10 Common Swaddling Mistakes
The swaddle. It’s been a common practice among parents for hundreds of years, but since the semi-recent changes in sleep recommendations for babies, it’s become even more popular. When experts and doctors alike started the back to sleep initiative in the 1990’s, parents went back to the age old tradition of wrapping babies tightly in hopes of getting some shut eye. And while most babies love a good swaddle, recent news stories have highlighted some of the issues with swaddling – issues that are easily fixed with the correct technique and knowledge of safe swaddling.
1. Swaddling should be snug, not too tight
What’s cuter than a little baby all wrapped up into a little swaddle cocoon?! While a tight swaddle is a must to keep baby feeling secure and sudden muscle reflexes at bay, many parents tend to think the tighter the swaddle the better. This isn’t necessarily the case, though. Did you know that the International Hip Displasia Institute recommends that swaddles be loose from the hips down, allowing baby to have room to bend his or her legs up and out at the hips? According to the institute, improper swaddling can cause hip displasia or developmental hip displasia. In the womb, a baby keeps their legs up, bent, and crossed towards the body. Once born, parents tend to swaddle the baby in a long swaddle, with the legs tightly wrapped straight, interfering with the baby’s natural development.
2. But, not too loose either…
Swaddling is a science. Too tight and you can cause hip problems. Too loose and you risk baby becoming entangled in blankets, posing a suffocation risk. If a swaddle is too loose and baby is able to unwrap itself, there is a chance (though probably a small chance) that the blankets can cover the baby’s face and airways. This is always why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be put to sleep with no blankets. A tightly wrapped swaddle, or a swaddle that features a velcro closure, like that of Nested Bean, minimizes the risk of little ones wiggling out and becoming entangled in the swaddle.
Like we previously stated, swaddling is certainly a science. Some babies love it, while others prefer to have an arm or two free to move. For some babies, the gentle wrap of a swaddle is enough to comfort, but for most, the added touch of Mom or Dad is needed. This is why we love the Zen Swaddle from Nested Bean. Not only does the Zen Swaddle make swaddling correctly incredibly easy with its velcro closures, but the addition of lightly weighted pouches on the chest and sides mimics the touch of Mom and Dad making for better sleep.
The Zen Swaddle simulates light pressure on the baby’s chest just like the comforting touch of the palm of your hand, and the weighted sides provide a snug embrace. Another ideal aspect of the swaddle is that the baby’s arms can be swaddled in or out, allowing the swaddle to be used from approximately 0 to 6 months – twice as long as most swaddles. We also love that the swaddle is completely toxin free and meets the International Hip Displasia Institute’s recommendation that swaddles be loose from the hips down, allowing full joint movement. The Zen Swaddle comes in either 100% cotton or a cotton-bamboo blend for exceptional softness and breathability.
3. Include swaddling the arms down, not crossed, until baby naturally starts wiggling their arms out
Mistake #3: swaddling the arms while crossed on the chest. It is recommended that when swaddling a baby, that you swaddle them with their arms down and to the side, rather than crossed on their chest. This is because it is less likely that a baby will wiggle out of the swaddle or bunch it up into their face if their arms are down to the sides. Studies also show that babies are more relaxed and sleep better with their arms down, most likely because the swaddle stifles the startle reflex – you know, when those tiny arms start swinging mid nap.
4. Swaddling too high on the shoulders
When you see a tightly wrapped baby burrito, most often their entire body is wrapped from neck to toes. However, it is recommended that swaddling start just below the shoulders, not above. We all know babies are constantly wiggling around, even from day one. If the swaddle is too high on baby’s body, it can easily come up over the face once baby starts moving.
5. Swaddling 24/7
From the moment your baby is born, nurses teach eager and wary parents how to swaddle a baby. It’s soothing and mimics the womb, so why not? As new parents, we take this tip to heart, swaddling baby around the clock, between diaper changes and feedings. But, it’s important to remember that babies need skin to skin contact for some very important reasons. First, a baby cannot regulate its own body temperature. But interestingly enough, your body temperature will adjust up or down while holding your baby to help regulate their own body temperature. Skin to skin contact also regulates baby’s heart rate, breathing, and the ever-so-important bond between parent and child.
