What is swaddling and why do we do it?
Swaddling is a way of wrapping a baby with a piece of fabric, usually muslin or cotton (bamboo-cotton as well). This technique has been around for many years and is used for a variety of reasons.
When babies are inside the womb, they're comforted by the deep pressure and snug fit. Once they leave the womb and enter the world, they're confronted with a variety of new experiences and sensations like gravity, harsh lights and sounds, along with hunger, cold, and heat. They no longer have the tight squeeze, weightlessness and calm environment of the womb to lull them to sleep. Swaddling is a way of replicating that deep pressure and comfort babies first experience in the womb to help them fall asleep more easily and stay asleep for that bit longer. Because of the calming effect deep pressure has on our neurological system, swaddling can also help to calm and soothe a fussy baby. You can also use the free Shaw Academy crying elimination chart to help determine why your baby is crying.
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As you continue to swaddle a baby for sleep, you're helping to create a sleep association. Sleep associations are the things we do to help get our minds and bodies ready for bed. Whether it's reading a book before you turn off the light or washing your face and brushing your teeth, we all have little habits that help tell our brains and bodies that it's time to switch off for sleep. Because babies can't create their own sleep-time habits, they rely on us to help them form these sleep associations. Swaddling can be an easy sleep association to incorporate in the life of a newborn baby.
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At what age should you swaddle a baby?
Swaddling is mostly recommended for newborn babies to help them transition from the womb to the world. The newborn phase typically means the first 28 days of life.
Swaddling can also be used to provide comfort and reassurance during the fourth trimester. The fourth trimester refers to the first three months of life after leaving the womb. During this stage, babies are still struggling to adapt to life outside the womb and want to find additional comfort by constantly being held and soothed. During this phase, babies will also reach their peak in crying and even more comfort will be needed from their caregivers. Babywearing and swaddling can make this process easier and help babies to stay well-regulated.
Caregivers can continue to swaddle babies after this age but babies may start to prefer more freedom in their movements or dislike being restricted. It may also be difficult to find blankets that are big enough to use, as well as swaddle them tight enough so that they don't become loose and pose a hazard for safe sleeping.
How to swaddle a baby in 7 easy steps
Before you begin, pick the cloth that you are going to use. It can be any of the blankets that you have at your disposal for the baby. Muslin or receiving blankets work best in the beginning as they are usually square, which makes folding easier. Muslin is also a good choice for the summer months as it does not get as hot as a receiving blanket.
Step 1: Turn the cloth
Turn the cloth so that it looks like a diamond and fold the top corner down to create a straight line for the baby’s neck to rest at.
Step 2: Place the baby in the middle of the blanket
Put baby in the middle of the blanket with their head resting just above the fold you created.
Step 3: Fold the bottom part of the cloth up
Fold the bottom middle part upwards and let it rest on the baby’s tummy.
Step 4: Place the baby’s hands together
Place the baby’s hands together in their midline close to their mouths so they are able to self-soothe with their hands in their mouths if they want to.
Step 5: Pull one side of the cloth over to the other side
Pull one side up and over to the other side and tuck it behind the baby’s back (try and tuck it evenly so it does not bunch up). You can also pull the baby over by the shoulder slightly to create a better tuck. The tuck will pull the baby’s shoulder in so that their hands can stay in the midline without support.
Step 6: Fold the other side over
Fold the other side up and over to the other side and tuck the blanket in around the baby.
Step 7: Make sure the tuck holds firmly
When the baby is laid down, make sure that the tuck still holds firmly so that their weight can keep it down while they are sleeping.
If you followed all the steps correctly you should have a baby that is swaddled firmly to give their bodies the “push-back” they received in the womb. Their legs will still be able to move while experiencing some resistance, and they should not be able to unravel the swaddle you created. Their shoulders will also be tucked in towards their midline to give them the chance to self-soothe or explore their hands.
And there you have it, swaddling made easy!
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