How to Swaddle Baby and Transition from Swaddling

As a new parent, you’ll spend a lot of time working to calm your baby down and help him or her sleep. Sleep is absolutely essential during the first year:  it sets your children up for a lifetime of healthy development and healthy sleep habits. There are many steps to create long-term, healthy sleep patterns, but one tool early on is swaddling.

What is swaddling?

Swaddling is the practice of wrapping your baby in a blanket or fitting them into a specially made baby swaddle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all parents swaddle their children.

The goal is to return your baby to a womb-like environment by recreating some of the sensations he/she experienced inside mom’s uterus.

When your child was in the womb, he/she felt pressure on all sides. The confinement may seem frustrating to you and I, but babies love the security it provides. This comfort and warmth is an excellent way to help them relax and fall asleep.

Further, babies have a startle reflex (the Moro Reflex) that causes them to suddenly jerk their arms wide. It can happen when they feel like they’re falling or at any random time – often while sleeping which can wake them up.

(It’s presumed that this reflex was useful during human’s nomadic eras, where children were carried on mother’s backs – the jerk and cling motion might help them grab mom if they fall or at least make her aware of the slip.)

The startle isn’t useful these days, but it remains and it certainly is not helpful when your child’s sleep is disrupted. A swaddle gives just the right amount of resistance to limit the motion of the jerk preventing a wake or helping babies fall back asleep more quickly.

When should you swaddle?

Immediately after giving birth, the delivery nurse will probably swaddle your baby in a blanket. During the first month when your baby sleep frequently, they may spend a lot of time swaddled.  This allows them to become accustomed to the world while still making them feel safe.

After the first month, feel free to give your baby plenty of awake time without the swaddle so they can move and experiment with their bodies. Swaddling too often can lead to developmental delays.

When your baby starts to roll over, it’s time to transition them out of their swaddle. If your child rolls over in the swaddle, he/she may roll into an unsafe position and be unable to correct themselves. This is very dangerous. Once rolling starts, swaddling should stop. This typically happens around four months.

How do you swaddle a baby?

Swaddling is actually very simple and there are two methods.

1) Swaddle with a blanket the traditional way, or

2) use a special swaddle garment than eliminates the need to wrap baby in a blanket (and re-wrap over and over again as baby unravels.)

Method 1: Traditional Swaddling

Your little one is small, so you can swaddle in a small receiving blanket. You do not want to use heavy blankets or blankets so large that you’re forced to wrap your child multiple times. This can cause overheating, which is a risk factor for SIDS.

Follow the directions below or use this photo series as a guide.

  1. Lay a blanket flat with one the points of each corner on either side (like a diamond).
  2. Fold the top corner down to form a straight edge (you should have a point on the bottom, left and right, and a flat edge on top).
  3. Lay baby down so the top flat edge is just behind his/her shoulders.
  4. Bring baby’s left arm to his/her side. Pull the blanket’s left edge across baby’s body and tuck under baby’s right side.
  5. Bring baby’s right arm down. Pull the blanket’s right edge over to the left side and tuck it behind baby.
  6. Twist or fold the remaining material at the bottom up behind baby. Be sure to leave slack here so baby’s legs can move. You don’t want them forced straight or scrunched too far up as this can cause hip problems.

Method 2: Use a Swaddle Garment

There are many different choices on the market today to swaddle baby safely and effectively.  These swaddle garments are easier for parents because they require no wrapping and often eliminate risks that can be associated with swaddling with a blanket (wrapping too tightly and causing hip dysplasia or wrapping in too many layers or a heavy blanket causing overheating – risk factor for SIDS).

Also, stronger babies – and especially those with a startle reflex – can break out of a swaddle blanket easily which poses a risk of the blanket covering baby’s face. Not to mention the endless wrapping and rewrapping that parents must do when babies bust out of the swaddle blanket – tiring to say the least.

There are innovative swaddles available that require no wrapping making swaddling much easier for parents and much safer for babies.

How do you transition from the swaddle?

When baby is regularly busting out of the swaddle or rolling over, it’s time to stop. Some parents start the transition by letting baby sleep with one or both arms free, but many little ones use this mobility as leverage to get the rest of their body out.

In addition, many babies find the arm out solution much too freeing. When a baby can no longer feel their edges like they could in the womb or swaddle, it can be a tough and often shocking transition.  With arms and hands free, some babies are prone to scratching their face or body resulting in increased wake ups.

If your child still loves the swaddle, but he/she is rolling over or breaking free, you may want to consider a specialty product to help make the transition easier and still give your little one the comfort and security of the swaddle but with more movement.

The Zipadee-Zip is an amazing solution to transition baby from swaddling. Invented by a mom and dad who took $700 in savings and turned it into a multi-million dollar brand loved by parents across the globe, the Zipadee-Zip is a wearable blanket that gives plenty of room to move around (they can even safely walk in it, roll over, stand up, and more), but provides that familiar, fully enclosed, cozy resistance so they feel like they’re back in the womb.  We’ve raved about the Zipadee-Zip before and still love it.

How to Swaddle Baby and Transition from Swaddling

In this video, you’ll see a baby who breaks free of the swaddle, which wakes him up and frightens him, but with the Zipadee-Zip, he quickly feels his edges and falls back asleep.

The Zipadee-Zip also creates a warm and clean environment. It’s perfect for car rides, plane rides, trips to the doctor, rides in the stroller, and just lounging around the house. Since the hands are enclosed, it minimizes scratching and helps protect their skin. Toddlers can even wear a Zipadee-Zip!

The takeaway

Sleep is one of the most important parts of your baby’s development. During the first four months, do everything you can to help them sleep. Swaddling is an excellent tactic that we recommend everyone use. For assistance with helping your family rest easy, schedule your free 15-minute call with SleepWell Baby here.

Written by Teresa Johnson, Certified Sleep Consultant

Teresa Johnson is a wife, mother of three boys and a Senior Child Sleep Consultant with SleepWell Baby. She works with families to help them get the sleep they need.  Teresa offers support to parents with children ages 4 months – 8 years old through both in home and remote consultations. She can be contacted at teresa@sleepwellbaby.ca

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