Swaddling your newborn can help them feel safe and secure as they adjust to life outside the womb. It can calm and soothe an unsettled baby, and may even reduce night-time waking. But while there are many benefits to swaddling, there are guidelines you need to follow to ensure that your baby is safe.
What are the benefits of swaddling?
Swaddling is a useful strategy that can help you settle your baby and encourage them to sleep on their backs. It provides stability and makes it harder for your baby to flip over, which may reduce the risk of sudden unexpected death (SUDI) in infancy.
Swaddling can also help moderate your baby’s startle reflex – an involuntary muscle movement that occurs when infants are exposed to startling environmental stimuli such as loud noises or bright lights. The startle reflex often causes a physical reaction that can interrupt your baby’s sleep. If your baby is wrapped, they are less likely to wake if startled.
Note: Tummy sleeping increases the risk of SIDS. Wrapping your baby in the tummy position is even more dangerous and must be avoided at all times.
How do I swaddle my baby?
Before you wrap your baby, make sure that they are not over-dressed. A nappy and singlet will suffice in warm weather and a lightweight onesie will suit a cooler climate. Swaddle your baby in a lightweight wrap / or bag made from cotton or muslin (rugs and blankets are not safe alternatives as they may cause overheating).
The wrap needs to be firm but not too tight. It should allow your baby’s chest to expand normally during breathing and their legs to bend at the hips with the knees apart. Always leave your baby’s head uncovered and don’t swaddle above the shoulders. Place your swaddled baby on their back to sleep – never on their side or front.
Note: Don’t be tempted to straighten your baby’s legs before wrapping as this can lead to hip problems such as hip dysplasia or dislocation.
If you decide to swaddle your baby, make sure you do it during the day and at night so they get used to it. If you leave your baby with a babysitter, show them how to swaddle your baby safely before you leave.
When should I stop swaddling my baby?
The best time to stop swaddling your baby is when it is no longer effective or safe. If they want to suck their thumb then it might frustrate them not having access to it. Once your baby is three months old (but definitely by six months) they are ready to transition to arms out sleeping. If your baby is younger than three months but can get out of the swaddle completely, then it’s a good idea to use a swaddle bag instead.
In some cases, the transition from swaddle to no swaddle can be tricky. Babies may miss the warmth and snugness of their swaddle and find it difficult to adjust to life without it. The best way to start the weaning process is to wrap your baby with one arm out, and after a few nights, remove the swaddle completely. If your baby is able to roll over, skip the transition stage and stop swaddling immediately.