Polarized opinions and advice abound on almost every baby care issue. The concept of swaddling babies is no different – mothers in one era or on one side of the globe swear by swaddling and those in the next generation or neighborhood have forgotten this ancient way of nurturing babies.
In many cultures swaddling babies is encouraged as a method to sooth newborns and to help babies sleep better. However, in the western world, in the latter part of the 1900’s, swaddling went out of fashion and this morsel of parenting wisdom was essentially discouraged and lost over time. Many a new mum will have heard her grandmother say:”Why is your baby not swaddled?” or “Let me show you how to swaddle your baby.” The question that now begs answering is whether swaddling is an ancient wisdom that holds merit or an old wives tale that at best is useless to babies.
The answers can be found in research as well as mum’s anecdotal experiences. In the new millennium, mothers are returning in droves to the skill and art of swaddling. The reason is that recent research is full of the benefits of wrapping babies for the first three months.
In 2002, research from the Washington University Medical School studied the effect of swaddling on sleep. The results indicate that swaddling a baby decreases the number of night wakings during deep sleep significantly. Likewise, swaddling increases the length of REM sleep by helping babies return to sleep spontaneously, which limits the need for parental intervention to get their baby back to sleep.
Other research in the Journal of Human Lactation (2001) revealed that babies who fuss at the breast feed better with more coordinated sucks and breaths when swaddled.
Subjectively most mothers will confirm that when their baby is swaddled he is calmer and cries less than when he is not.
The reason swaddling is beneficial to young babies
Swaddling replicates the world of the womb. The intrauterine environment provides the ultimate environment for the developing foetus. The deep pressure touch of your uterine muscles in the last few months contains your little foetus’ involuntary movements. After birth your little baby feels uncontained as his movements come up against no resistance. Swaddling mimics the tight hug of the womb, containing these little movements.
Primitive reflexes, which create jerky movements away from the midline of the body govern your new baby’s interactions with the world. Smooth movements, towards the midline, such as holding his hands together or sucking his hands, calm the young baby. Since the early reflexes move the limbs away from the midline, they are disconcerting for your little baby. Swaddling contains these reflexes and makes your baby’s early sensory world calming.
How to swaddle
For the first nine to twelve weeks, your baby should be swaddled for all sleeps and when unsettled or colicky. It is very important to swaddle your baby with his hands near to his face so he can suck on them to self soothe. Swaddling with the hands by the sides is not a good option as your baby will not be able to self soothe or to regulate his temperature. ALWAYS swaddle with a pure cotton stretchy blanket as polyester carries the risk of overheating young babies.
Preferably use a cotton blanket with some stretch, which will wrap snugly around your baby as the stretchy fabric mimics the elastic feel of the womb.
Either fold a rectangular blanket into a triangle or use a specially shaped swaddling blanket, in the shape of a triangle or heart.
- Lie your baby with his or her neck on the long side of the triangle.
- Fold up the lower tip of the swaddling blanket.
- Wrap one corner of the triangle across your baby, securing his hand near his face so that he can self calm by sucking his hand if he needs to.
- Wrap the other arm in with the other corner of the triangle.