Before babies are born, they're tucked up snug and tight in mama's tummy for months. After they're born, that same snug-and-tight sensation remains very comforting to most babies and can help to decrease crying and even promote more sound sleep. This is where the art of swaddling can be a lifesaver. BUT, there are a couple of important things to know in order to swaddle your baby safely and comfortably.
1. Only the upper body should be swaddled. Your baby's legs should be able to move freely, and when resting, your baby's knees should be bent and the hips splayed outward. Swaddling hips and knees straight can damage the soft cartilage and bones in the baby's hip joints and can promote developmental dysplasia of the hips, in which the baby's hips gradually become dislocated.
2. Swaddle your baby's upper body firmly, but not so tightly as to create resistance to breathing movements. Baby should also be able to move enough to reposition herself if there is an urgent situation.
3. Swaddling should be used only for sleep and for soothing of fussy episodes. Babies do need lots of freedom to move in order to build strength and cultivate coordination, so be sure to allow your baby plenty of tummy-time and play-time while awake.
4. Always place your baby on his back for sleeping, never on his tummy or on his side. Positioning baby face-up for sleep cuts the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) almost in half. That's huge.
5. Swaddling should be discontinued by 4 months of age. By this age, babies need freedom of movement to promote their gross motor development, and swaddling may start to have a negative impact on developmental skills. Most babies start "breaking out" of their swaddles by this age anyway, so weaning the swaddle isn't usually a problem.
There are a variety of swaddling blankets and sleep sacks available (here's one of our favorites), but really, any blanket can be used. Check out our video for a quick demonstration.
Sweet dreams, snuggly babies!
Michelle Bennett, MD is a full-time pediatrician, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a mother of two, and a founder of Mama Seeds.