Swaddles and Baby Sleep

Swaddles. Swaddling has been around since ancient times (more specifically, the Paleolithic era), so it makes sense that questions surrounding swaddling are ones I receive frequently. Is a swaddle a sleep prop? How do you feel about swaddles? Simply put, I love swaddles. I think they are great for newborns and can help calm your baby, which is conducive to sleep.

I'm asked all of the time about my stance on swaddles. Swaddling is great for newborns, but weaning an older baby from the swaddle can be difficult.

Physiologically, swaddling helps combat your baby’s Moro or startle reflex by keeping flailing arms and legs secured. With her arms and legs secured, your baby is less likely to wake herself from a sleep by startling.

If you’re worried about your baby overheating, I suggest just keeping an eye on your little one. If your baby is becoming sweaty, either loosen your swaddle or switch to a lighter blanket for swaddling – cotton muslin is a light, breathable fabric that is great for swaddling.

While I’m all for swaddling newborns, I must point out that swaddles can become sleep props (for both you and your baby). Your baby gets used to being wrapped and associates it with sleep, so when she kicks out of her swaddle, or loosens the wrap, she’ll likely wake and need you to come re-wrap her.

As your baby grows, her relationship with the swaddle becomes more complex – she thinks she needs to be swaddled to sleep, but hates having her arms and legs trapped at the same time (contradictory, I know – wait until she reaches toddlerhood!). As your baby begins to experiment with her movement, it will become increasingly difficult to keep her swaddled.

I suggest transitioning away from a swaddle by the third month. To begin transitioning, start by swaddling from the waist down, leaving the arms free. Try a nap without a swaddle. Bedtime is often the easiest time to start transitioning from the swaddle because your little one is typically the most tired at this time of day. If you’re feeling up to the challenge, try going swaddle free at bedtime.

I know of a mom who was still swaddling her eight-month-old, sewing together four receiving blankets so that they would have a large enough blanket to swaddle their baby. Not only is it unsafe to swaddle a baby who is rolling on her own, but using a swaddle at this age is definitely a sleep prop. If you’re in this situation, you really want to lose the swaddle by going “cold turkey.”

I won’t sugarcoat it – it will be difficult for you to wean your baby from the swaddle when you’ve been using it for so long. The swaddle is now a sleep prop for your baby, and he is going to protest when you put him to bed without being wrapped tightly. But, both you and your baby will be better off once you’ve removed the swaddle for sleep.

If you absolutely can’t lose the swaddle overnight, I suggest using a transition object – the Zipadeezip. The Zipadeezip can help your little one transition from being tightly wrapped by being a safe, enclosed sleep garment. The Zipadeezip resembles a swaddle, but is quite a bit looser, allowing arm and leg movement (almost like a body sleeping bag, but not quite a sleep sack). I recommend using this if you want to ease your baby from the swaddle more slowly.

In a nutshell, I’m all for swaddling up to three months of age, after that I suggest removing the swaddle (for both safety and sleep association purposes). If you’ve tried weaning your little one from her swaddle but are still having difficulty, please give me a call and we can work out a strategy together.

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