Swaddling – why do it and how to swaddle safely

For many years and in many cultures, swaddling has been seen to calm babies and provide more settled sleep. There are different points of view as to whether swaddling is safe, so my blog this week is to lay out the pros and cons and my tips for safe swaddling.

Why swaddle?

Swaddling can help provide comfort to young babies, providing that closeness and security they would have felt in the womb. It can help to reduce fussiness, reduce periods of crying and for many babies more settled sleep. This is in part due to swaddling reducing the ‘startle/Moro reflex’ which is present in the early months. This reflex happens as babies fall into a deeper level of sleep and can startle them awake as they feel as though they are falling. Swaddling can also soothe colic and other pain or discomfort.

Criticisms and concerns

A swaddled child being held by a woman
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Some of the criticisms of swaddling are that it can affect breastfeeding and skin to skin contact. To address this, I always recommend that swaddling material is removed before any feeds (breast and bottle) so there remains that closeness and skin to skin contact. There are also concerns that it can cause overheating. I advise parents not to use blankets to swaddle but instead use breathable, cotton and muslin-type materials. If your baby has a temperature or is unwell, then do not swaddle until they are well.

To prevent loose material covering their face, always ensure you secure the material and do not swaddle above the shoulders; in particular, heads should always remain uncovered.

The other consideration is that in the past, swaddling has been seen to increase the risk of hip dysplasia. This is because swaddling was always done very tightly around the legs. There were also reported risks of increased respiratory issues.

However, we now have guidance to ensure this is prevented. This is known as ‘Healthy Hip’ Swaddling. Once swaddled, babies should be able to freely kick their legs. Legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips to allow the natural development of hip joints. The legs should be able to fall into their natural position (which is a ‘frog legs position’). It is also important the material is not too tight at the chest as this can increase respiratory complications.

How do you place them for sleep when swaddled?

As with all babies whether swaddled or not, it is vital to place babies on their back to sleep. Once your baby looks as though they are going to roll from their back onto their front, the swaddling should be stopped. When you are at this stage it may be helpful to move to a ‘grobag/sleep sack’ to maintain some of the ‘snuggly’ feelings.

Further information

For more information, or to get advice in-person on how to swaddle, contact Julie through the website.