6. Swaddling to calm a baby
While yes, swaddling may certainly calm a new baby that is used to the comfort of a womb, it tends to be our natural go-to (just please stop crying!) before we go through the checklist: Has he had a full feeding recently? Has he been burped? Diaper changed? All of these questions (and probably more) should be answered before swaddling and soothing. If your baby is swaddled to fall asleep, parents may miss important hunger cues. Again, swaddling should only be used once all of baby’s needs have been met.
7. Swaddling baby in thick blankets
Baby blankets are a hot baby shower item – especially from great grandmas with wicked knitting skills. While these blankets are precious, tuck them away in a safe spot until baby is much older. Wrapping a new baby in a thick blanket is a no-no, mostly because a baby cannot regulate its own temperature just yet and is susceptible to overheating, but also because they are not breathable should it somehow come up around the face. Instead, swaddles should be 100% cotton to keep baby from overheating and allowing breathability.
8. Swaddling and laying baby down on its stomach
Both are a huge no-no, especially when done together. It’s widely recommended that babies always be put to sleep on their backs, and when swaddling, it’s absolutely important that a baby is laying on its back to reduce the risk of SIDS. Tummy time is important for development, but make sure that it’s done safely with a parent watching and all of baby’s limbs are free to move.
9. Swaddling a baby that’s too old
Once a baby starts rolling, it’s time to stop swaddling. Safety first over sleep! There are plenty of options for swaddling older babies that need access to move their arms, such as Nested Bean’s Zen Sack. While allowing full range of motion of the arms, the sack still allows baby to feel comforted and warm throughout the night.
Once a baby starts rolling, it’s hard to find a way to keep baby comforted at night without adding the risk that extra blankets carry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby’s crib should be free of blankets, bumpers, or stuffed animals (anything that could be a suffocation hazard). Fortunately, Nested Bean gives parents a great option: The Zen Sack.
Like the Zen Swaddle, the Zen Sack includes a lightly weighted pouch on the chest (in the shape of an adorable egg), but snaps at the shoulders, allowing baby full range of motion of the arms without the risk of the swaddle riding up over the baby’s face. The sack also provides for extra warmth and comfort with a light plush upper fabric, while still allowing some room for the hips and legs to move in the toxin free lower sack. The Zen Sack grows with baby with two sets of adjustable shoulder tabs and a two-way zipper for easy diaper changes. The Zen Sack comes in either 100% cotton or a cotton-bamboo blend for exceptional softness and breathability, as well.
10. Swaddling in a car seat
This is obvious, no? How would one even get a swaddled baby into the car seat harness correctly? We don’t know, but it actually happens. And it shouldn’t. A baby also shouldn’t be swaddled and laid in an infant swing or any type of chair that requires a safety harness, especially once the infant becomes more active. Just don’t do it. If warmth is in question, there are car seat covers specially designed to allow a baby to be properly fastened while still covered from the elements.
5 tips for encouraging lasting sleep from the Nested Bean’s Zen Blog:
- Start a bedtime routine early and stick to it.
- Establish a semi-consistent sleep and feeding schedule.
- Keep the child’s room dark and quiet.
- Watch for signs of sleepiness and then start nap or bed time routine.
- Try putting baby down to bed drowsy but still awake so that baby will eventually learn to fall asleep without assistance (rocking, being held, etc.).
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Stephanie is a military wife, currently residing in New York, and mama of two exceptionally curious kiddos – a rugged pint-size princess and a toddling Evel Knievel-in-training – and one sweet, easy going baby boy. When she isn’t exploring the family’s newest dwellings, running trails, farmers’ markets, and playgrounds, she spends her down time working from home, feverishly correcting “textspeak” in her college students’ essays as an adjunct English instructor for a local community college. Her passion for writing and photography can be found at Stephanie High Photography on facebook