Becoming a parent means you’ll be making A LOT of decisions. From what diapers to buy to where you plan to have your newborn sleeping. One of the many decisions you’ll face as a new parent is whether or not to swaddle your baby. There are so many benefits to swaddling your newborn baby. But I hear a lot of parents say their newborn hates the swaddle. Or maybe you just have no idea how to actually swaddle your newborn baby (which was totally me when my daughter was born). So, let’s talk about it. Is swaddling a newborn really necessary?
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What is the Purpose of Swaddling a Newborn?
If you’re wondering what swaddling does for your newborn baby, there are two main reasons the swaddle helps a newborn sleep well. First, swaddling puts a baby into a womb-like experience, where they’re in a nice, warm environment with close-quarters. Second, swaddling a newborn newborn baby at night and for naps during the day helps to prevent your newborn from startling themselves awake.
The purpose of swaddling a newborn baby is to help to calm them and prepare them for sleep. Put yourself in your newborn’s tiny shoes. Imagine what it felt like for them being in the womb. It was a very snug place, especially toward the end of their time there. They didn’t have the ability to move around very much and had gotten used to the tighter space.
Wrapping your newborn up nice and tight reminds them of their happy place. It helps them feel comforted and at ease because their environment feels familiar. And this tends to calm a fussy newborn.
Your newborns will also experience the Moro Reflex (also known as the startle reflex). And I’m sure you’ve seen your baby do this many times. Have you seen your newborn peacefully sleeping without a swaddle or laying on their back on a mat with their arms by their side and out of nowhere their arms quickly fly above their head? This is what’s called the Moro Reflex, Mama. This reflex is completely normal, and will go away on its own eventually, but can make it hard for your newborn to sleep.
When is Swaddling a Newborn Necessary?
Swaddling a newborn is particularly helpful when your baby is fussy or irritable and you’re trying to put them down to sleep.
The swaddle can help calm your fussy baby. If your newborn is fighting sleep, try putting them into the swaddle to help calm and relax them.
It can also be effective at keeping your newborn from startling themselves awake because of that Moro Reflex, prolonging their precious sleep you sometimes work so hard for.
But My Newborns Hates the Swaddle
Now some babies simply don’t like the swaddle. You may be wondering, “Is swaddling a newborn necessary if my newborn hates the swaddle?” If your newborn doesn’t like it, then don’t use it. It’s just common sense. I don’t want you to force the swaddle on your baby if it’s something they truly despise.
However, sometimes it does take several tries before your newborn gets used to the swaddle. Don’t just try it once, then think they don’t like it, and then totally abandon it.
I swore my daughter wanted nothing to do with a swaddle her first few weeks of life. But I kept trying. And I got better and better at actually putting it on her correctly as the days and nights went on. By week 4, I was able to get her to fall asleep in the swaddle at night. I usually recommend my clients try the swaddle for at least a couple weeks before deciding to throw in the towel.
How to Swaddle a Newborn in 5 Easy Steps…
To correctly swaddle a newborn does take a little practice. But once you’ve got it down, you’ll be able to swaddle your newborn in under a minute. Would you like to be more confident in swaddling your newborn? Let’s break it down into 5 simple steps:
Step 1: Where Do Babies Arms Go When Swaddling?
The best arm position when swaddling a newborn is to have their arms down by their side or even on their tummy. I personally like a swaddle with Velcro or a zipper to help keep your newborn snug.
I used the Halo Newborn Swaddle with both of my children because of the ease of the Velcro.
When you get a swaddle with a zipper or Velcro, you won’t have to find ways to tuck a blanket into a certain fold and then have your baby wiggle their arms out and have to start all over again.
Step 2: Pull it Tight
The biggest mistake I see parents make when swaddling a newborn is they don’t make it tight enough. Remember how newborns love that snug and secure feeling like they had in the womb? We want to replicate that with the swaddle but making it nice and tight.
You will want to make sure the swaddle is very very snug so your newborn won’t be wiggling out of it.
Pull the sides of the swaddle around your newborn as tight as you can get it.
We will go over a safety check in just a minute.
Step 3: The Right Position
It is important to make sure the swaddle is not to too high on your newborn’s body and is below the shoulders.
By ensuring the swaddle is below your baby’s showers, you’re making sure it is down away from your baby’s nose and mouth so there’s no risk of suffocation.
Your baby will tend to move a lot when they’re sleeping. This is really common among newborns. They are very restless sleepers because of the way their sleep cycles are organized. And when your baby moves around they can more easily shimmy the swaddle up and over their face if the swaddle is already above the shoulders to start.
Step 4: Loose Around the Hips
While we want the swaddle to be nice and snug on the chest and arms, the swaddle should be looser around their hips and legs.
You want your baby’s legs to easily bend and have freedom of movement. Don’t worry about the startle reflex here, it only affects the arms.
Constricted legs can be uncomfortable for your baby and prevent good sleep.
Wrapping your baby’s legs too tight within the swaddle could potentially lead to a medical problem knowns as hip dysplasia, which would prevent your little one’s hips from properly growing.
Step 5: Final Safety Check
While you’ve pulled the swaddle around your newborn’s chest very snugly, you should still be able to fit your entire hand in the chest area.
You can do a final safety check of your newborn’s swaddle by sliding your hand onto your baby’s chest under the swaddle.
This final safety check will help you feel reassured knowing your newborn has enough space to breathe comfortably.
Is Swaddling a Newborn Safe?
Yes, swaddling a newborn is safe when done correctly by following the 5 steps above.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep guidelines confirms, when done correctly, swaddling can be an effective tool to help to calm newborns and promote better sleep.
And who doesn’t want a well-rested newborn?
When to Stop Swaddling a Newborn
Swaddling your newborn baby can be very effective for the first couple months of your baby’s life. But there will come a time when you need to stop swaddling your newborn baby. Once your little one has started to show signs of rolling, it is time to transition out of the swaddle and into an arms-free sleep sack.
Swaddling your baby once they can roll over will increase their risk of SIDS as they can get stuck and not be able to get themselves back into a safe position.
What If Swaddling a Newborn Doesn’t Help Them Sleep?
Swaddling a newborn baby is just one technique which can help a baby sleep well. If you’ve tried swaddling your little one but your newborn still won’t sleep, schedule a free sleep evaluation with Live Love Sleep. As a sleep coach, there’s nothing I hate more than to see moms silently struggling. True sleep training isn’t appropriate for newborns as they are too young to learn how to self soothe on their own, but it’s never too early to begin setting a great sleep foundation!
And don’t forget to download our FREE Newborn Ebook to help your baby sleeping well from the very beginning!