All wrapped up: how to correctly swaddle your baby
For baby, it's like being back the womb.
If your new baby is a cat-napper, don’t worry, this can be normal. Every baby is different, and every baby will hopefully get into the swing of napping and snoozing during the first few months. Last week, I mentioned swaddling in relation to newborns and helping them sleep. So, here’s a little step-by-step guide for the new mamas out there:
Swaddling your newbie is a blissful feeling for your baby, it’s a bit of cosiness and somewhat familiar feeling of being back in the womb. Heavenly. If your baby doesn’t seem to like being swaddled, don’t dismiss it off-hand. Sometimes it’s about practice and persistence and getting it right for both of you. Some people will use a swaddle for just a few weeks, and others may continue for a couple of months.
What exactly is swaddling?
It's probably one of the things your grandparents would tell you they did “in the olden days”. It’s a method of wrapping your babies in special blankets to encourage them to feel safe and comfortable (and comforted). Agitated babies and colicky infants can be soothed by a simple swaddle. And on the major plus side, a feeling of calmness will encourage sleep. We’ll take some of that, please. (I often think that I'd love to be “swaddled” myself – I’m pretty sure I’d never leave my bed, though).
What you need:
Good quality blankets. They don’t have to be specific “swaddling blankets” but the fabric does need to be pretty stretchy and what's super-important is that it needs to be breathable. Babies wriggle around, even the littlest ones, and you may find they can do a Houdini out of their swaddles – should the blanket rise above their face during a nap or sleep, the fabric type will be crucial. A heavy blanket can lead to overheating, so it’s imperative to note the room temperature – ideally somewhere between 16-20 degrees Celsius.
Recent research at Southampton General Hospital suggested that the practice of tightly swaddling a baby (particularly if you straighten their legs and wrap securely around their lower limbs), could increase the chances of infant hip dysplasia. Babies’ legs need to be able to stretch and move. An infants’ hip ligaments relax during the birthing process and if you force them to be in a firm swaddled position in the early months, their little hip joints have difficulty strengthening as the muscles aren’t free to move. What I suggest is, swaddling quite tightly around the upper body, but leaving their lower limbs a bit freer to move.
- Take a large breathable rectangular baby blanket and lay out on a flat surface. Fold one corner towards the middle of the blanket. Place baby’s head along the folded area and with one hand on your baby, holding one little arm down along the body, wrap a corner piece of blanket around the baby and tuck it in under their bum.
- Next, fold the bottom part of the blanket upwards, although not too tightly as to restrict some movement of legs, feet and hips. If there’s enough length in the blanket, tuck it in at the top.
- Holding that last fold in place, take your final corner and wrap around the baby, again tucking it in at the back. Make sure there are no uncomfortable lumps underneath when baby lies down. Only their head, neck and the tip of their shoulders should be out of the swaddle.
A swaddled baby should never be left unattended though. My sister is a midwife, and while you’ll commonly see plenty of babies swaddled in hospital, there are no risks as there is a constant flow of people checking on them.
As with many things baby-related, recommendations from the HSE change quite often so talk to your Public Health Nurse if you are unsure about whether or not to swaddle.
Note: Once your little one is moving around sufficiently that they can roll onto their tummies while asleep, I would stop swaddling as there could be a risk of suffocation. In fact, once you see the potential of rolling, I would consider stopping.
Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She's also a baby and childcare guru, a 'parent nanny' and the answer to many a weary parent's woes. When it comes to baby and child issues, Niamh is your woman. Always on hand to offer a no-nonsense solution, in an approachable way. A regular in the Irish media, (most recently as TV3’s Late Lunch Show's 'parent nanny') over the next while at HerFamily.ie, Niamh will share some of her experiences, helping you attain that ‘holy grail’ – nights of uninterrupted sleep for all of the family.