Getting a good night’s sleep is almost impossible when you have a newborn at home. And no matter what old wives’ tales that you might have heard to get your little one to sleep at night (like flipping your baby to “reset” their sleep schedule — which, by the way — doesn’t work), it’s unlikely that you’re going to see a solid eight hours of sleep a night for a while. That said, there is one way that you can make your child more comfortable at night and perhaps get some good sleep, and that’s with swaddling. So if you’re wondering why you should swaddle your baby, this is what you need to know.
What Is Swaddling?
You might have seen swaddling blankets in the baby section of your favorite superstore and thought that they were just a basic blankie — but you’d be mistaken. Once your baby is born, the medical staff will most likely wrap your child up like a baby burrito. And that, dear friends, is swaddling. Swaddling is the practice of wrapping an infant with the goal of soothing them and helping them sleep better, per a PubMed study. In hospitals, newborns are swaddled not long after birth, when their vitals have been assessed and they’ve been cleaned up. And many parents want to keep the practice of turning their babies into burritos by swaddling them at home, too — but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
When Should You Swaddle A Baby?
There is a definite window when you can swaddle your child and when you should stop. “Swaddling is ideal for babies from birth to 16 weeks and is especially helpful when their startle reflex (AKA the Moro reflex) is strongest during the first 12 weeks,” says Sierra Dante, a pediatric sleep consultant. Now, even though it might be ideal to swaddle your baby straight home from the hospital, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to love the process initially. “Most newborns love to be swaddled, but they don’t necessarily love the act of being swaddled — don’t let this deter you,” adds Dante. “Typically, you will swaddle your new baby in preparation for sleep. This means they will likely be tired, perhaps a bit fussy, and probably not overly tolerant of being fumbled with. Once the swaddling is complete, your baby will likely settle more easily.”
How Does Swaddling Help A Baby?
In addition to keeping them calm, swaddling does help Baby get used to supine sleep. “Swaddling helps get them comfortable enough to sleep on their back in a bassinet,” adds Dr. Stephanie Lee, M.D., MPH, FAAP, a pediatrician and preventive medicine specialist. “You don’t have to swaddle your newborn to sleep but newborns are notoriously difficult to get to sleep and this is one simple and safe strategy to achieve good sleep.”
And then there are some parents who stay away from the swaddle altogether. Why? “Many families chose to never swaddle from the beginning, in order to avoid having to transition them out of the swaddle,” Dr. Amy Conrad, M.D., a pediatrician tells Romper. “However, most still do choose to swaddle as newborns are used to a tightly-packaged environment and are often soothed by a good swaddle.”
How Does Swaddling Affect The Startle/Moro Reflex?
If you’ve ever seen your baby suddenly startle and flail their arms, you’ve witnessed the Moro reflex in effect. A primitive, infantile reflex, the Moro reflex occurs when your baby senses a body imbalance (i.e. they might feel like they’re falling) or sudden stimulation, per a PubMed study. It’s completely normal, but it can also startle a sleeping baby wide awake, which can be frustrating to sleep-deprived parents. “The Moro reflex is a part of normal newborn reflexes that start to fade in the first few months,” explains Conrad. “Part of the comfort offered by the swaddle is that it stops Baby’s arms from shooting up, waking themselves from sleep.” The Moro reflex fades around 3-4 months — right around the time that Baby will start rocking (and rolling) in their crib.
When Should You Stop Swaddling Your Baby?
Knowing when to stop the swaddle is a scary thing. Stop too soon, and you might risk days (or, ack, weeks) of bad sleep for both you and Baby. Stop too late, and well, it could become dangerous if Baby starts rolling over while still swaddled because they can suffocate. Thing is, your child will give you some very definitive cues that they’re ready to stop the swaddle — once and for all. “It is very important that parents immediately stop swaddling their baby once he or she is able to roll independently,” advises Dr. Lauren Chiriboga, MD, a pediatrician at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. “Swaddling a baby who is able to roll can lead to dangerous and tragic outcomes, such as death by suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) because once baby rolls onto his or her face, they will not have the ability to use the arms to position themselves in a way so as to avoid suffocation.”
For bleary-eyed new parents desperate for sleep, knowing how to swaddle your baby can be a real lifeline. Not only can it soothe your sweetie, but it can help Baby sleep longer since the swaddle mimics life in the womb (and helps with the Moro reflex). Just be mindful of the signs that your baby is looking to turn over and stop swaddling immediately. That way, you’ll have peace of mind — and perhaps even a better night’s sleep.