Some people tell you swaddling a baby is dangerous and should be avoided and others tell you it is the best thing to do for your baby and even teach you to do it in the hospital. Who is right? You want your baby safe but don’t know what advice to take.
When the journal Pediatrics released research related to SIDS and swaddling in 2016, one of the oldest parenting traditions was suddenly under attack. Parents everywhere started loosening their little bundles of joy out of fear, media reports about the risks of swaddling ran wild, and the professional world lit up with controversy and analysis.
The problem is that those news reports stating a proven connection between swaddling and SIDS weren’t entirely accurate. What the meta-analysis suggested was that swaddling becomes riskier as a baby ages, with the greatest risk occurring after the age of six months. It also found that the risk of SIDS for babies sleeping on their sides or stomachs increases if those babies are also swaddled.
The analysis doesn’t state that there is scientific proof that swaddling is directly connected to SIDS, but that was the message spread through the media. While there are some potential risk factors with swaddling, further research is needed to determine potential risks for swaddling.
Does this leave you confused? Many parents are hesitant to swaddle because they aren’t sure what the dangers are, so let’s take a moment to focus on the pros and cons of swaddling.
Is It Bad to Swaddle a Baby?
While the meta-analysis released in Pediatrics fell short of a clear connection between swaddling and SIDS or any other health risk, there are some valuable parenting lessons to be gained from the research, including:
- Swaddling your baby and then placing him or her on her stomach or side is a clear risk. Professionals are now discouraging side and stomach sleeping because it is connected to SIDS, so not swaddling a baby in those positions isn’t an issue for most parents today.
- Swaddling becomes riskier as your baby ages, and stopping before six months of age is a great idea. Many parents stop swaddling when their babies become more active and want to explore the world around them more, so this is again not difficult for most parents to follow.
If you look solely at the facts revealed in the research, it would seem that swaddling isn’t bad if your baby is under six months old and is never left on his or her side or stomach. There’s still room for skepticism because the analysis doesn’t rule out dangers of swaddling. It simply suggests that more research is needed to make a clear determination.
While swaddling isn’t evil and doesn’t rise to the occasion of child abuse, it is probably wise to think of it as something that you do with a small baby under certain circumstances. For instance, maybe swaddling calms your baby down when he or she is upset, but it’s not something that you do before putting your baby down to sleep or for long periods of time.
Are There Benefits to Swaddling a Baby?
There are reasons that nurses have been swaddling babies in hospitals for years and grandmothers have been swaddling at home for generations. Babies feel warm and secure when tightly wrapped, and it may remind them of their natural environment inside the womb. Newborns make this immediate transition from the tight confines of their mother’s womb to this big world where their arms and legs are free to stretch and move. Swaddling allows them to feel more secure while adjusting to this change.
Most mothers also appreciate that small babies tend to sleep more soundly and for longer periods of time when swaddled. This is valuable for mothers experiencing postpartum depression as well as those suffering the consequences of severe sleep deprivation. When a baby is upset or colicky, swaddling is a great way to calm them down quickly.
These benefits clearly suggest that swaddling is a valuable tool for parenting. The key is to use it safely and under appropriate circumstances.
How Long Do You Swaddle a Baby?
It’s generally recommended that swaddling stops within the first three months of a baby’s life. If your baby is six months or older, you should definitely consider transitioning away from swaddling immediately. There are still ways to give your baby the sense of security and warmth that comes with swaddling, and we will discuss some useful products in just a moment. For now, understand that two or three months of safe swaddling is adequate for most babies.
Are Swaddling Blankets Safe?
Most mothers receive their first swaddling blanket in the hospital right after giving birth. The baby often spends his or her first few days of life warmly cocooned by nurses and doctors with professional swaddling skills. Those skills are passed on to the parents and grandparents so that swaddling can continue at home. As long as you follow a few guidelines when using your swaddling blankets, they are safe for use with babies during the first few months of life:
- Never place a swaddled baby to sleep on his or her side or stomach.
- Don’t leave your baby swaddled for long periods of time or for most of the day. It’s important to give those arms and legs room to stretch out and start exploring the world. Babies are also less alert and responsive when swaddled, and you want to encourage your baby to interact with others and awaken to the world.
- Don’t swaddle your baby too tight around the hips and legs. This can cause hip dysplasia in babies, potentially interfering with the development of your baby’s bones and causing long-term problems.
- Don’t allow childcare centers or babysitters to swaddle your baby. The best way to ensure that swaddling is used only under safe circumstances is to do it yourself.
How Do I Stop Swaddling My Baby?
If your baby is two or three months old and you want to make the transition away from swaddling, sleep sacks are invaluable. They allow you to keep your baby warm and snug while still delivering a sense of security. There are different types of sacks and they each have their benefits for babies at different stages of development.
Favorite Sleep Sacks to Choose From
Take a look at some of our favorite sleep sacks and some other products that are useful when swaddling is no longer a safe option for your baby:
We love these sacks because they’re affordable and they come in a variety of colors and cute patterns that are suitable for boys and girls. They’re lightweight, and they give your baby room to move around while keeping the baby’s legs and torso warm. The tank top design allows the arms to move freely and is perfect if you live in warm climate or are looking for sacks that are suitable for daytime wear. They come in sizes small to x-large, so you can use them at all ages.
This is a lightweight sleep sack with an added overlay that wraps around the baby’s torso to create the sensation of swaddling. The baby isn’t actually swaddled, and you can easily get to the diaper for easy changes that don’t require you to unwrap the swaddle overlay.
Sizes for this design are limited to newborn and small because this is a sleeping sack designed to replace swaddling blankets for small babies. Other sleep sacks are designed more for eliminating blankets in the crib, but they are also useful when transitioning away from swaddling. Look into these newborn swaddle sacks if you don’t want to put your baby down to sleep in a traditional swaddle blanket even in the first two months of life, but also stock up on the other designs because your baby will move out of the swaddle stage so quickly.
Your baby will feel more of the swaddling effect with these bags because they have come with long sleeves and have a more fitted, pajama-like design on the top. The microfleece material is also heavier than the thinner sacks offered by Halo, so these are geared more towards sleep time or perhaps cooler seasons and climates.
You still get a variety of sizes, colors and designs, and many of these bags are gender neutral in design. This is an affordable way to keep your baby warm and secure without a swaddling blanket.
While the bottom of a Swaddle Up is similar to a sleep sack, it confines the baby more and offers the comfort of being in a tight space that soothes many small babies. While the arms are contained inside the swaddle, they are allowed more movement than they would receive with a traditional swaddle blanket. This is the perfect solution if you want the benefits of swaddling without the risks of wrapping your baby in a tiny little ball with restricted movement.
With these alternatives to swaddling blankets, you can wrap your baby in a safe cocoon without worrying about increased risk of SIDS, hip dysplasia, and other potential risks. The goal is to keep your baby safe while allowing him or her the freedom of movement that they will need as they grow.
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