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Swaddle, Sleep, Repeat: A Guide to Peaceful Nights With Your Infant

Swaddling your baby is one of the best ways to promote healthy independent sleep from your first day home from the hospital.

Those first months as a new parent can be a dizzying mix of late-night feedings, diaper changes, and trying to catch some sleep whenever you can. Amidst all the ups and downs, there’s a simple technique that’s been helping babies sleep better for centuries: swaddling. Wrapping your little one up like a cozy burrito can really make your life easier by helping them—and you—get better sleep. In this blog, we will tackle the most important elements of swaddling: why it’s so amazing, when to start and stop, and how to keep your baby safe while swaddled.

The Magic of Swaddling

The reason swaddling works is because it recreates a familiar setting for your baby. Remember, your newborn has spent nine whole months in your womb, a cozy, snug place without much room to wiggle around. So, when they enter this big, open world, the sensation can be a bit overwhelming. Swaddling essentially mimics this womb-like experience, making your baby feel secure and comforted. It’s like giving them a warm hug that lasts throughout their sleep, easing their transition into this new environment.

But swaddling offers more than just a sense of security. Newborns have something called the Moro reflex, also known as a ‘startle reflex.’ This reflex can cause your baby to make sudden movements and wake them from their sleep. It’s completely natural, but the startle reflex can interrupt those precious z’s. A snug swaddle holds the baby’s arms close to their body, preventing the sudden movements. The result? Your baby can achieve deeper, more restful periods of sleep, making those nighttime hours a bit easier for everyone involved. Swaddling is not just about comfort; it’s a practical tool for better sleep, benefiting both your baby and, let’s face it, you too.

Now, don’t miss this: because swaddling helps your baby sleep better when they’re tiny, it can help ensure your baby continues to do so when they’re older. How you ask? If your baby sleeps more soundly and wakes up less, you’re less likely to feel the need to help them fall asleep or go back to sleep if they wake up. Less help from you to fall and stay asleep now means they need less help from you later and sleep more independently. Voila!

Is Swaddling Your Baby Safe?

As a parent, your baby’s safety is your first priority. So let’s address that right now. Many parents want to know – “Is it safe to swaddle my baby?”

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Canadian Paediatric Society say the answer is an absolute yes, as long as it is done correctly. 

Key safety points to keep in mind when swaddling:
  • Place on back: Always lay your swaddled baby on their back to sleep, never on their side or stomach.
  • Check tightness: The swaddle should be snug but not too tight. Make sure you can slip a hand between the blanket and your baby’s chest.
  • Breathable fabric: Choose materials that allow for good air circulation. Cotton muslin is often a good choice.
  • Room temperature: Keep the room at a comfortable temperature to avoid overheating. Check for signs like sweating or a flushed face.
  • Time to stop: Be ready to stop swaddling as soon as your baby shows signs of rolling over. It becomes a safety risk at that point.
  • Allow for hip movement: To avoid hip dysplasia ensure that your baby has sufficient room to move their legs while swaddled. 

What the Experts Say about Swaddling and Age 

You can start swaddling your baby from the minute they’re born. The number one most important thing for all parents to know about swaddling is when to stop doing it.

Most babies can be swaddled only up to three or four months of age. Why? Because around that time, many babies start to roll over. That’s when you need to rethink your swaddling game plan. Some parents get a few extra weeks or even a month of successful swaddling, especially if their little one isn’t showing signs of rolling over yet. Others may find that their babies are ready to stop swaddling earlier than that, and that’s okay too.

Always be ready to adapt to your baby’s changing needs. If your baby is happy and not yet rolling over, you could extend swaddling a bit longer. On the flip side, if your baby is starting to roll or shows any signs of discomfort, it might be time to transition away from swaddling earlier.

Safety first, always. When it comes to swaddling, this mantra holds even truer as your baby starts growing and learning new skills. If your baby shows any signs of starting to roll over, it’s time to stop swaddling right away. Don’t wait.

Here’s why and what to look out for:

  • Attempting to Roll: If your baby is making efforts to roll over during tummy time or while lying down, take it as a warning sign.
  • Strong Kicking: Strong kicks that almost, but not quite, tip them over are a clue that rolling over is on the horizon.
  • Pushing Up: If your baby starts pushing up when on their tummy, they’re building the muscle strength needed for rolling over.
  • Increased Restlessness: Babies who are ready to roll often get fidgety when swaddled, as if they want to break free.
  • More Frequent Wake-ups: A once well-swaddled baby waking up more often could be a sign they’re ready for more freedom in their movements.

Remember, swaddling keeps your baby’s arms snug, which is not safe if they’re starting to roll over. The moment you see any of these signs, it’s time to transition to a safer sleep setup like a sleep sack.

Transitioning Out of Swaddling: What Comes Next?

You’ll want to make the transition out of the swaddle as seamless as possible for both you and your baby. Let’s dive into the steps you can take to smoothly move away from swaddling, as well as some comforting alternatives to ensure your baby continues to sleep well. 

Steps for a smooth transition

If you address the need for swaddling proactively, you’ll have more options. One approach is to drop the swaddling cold turkey. It’s important not to introduce a new sleep prop that a child will become dependent on during this phase. 

Another approach is to start by leaving one arm out of the swaddle blanket for a few nights, then both arms, before finally moving to a sleep sack or wearable blanket. This gradual process helps your baby get used to the new sense of freedom while still feeling secure enough for sleep. Monitoring your baby’s response is essential during this phase; if they seem agitated or have trouble sleeping, it might be worth taking a step back before moving forward. As long as they’re not showing signs of rolling you still have time to make the adjustment.

Alternatives to swaddling that still promote sleep

Once swaddling is no longer an option you have plenty of alternatives. Sleep sacks and wearable blankets are fantastic options that offer the same cozy, confined feeling without the swaddling risks. For older babies who have more control over their movements, a snug pajama will often do the trick. Just like with swaddling, the key is to read your child’s cues and adjust as needed. 

Wrapping It All Up

Navigating the maze of parenthood is no easy feat, so every little bit helps. Swaddling can be one of the simplest yet most effective tools in your parenting toolkit, offering a chance for better sleep and calmer nights for both you and your baby.

If you’re struggling with your child’s sleep, we’d love to help you. Reach out to the Tender Transitions team to book a free call with us today.

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