Swaddling babies has been around for thousands of years, fluctuating in popularity through the decades. Lately, it has been making a comeback (as it should! It’s a fantastic tool for newborn sleep). Newborns have the Moro reflex, which causes their arms and legs to jerk and flail. All this jerking and flailing means falling asleep successfully is as easy as putting together IKEA furniture on a time crunch and without a ‘building buddy’. However, if they are swaddled, the Moro reflex is grossly mitigated. There is lots of research around how to safely swaddle your baby, as well as the benefits that can come from properly swaddling your newborn. There are also a lot of misconceptions around swaddling, and it can be a daunting and time-consuming rabbit hole to try and sift through all the swaddle information out there. So, I’ve complied the top 5 things you need to know about swaddles that you might not already know.
1. The AAP supports swaddling
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that as long as swaddling is done correctly, it can be an effective technique to help babies sleep. The key parts of safe swaddling are to make sure the swaddle is snug, so it doesn’t come loose, but not tight enough that it restricts baby’s movement in their hips and legs. It is also important that baby is placed to sleep on their back. This is because it would be very dangerous if your baby was swaddled (with their arms restrained) but lying face down. This is great news! If you follow these guidelines when you swaddle your baby, then you can reap the benefits of swaddling your baby and feel confident that it is totally safe.
2. Your baby secretly loves it
I’ve had many parents tell me that their baby doesn’t like being swaddled. The truth is, this is generally not true. Newborns love when their external environment mimics the environment that they spent 9 full months in. A nice warm and snug environment, where they cannot flail about, hit themselves in the face or scratch their eyes, is where it’s at. If your baby seems to protest being swaddled, then I recommend adding in some additional calming tricks. You can try shushing, offer the pacifier so that they can suck to soothe, rock/gently swing them in your arms, or my personal favorite – stroke their eyebrows. This little piece of magic is so soothing and encourages your baby to close their eyes – bonus fries!
3. Drop when baby shows signs of rolling
Part of safe swaddling is knowing when it’s time to drop the swaddle. You have probably heard “8 weeks” as the thrown around timeline, however the fact is, swaddling is no longer safe once your baby can roll. This is because we don’t want them to end up on their stomach, face down, with their arms restrained to their sides. So the best and safest practice is to ditch the swaddle as soon as your baby shows signs of being able to roll. Have no fear, this doesn’t mean that your great-sleep-from-swaddling has to come to an end. There are several fantastic products that help babies transition out of the swaddle while still helping mitigate the Moro reflex and our jerky babies. Read on my friends!
4. Products to help transition out of the swaddle
So your baby is starting to roll, but you hate to say goodbye to the swaddle. You just know it’s going to be a difficult transition for your little one, and they are still a little jerky. What’s a parent to do? Enter some amazing products that I have used and loved, as well as seen many parents use and love.
Merlin Magic Sleep Suit: This suit will make your little one look like the Michelin Man, however it will also greatly reduce their Moro reflex from causing sleep disturbances. This sleep suit is great to use if you are trying to give your baby that calm snug feeling and prevent your little one from thrashing and rolling around the crib. It can be used safely until your baby is showing signs of being able to roll IN the suit. Once they can do that (you can test it out during the day) then it’s time to drop it.
Dreamland Weighted Sleep Sack: These gently weighted sleep sacks are so great for jerky babies as it helps them feel calm. It doesn’t restrict movement, so your baby can roll all they want in it, and it’s safe if your little one rolls to their stomach on their own.
Swaddle Sleeves: These sleep sacks have gently weighted arms which help babies whose Moro reflex is disturbing their sleep. The weighted arms are detachable so once your baby shows signs of rolling IN the sleep sack with the weighted arms, you can remove one weighted arm sleeve, so baby can move around safely.
These three products help with transitioning out of the traditional swaddle. From there you can choose to move to a sleep sack indefinitely or just regular pajamas. The AAP recommends dressing your baby in just one layer more than you are wearing, and a sleep sack would count as that extra layer. Sleep sacks are great as an alternative to a blanket – they are basically a wearable blanket and can be used as long as you like. They also have an additional bonus of making it more difficult for your toddler to Spider-Man themselves out of the crib. When I would consider dropping the sleep sack entirely and moving to a blanket would be when they are in a big kid bed, and you want them to be able to come find you if they need you in the night (not you going to them), without face-planting every three steps.
5. Sleep train and drop the swaddle at the same time
As you may have already gathered, dropping the swaddle (either before your baby starts to roll or when they show signs of rolling) can be a tricky transition. The really special part is that the timing can sometimes coincide with the 4-month sleep regression (read: when there is a noticeable increase in your weekly wine budget). So your baby’s sleep is going downhill faster than your last glass of wine, BUT the good news is that YOU CAN SLEEP TRAIN! When you start sleep training, simply move to your transitional swaddle of choice, cold turkey, or swaddle with one arm out first, and then the other, and then drop completely. If you think you would benefit from a little more support working through sleep training and/or transitioning out of the swaddle, reach out to schedule a consultation with one of our amazing sleep consultants.
I haven’t met a baby I couldn’t convince to love a swaddle. They are such a great tool for great newborn sleep, especially when you pair them with my other magical calming tricks. (Which, by the way, you can find in my newborn course and guide pack). Once you are using the swaddle and your baby is loving it, it can be super stressful thinking about having to transition out of it, which is why I highly recommend checking out the swaddle transition products. And most importantly, sleep train your little one after 4 months. I promise, it’s totally worth it. Sleep is life!