Prior to having our first baby, I learned the technique of swaddling. My husband learned the technique of swaddling. I bought “pre-swaddled” blankets, or whatever you want to call them…swaddle blankets that do the work for you with their velcro-assistance! Then, I had our baby, and I realized I would not be swaddling. Not her, or our future babies. Once she was earth-side, I just had this instinct – I felt like it would restrict her from what her body and her reflexes needed her to do. Also, I knew it wasn’t safe to swaddle baby while breastfeeding, while contact napping, or while bedsharing, so really, when was I going to have her swaddled?
Now, some people love swaddling. Some people say some of their babies like being swaddled, and some don’t. Many “sleep experts” think of it as a necessity. But when my heart strings pulled at me to not do something that was seeming to be the norm, which if you know me, is more common than not, I began to read, and research, and learn, and wonder.
My usual parenting disclaimer, I am not an expert. And I am not telling anyone what to do or not to do. I am simply sharing my thoughts and my understanding, for you to take and then explore further.
What is Swaddling?
Swaddling is wrapping a baby tightly in blankets. You often see a newborn wrapped like this at the hospital. The technique is often said to resemble the feeling of baby being in the womb (which I slightly disagree with, because in the womb, my baby could kick and punch all she wanted, and her limbs weren’t restricted), and it’s meant to calm baby and help them sleep. Many sleep experts also say it’s used to restrict baby’s startle reflex, which is also called the moro reflex (again, I personally didn’t want to restrict something that is biologically there for a reason, even if it would mean more sleep for me). Also, if you think about it, why do we demonize this reflex in babies when we honour their sucking reflex and other primary reflexes that are there for a reason and good for brain development and in support of our baby’s nervous system? Because, this one impacts our sleep! Although babies need to experience the startle reflex, contact sleep and safe bedsharing does help settle baby much quicker after being disrupted by the startle reflex. Please also note that the startle reflex does not last forever. I do understand how those who have their baby in a separate sleep environment enjoy the comfort that the swaddle can offer them, so again, you will know what is right for you and your babies!
How Long Can You Swaddle For?
You can only swaddle until baby can roll over. For C, this was by 2 months, which meant swaddling would have been short-lived anyway. I also have a suspicion that is not grounded in any research other than me talking to other parents, but I believe babies who are not swaddled tend to learn to roll over sooner. I’m not saying it’s good or bad to reach these developmental milestones earlier, it just simply is. However, by the time your baby can roll over (usually for sure by 4 months) you will need to say goodbye to the swaddle and find another alternative to comfort baby during their sleep (or their wakes, rather).
Why Do People Swaddle?
The main whys or pros of swaddling are longer sleeps for baby, soothing of baby, and there is some belief that it can reduce the risks of suffocation, as baby is more likely to stay on their back in the position they were laid down in [please note that on the opposite spectrum, babies waking more often, which can occur from not being swaddled, also reduces the chance of SIDS, because of baby “practising” waking]. While all of those things sound wonderful, looking at those, I still chose not to swaddle because I realized newborn babies are meant to wake (and it is a good thing to wake), I was happy (and able) to be the source to soothe my baby, and I knew the risk of SIDs and suffocation also went down by having a safe sleep environment, and having my baby close to me. Plus, more wakes, meant more feeds, which was not only good for my milk supply, but also wonderful for our breastfeeding relationship!
The Reasons We Chose Not to Swaddle
So, I’ve been giving you bits and pieces already on why we chose not to swaddle. Some other things that made me not want to swaddle is for regulating baby’s temperature – I wanted to make sure she was warm and cozy, but not too hot. I also wanted her to have as much skin-to-skin contact as possible for all the many health benefits that it brings, and the bonding, that has led to our beautiful attachment-relationship, and as I said above, a successful breastfeeding relationship. Hip dysplasia was another concern for me, when it came to babywearing, and swaddling. With babywearing, I learned how to get baby’s hips in the proper position, so those who choose to swaddle can most definitely learn how to safely swaddle as well, not only for their hips, but also for safety when it comes to breathing safely through the night.
Overall, the cons for swaddling outweigh the benefits for our family. I share this, because this is a question I get often and I wanted to have a source for people to refer back to. Again, please do what works for your family. If you choose to swaddle, give yourself some time to learn and practise. If you choose not to swaddle, know that there are so many other ways you can help soothe your baby.
Good luck in your not swaddling, or swaddling, journey!