Swaddling is one of the oldest practices in human history that is still very much common in many parts of the world today. It is simply the act of wrapping infants in clothing that restricts movement.
Although in recent times, there have been some contentions as to whether this ancient practice should continue or not, however, the general consensus is that swaddling is safe as long as it is done the right way.
When properly done, wrapping your baby will help to keep her secure and safe, and also encourage them to sleep. It will help them survive the transition of leaving the womb as they try to adapt to the new world. However, doing it carelessly can cause some serious damage to your child’s health.
This is why it is very important for you as a parent to learn how to swaddle properly.
Why you should swaddle your kid
To a large extent, swaddling mimics the condition inside the womb by enabling your baby to have the same physical sensation. This helps your baby to adjust to their new environment quickly.
The wrapping of arms and leg keeps involuntary movement during sleep which can startle your baby awake.
Also, Swaddling provides comfort to your child. Think about the physical sensation your baby had before coming out of your womb. Think about the warm bath of fluid, the solitude, the cozy surrounding, the dark atmosphere, and the secure covering.
Unfortunately, once the little pumpkin comes into the world, that sense of security is no longer there.
Her perfect sanctuary is taken away, and a complete overhaul occurs. Instead of her wonderful, perfect isolated dark sanctuary, she is now exposed to radiant light, unfamiliar voices, napkin and clothes, harsh weather, and of course a new kind of sleep bed-the bassinet.
Luckily, swaddling brings calmness and a feeling of comfort to the baby in spite of the drastic change she’s exposed to after birth. It helps her to quickly settle in her new environment, feeling safe and secure.
How long should swaddling last?
Swaddling starts at the hospital during the first few hours of delivery.
As the baby leaves the womb, she is carefully wrapped in clean clothing after the blood stains have been washed away. At this time, her muscles are weak, and her legs and hands are not yet completely straight.
Subsequently, as the baby is taken home, she is frequently swaddled, but not all the time.
This should be done until your baby's arms and legs are straight enough to provide her with comfort and also prevent involuntary movement during sleep. Normally, this should be done for one to four months from the time of birth. By this time, your baby should have already begun moving and rolling by herself.
Sometimes, the baby may stay around five to six months before outgrowing the startle reflex. In this case, you may want to wrap her a little longer.
However, swaddling shouldn't be extended beyond this period as it may lead to hip dysplasia.
Because it helps to retain body heat, swaddling is not advisable when your baby is sick or feverish. Doing so will only worsen the situation.
Also, avoid laying your baby on her side or stomach as this exposes them to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
A general rule of thumb is to stop swaddling once your baby can roll over voluntarily. This usually occurs between 4-6 months.
What you need
To swaddle your baby, you need swaddling clothes.
But don't be confused by the term. Swaddling clothes could be any blanket or wrapper large enough to enclose your baby.
However, these days, swaddling clothes are usually mild cotton fabrics (blankets) specially designed for wrapping infants.
Make sure whatever blanket you choose is clean and free from stains and dust.
How to swaddle your baby
While there are several methods or styles for swaddling an infant, not all of them can restrict your baby's movement during sleep.
Also, using blankets that are short or undersized won't provide the needed comfort and warmth for your child.
However, the common swaddling technique that is generally recognized as the best is the "burrito style". This simply means wrapping up your baby with a large cotton cloth like a burrito. Here your baby is carefully wrapped and covered on all the sides so that it's almost impossible for her to startle herself awake during sleep. This style also helps your baby to feel safe and secured.
There are definitely other good techniques you may want to consider. However, the one mentioned above is a good start and also generally recommended.
As earlier mentioned, cotton is the best material to use for swaddling. It is firm and can conserve just enough heat that is needed by your little pumpkin. Using any other cloth material may cause overheating. Avoid using fabric materials that are covered with fur.
Instead go for those cotton fabrics that are designed to prevent interference with your child's breathing, so that even when she moves the cloth over her face, it won't cover her nose completely.
Apart from large plain cotton blankets, you may also want to consider using sleep sacks which come with fasteners and "wings". These blankets look like sleeping bags and are generally easier to use, although, they may cost you more money.
Whichever color or size of fabric you decide to use, make sure you don't swaddle too tightly. There should be enough room for proper air circulation. Covering a baby is one thing but cutting off ventilation is quite another.
When to Swaddle
Normally, babies are swaddled before laying them in the bassinet to sleep at night or for a nap during the day. Night time is probably the best time to swaddle your kid as it encourages longer period of sleep.
Practical steps for swaddling
The steps below show how to swaddle correctly.
- First, spread the blanket out flat, with the right top corner folded down.
- Next, carefully lay your baby on the blanket with her neck resting on the folded corner. The child should be facing up.
- Now, hold her left arm straight, and wrap the left corner of the blanket around her body; tucking it under her right arm.
- Then fold the right corner of fabric over her body after tucking the right arm down.
- Now take the other bottom left corner and fold it over his feet.
- Next, fold or twist the bottom of the blanket loosely and tuck it under one side of the baby.
- Allow 2 or 3 fingers between the swaddle and the infant's chest
The Dos and Don’ts of swaddling
In order to reduce the risk of SIDS, it is necessary you swaddle your baby the right way. There are certain things you should do and others you shouldn't.
Below are the Dos:
- Allow a little bit of room in the leg area. Although swaddling is meant to restrict involuntary movement, it doesn't mean you should tighten the blanket around your baby's arms and legs.
- Make sure your baby's neck and head are well exposed to enable them breathe Do not cover with a blanket.
- As earlier indicated; it is best to use thin cotton fabrics for swaddling as they ensure adequate aeration.
- After swaddling, make sure the baby's legs bend up and out.
- After swaddling, lay your baby on her back to reduce the risk of developing a hip problem.
- Keep a close eye on the baby to make sure she doesn't roll over. Swaddling helps to prevent this.
- Monitor her cues and arousal state. Although swaddling may encourage a longer period of sleep, a decreased arousal can be a problem.
Below are the Don'ts:
- Make sure the swaddling blanket does not cover your baby's head. This can result in overheating which could lead to illness. Instead, use a hat or a small cap if you feel there is too much cold.
- Do not take away your baby's comfort by swaddling them with arms straight down. Putting their hands in their mouth is one-way infants generally comfort Also, it is another way they show they are hungry, apart from crying. Thus, when you bound them hands and legs, you are making things difficult for them.
- Avoid using bulk or heavy clothing material for swaddling. Apart from causing overheating, such fabrics can suppress your baby, making it difficult for her to breathe.
- After swaddling, do not lay your baby on her stomach or side. Instead, place her on her back.
- Don't swaddle too tightly. Doing so may damage your baby's hip in the long run leading to SIDS.
- Never cover your baby's face while swaddling even if there is cold. Instead, use a hat to cover her head. Covering her face may result to
- Avoid keeping loose blankets or clothes in the bed where your baby is sleeping.
Wrapping it all up
Because swaddling is still a common practice today, it means the exercise is still very useful and beneficial for your kid, or else it would have been a lost art. However, its purpose and benefits can become easily perverted when it's not properly done. By following the guide above, you will not only be protecting your baby but will also help conserving an ancient art that have survived through the centuries.