Why might you want to give swaddling a go?
The practice of swaddling has been used in cultures throughout the world for thousands of years. The snugness of the wrapping mimics the womb, creating a warm, safe feeling for your baby, which encourages her to sleep for longer.
Babies have a ‘startle reflex’, an instinctive movement that frequently wakes them up throughout the night. Swaddling your baby involves wrapping her up so that her arms are held close to her body, and so she is unable to move and ‘startle’ herself awake. This often means she can sleep longer and more deeply, in turn allowing you a little extra rest.
Some studies suggest that swaddling reduces the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), as it keeps babies in the safest sleeping position, on their back. However, others have suggested the risk is increased, as deeper sleep means they are less likely to wake up if they overheat. With this in mind it’s important to make sure your baby is wearing the right amount of layers and that the room is a safe temperature (the NHS recommends 18C). You can read more about how to swaddle safely below.
As with many decisions around getting your baby to sleep, this is a personal choice and will vary from parent to parent. Should you choose to swaddle your baby, here are our tips to help you choose the product that’s right for you.
"My DD was really tucked up when I was pregnant, I didn't have a bump - so when she was born, all the space and freedom terrified her. If we hadn't swaddled we would never have got any sleep!"
What types of swaddles are available?
Blanket The traditional way to swaddle is to use a soft muslin square. There are lots of lovely options from brands such as Aden + Anais (£15 for one) and John Lewis (£8.50 for six) which can also be used a blanket, tummy-time mat and anything else you can think of. On the down side, you’ll probably need to learn how to wrap a swaddle, which can take a bit of getting used to.
Wrap If the origami seems like too much work, you could opt for a swaddle that’s easier to fasten. Some swaddles, such as the Miracle Blanket, have ‘wings’, specially shaped to make wrapping easier and to get a better fit for your baby. Other versions, like the Ergobaby Swaddler (£19.90), even have pockets for your baby’s arms to make sure they’re in the right position. Some of these winged wraps use velcro to fasten, while others are just tucked into place.
Zip If wings are still too much hassle in the middle of the night, there are zip-fastened swaddles, such as the GroSnug or Woombie. These are made of a stretchy fabric, which is pulled tight around your baby as you zip it up. Most zip from the bottom, too, which makes night-time changes a lot more convenient.
However, as with many things in life, your baby may decide for you. Some babies hate being swaddled, while for others it can be a lifesaver. Also, depending on how they’re wrapped, some swaddles are easier to escape from than others—so you may have to test out a few if you’ve got a mini Houdini on your hands. Unfortunately, the only way to know is to try – but our reviews are on hand to give that much-needed guidance.
How do you transition out of a using swaddle?
Some swaddles (like the Grosnug) have a built-in system for when your baby is old enough to stop being swaddled. This usually involves leaving one arm out of the swaddling, then both arms, and finally moving to something less restrictive like a sleeping bag.
If you opt for a muslin square, you can recreate this transition yourself by adjusting the way you fold it – just leave one arm out of the swaddle when wrapping your baby.
How do you swaddle a baby safely?
It may not feel like it, but your newborn spends up to 20 hours of each day asleep. Because of this, it’s vital to make sure your baby is swaddled safely and that risks are minimised as much as possible.
Underneath the swaddle, your baby should wear normal sleep clothes. The Lullaby Trust recommends using swaddles made of thin fabric to avoid overheating, and although most swaddle products will adhere to these standards, it never hurts to check. Don’t be alarmed if your baby’s hands or feet feel cold, as this is normal. To check whether they are too hot or cold, you should feel their chest or back.
Babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep.
Always make sure your baby is able to move her legs, or that her hips are in the frog position to reduce risk of hip dysplasia. Many swaddle blankets will be designed to accommodate this.
Babies should never be swaddled above the shoulders as this risks suffocation.
Although these safety warnings can sound alarming, it’s important to remember that SIDS is rare and that swaddling as a practice has been used for thousands of years.