Swaddling is the age-old custom of tightly wrapping very young babies in blankets or cloths so that their forelimb movement is restricted. Parents in many different cultures have been swaddling their babies for thousands of years. And for good reason! Swaddling works wonders in calming babies and helping them sleep better!
Swaddling Works. Period.
If your goal is to help your baby sleep longer and more peacefully, the effectiveness of swaddling is undisputable. Study after study, as well as a ton of empirical evidence, show that babies who are swaddle wake up less frequently, sleep longer and cry less.
Another important side-effect of swaddling is that it correlates with a decrease in maternal anxiety, and improved parental satisfaction. It is even recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) to reduce the shaken baby syndrome (Yikes!).
I will go out on a limb here and argue that happy, well rested parents will tend to be more content while caring for their babies (i.e., less prone to shaking the heck out of them!).
One way of thinking about how swaddling works is by replicating the coziness babies experienced in the womb, giving them a calming sense of safety. A more scientific explanation is that swaddling prevents the startle reflex that often wakes babies up in response to environmental stimuli.
Risks of Swaddling
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m an enthusiastic swaddling advocate, and may be somewhat biased towards the benefits of this technique. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to provide a well balanced view on the topic.
Critics of swaddling argue that it interferes with arousal in such a way that may not be natural and therefore not desirable.
Others raise concerns that the practice may increase hip dysplasia, hyperthermia and ultimately SIDS (super scary, I know!).
Finally, some people just feel that restricting a baby’s movements in this way is simply not for them. Fair enough, right?!
Wait, what was that about SIDS?
A few terrifying (and overly cited) studies in the early 2000’s suggested that swaddling could increase the risk of SIDS, but that increased risk was only really present in swaddle babies that were sleeping prone (belly and face down).
Well, we have known for years that putting babies to sleep in a supine position(belly and face up) is by far the best way to reduce the risk of SIDS.
In fact, the “Back to sleep” campaign was launched in 1994, driven by the clear recommendation by the AAP that young babies should sleep exclusively on their backs. The increased parental awareness resulting from this very successful campaign has contributed to a significant reduction of the incidence of SIDS (by more than 50%).
Some swaddling proponents also argue that swaddling may actually reduce the risk of SIDS because it encourages babies to remain in a supine position all night long.
What do we actually know?
- Babies younger than 12 months old should ALWAYS be put to sleep on their backs, swaddled or not. Check out our SAFE SLEEP GUIDELINES.
- Swaddling should be eliminated by 6 months old or as soon as babies start to roll over to prevent them from rolling to a face down position while swaddled.
- Swaddling should be tight around the arms and chest, but wide around the pelvis and legs to avoid hip dysplasia. Babies should be allowed to bend their legs up and out into their natural froggy-like position.
- Babies should be appropriately dressed underneath the swaddle depending on the room temperature.
- Swaddling is used in neonatal care units to control pain and heart rate during minor procedures.
My Own 2 Cents
When I first started swaddling my oldest child, I used traditional swaddling blankets and really struggled to get it right. My Houdini baby always seemed to find a way to get loose and, not only would the sleep inducing effect be reduced, but also, I would be terrified of loose blankets around his face.
With time and enough practice, I did become a swaddling pro, and so can you! It’s not rocket science after all, and there are dozens of helpful tutorials out there.
But if you don’t want to be in the swaddling trenches – worrying about your baby getting loose in the middle of the night or wondering if another caregiver will swaddle your baby as well as you do – there are also a number of pre-fitted swaddle options you could chose from. Trust me! I've tried them all!
Try out our ready-made Swaddles! They are comfortable to wear, easy to dress, and made of 100% organic cotton!
Check out our BABY SLEEP SOLUTIONS!
Swaddling is great to promote sleep, and when done right, it is a perfectly safe practice!
Personally, I will go as far as saying that swaddling (and babywearing – I have enough to say about this to write another blog post) saved my life!
- Möller EL, de Vente W, Rodenburg R (2019) Infant crying and the calming response: Parental versus mechanical soothing using swaddling, sound, and movement. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0214548.
- Anna Pease et al. (2016) Swaddling and the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis. Pediatrics, online version, 137, no. 6 (2016): 1–9.
- Nelson, A. M. (2017) Risks and Benefits of Swaddling Healthy Infants. MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, 42(4), 216–225.
- Efendi D et al. (2018) Pacifier and swaddling effective in impeding premature infant's pain score and heart rate. Enferm Clin. Feb;28 Suppl 1:46-50. doi: 10.1016/S1130-8621(18)30035-4.
- Goodstein MH, et al. (2016). Swaddling is not contraindicated in the newborn period. Journal of Perinatology, 36(2), 160–160. doi:10.1038/jp.2015.182
- McDonnell E, Moon RY (2014) Infant deaths and injuries associated with wearable blankets, swaddle wraps, and swaddling. J Pediatr; 164(5): 1152–1156.
- Meyer LE, Erler T (2011) Swaddling: a traditional care method rediscovered. World J Pediatr (2011) 7: 155.
- Van Sleuwen BE, et al. (2007). Swaddling: A Systematic Review. Pediatrics, 120(4), e1097–e1106.
- Heidi LR, et al. (2009) Minimizing the Risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: To Swaddle or Not to Swaddle? The Journal of Pediatrics 155, no. 4 (2009): 475–81;
- Bradley TT (2009) Does Swaddling Decrease of Increase the Risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? The Journal of Pediatrics 155, no. 4 (2009): 461–62.