto its’ tummy while sleeping and preventing loose blanket from accidentally covering the baby’s face, both of which can lead to suffocation. But others argue that swaddling can increase the risk of SIDS since around the age of 6 months, babies can roll onto their stomachs even while wrapped up. Some studies have also shown an association between swaddling and increased risk of hip dysplasia (i.e. hip dislocation) when the swaddle restricts the movement of the infant’s legs.

    Advocates of swaddling do stress proper technique to ensure parents reap the benefits and minimize any potential risks involved. For all the new parents reading this looking to use the swaddling technique, here are a few guidelines proposed by Dr. Jessica Lanerie:

    • Wrap it right. Wrapping too tightly can cause dangerous overheating and may promote respiratory infections. Wrapping too loosely can create a smothering hazard if the blanket comes undone.
    • Make sure the baby’s legs can bend fully at the hips.
    • Always lay babies on their backs when they sleep (note: this should be the case even if you decide not to swaddle your baby).
    • Babies who are old enough to roll onto stomachs should not be swaddled
    • Babies should not be left alone in a crib with a blanket on or around them, so the safest way to swaddle is with your supervision
    • Be aware of your baby’s temperature. Make sure you adjust your baby’s clothing and do not overdress in relation to the temperature of the room.

    We recommend using a thin, breathable cloth for swaddling, made from 100% cotton or bamboo. Our favorite method is the DUDU (Down, Up, Down, Up) method that Dr Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, teaches. It’s basically the same method that has been used in hospitals for many years and here’s how to do it:

    *Image courtesy ofhappiestbaby.com

    Step 1 — DOWN: Hold baby’s right arm straight at the side. Bring the blanket down and tuck it under baby’s left buttock (it will look like half of a V-neck sweater). Next, grab the blanket by the unwrapped shoulder and tug it snuggly, away from the body, to remove any slack. Don’t be surprised if your baby cries louder when you wrap tightly! You’re not hurting her. Your baby just doesn’t know what’s happening yet!

    Step 2 — UP: Hold baby’s left arm straight to the side. Bring the bottom point of the blanket straight up and place it on the left shoulder. Tuck the rest of the blanket under the left arm. Again, grab the blanket next to her shoulder and pull straight out, away from the body, to remove any slack. The blanket should be loose around her legs giving her sufficient leg room to wiggle but the arms should be very snug and straight.

    Step 3 — DOWN: Grab the blanket a few inches away from baby’s left shoulder and pull it down, just a little bit. The small flap should come down to her upper chest to form the other half of the V-neck. Hold that small fold of blanket pressed against baby’s chest like you are holding down a ribbon to make a bow.

    Step 4 — UP: Grab the last free corner and pull it straight out, away from the body, to remove any slack. Then in one smooth motion, lift that corner up and straight across her forearms like a belt. The blanket should be big enough so that this part goes all the way around the body. Then wrap it snugly around the body like a belt and tuck it into the front. Note: The last step is not straight up and more of a diagonal movement.

    To see this demonstrated on video, click here!

    Just remember that swaddling your baby is most appropriate for younger infants (ie: during their first and second month) and with time, they will want to practice moving around when they are awake, so swaddling them as they get older may frustrate them. Make sure you monitor your baby’s reactions to see if s/he likes it or not. As your baby starts to become more mobile, you can gradually move away from swaddling. Good luck fellow parents!

    *featured image courtesy ofsheknows.com

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