This is just one of the many dilemmas facing the soon-to-be or new mom.  Swaddling is not a new thing.  Parents have been swaddling their infants for centuries – one thinks of a child in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger, but there are various references to swaddling throughout the ages.

Then in the later part of the last century, swaddling went out of fashion.  With the new freedoms that their parents were enjoying in the 60’s came freedom for babies too – no longer would they be restricted and bound up for sleep, instead they were free to roll or stretch or do whatever they wanted, sometimes, whenever they wanted.  Now, like most things in life it seems that things have gone full circle and the number of parents choosing to swaddle their children is increasing.

At AVASIA we’re passionate about parents making informed decisions, so we thought we’d try to take an objective look at the pros and cons of swaddling, so that you can do just that:

Benefits

  • If babies are swaddled from birth they can find it very calming presumably on the basis that it reminds them of the environment with which they are most familiar – the womb, and the warmth and security that represented
  • Most observers believe that swaddling helps a baby fall to sleep independently and may contribute to good longer-term sleeping habits as they will learn from birth to fall asleep on their own, and pitfalls such as babies falling to sleep on the breast can be avoided.
  • Swaddling restricts the movement of the baby’s arms and without this movement their startle reflex is suppressed. As babies find this reflex disturbing (this is brought on when a baby feels as if it is falling), the suppression of the startle reflex is a good thing.
  • New born babies which are swaddled and laid on their backs are unable to roll over, pull bedding over their heads or roll in their cot and are therefore less at risk from SIDS and accidental suffocation.
  • Babies will be unable to scratch or injure themselves in their sleep if their arms are swaddled.
  • Studies have shown that babies that are swaddled are less likely to cry for a prolonged period which can ease tension in the baby, and the parents, since nothing is more upsetting to a new parent than when they can’t settle their new born.

Disadvantages

  • Advocates for the no swaddling camp say it is good for babies to be able to move independently in their sleep. It aids muscle development and core strength
  • There is some evidence to suggest that if the legs are stretched out straight too much in the first year of life, the head of the leg bone does not push into the hip socket as much as it should and this can lead to a condition where the hip socket is too shallow, known as hip dysplasia.
  • Having formed the habit of swaddling, it can then be a challenge to move on when the baby becomes too old for it

So, that’s it in summary, so it’s up to you now to decide which way to go.  As with any decision about your new born, it’s not a bad idea to give things a try and see whether it works for you and baby or not.

If you are not sure how to swaddle, here is a short video which should help:

If you do decide to go ahead, here are some things to bear in mind when swaddling:

  • Arms can by folded so that hands are close to the face, or held in a natural position down by the sides, which is the position advocated by Dr. Harvey Karp (see Happiest Baby on the Block in our Book Review section).
  • A swaddled baby should always be placed on its back.
  • Swaddling should be firm, but not too tight – you should be able to get two fingers down the front of the chest when finished.
  • Legs should not be bound tight but left so that knee and ankle joints can be flexed.
  • Swaddle clothes should be of a light breathable fabric, preferably bamboo or cotton. In warm weather, swaddle straight over the diaper with no other clothes.  It is important that they don’t overheat, so make sure that the room is well ventilated and not too hot.
  • No other bedding, pillows or blankets should be left in the crib
  • If you wish to swaddle your baby at night, consider purchasing a movement monitor as an added safety precaution.
  • Never swaddle over a baby’s head and make sure that the swaddle cannot ride up near their face.
  • Never swaddle a baby with a fever.
  • Swaddling should stop at around 12-14 weeks or whenever your baby can roll over, or manoeuvre out of his swaddle. At this stage you can move on to a baby sleep bag which provides more freedom of movement, but a similar cosy environment.