How To: Swaddling Safety Guide

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Safe Swaddle 101

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A snugly swaddled baby is a picturesque part of parenting, and there are a lot of good reasons to bundle up your babe in a blanket burrito at bedtime — as well as big do’s and don’ts. 

This textile-tucking technique has been soothing newborns for centuries. It’s simple, and it can effectively assist your infant in settling into a snooze or provide a sense of security as they adapt to life in this exciting world. Essentially, swaddling mimics the sensation of being back in the womb to create a warm, cozy sensation of soft safety. It can both calm colicky crying and act like a buffer for your baby’s startle reflex to help them sleep more soundly.

Keep in mind that until about 6 months of age, your baby won’t have a regular sleep cycle. Newborns will sleep about 16 to 17 hours per day, but not for long stretches. In fact, it’s most common for them to only sleep for 1 or 2 hours at a time. As your baby grows, they’ll need less sleep — and of course, different children will have different sleep needs. However, it’s normal for 6-month-old tots to wake up during the night and return to sleep within a few minutes. Generally, it’s recommended to swaddle your bundle of joy before putting them to bed through their first month or two, or until they start to crawl out of their cozy, cloth cocoon. Once your baby begins rolling over, you’ll know the season for swaddling has passed.

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What You’ll Need

Luckily, the ingredients list for this adorable activity is pretty short. You won’t need to make a major investment to get high-quality supplies either. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

• A firm, flat surface
• A soft, breathable square blanket
• Your beautiful baby

Ideally, you want a light, air-permeable, and organic natural fiber blanket. Synthetic fibers can irritate your newborn’s soft, sensitive skin — and they’re a big source of plastic pollution. It also needs to be big enough to fold around your baby to create that burrito bundle shape. Aim for at least 47 inches — or 119.25 cm — square to make sure the blanket can continue to cover your baby while they go through their first growth spurt.

Pehr Organic Novelty Swaddles are the perfect size and texture — extra-large and ultra-soft. New designs debut regularly, and they always offer at least half a dozen cute and colorful patterns available in 100% organic cotton muslin that’s totally machine washable and dry-able for easy cleaning. As a bonus, once your little snuggle bug is beyond the swaddling stage, the novelty swaddles make excellent blankies, sun shields, or linings for a comfort lovey.

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Swaddling Step-by-Step

It’s pretty likely that a nurse, midwife, or doula will demonstrate a safe swaddle before you and your baby head home. Nonetheless, given how tired most parents are by that point, it’s normal to want a quick refresher course. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there are six simple steps:

1. Place your blanket with one corner folded down on a safe surface: Whether you’re swaddling in a crib, bassinet, or even the floor, it’s important to make sure your baby can’t roll and fall while you’re wrapping them up.
2. Lay your baby face-up on the blanket so that their head is above the folded corner: As you are making your folds, check to ensure that the fabric isn’t tight on your baby’s neck or folded across their airways.
3. Hold one of your baby’s arms along their belly, wrap that side of the blanket across their body to tuck it under their back: If your blanket won’t reach all the way under your babe, you can tuck it between their opposing arm and torso.
4. Draw or twist the bottom of the blanket loosely and tuck it in: Depending on how long your blanket is, you could tuck the tail over your baby’s shoulder or into your first fold in the font — but you’ll want to leave enough space for it to be loose around the hips.
5. Secure your baby’s other arm at their side, and fold the remaining corner across their body: If your baby struggles against having their arms restrained, be patient. You’re preventing an accidental bonk if they startle while adjusting to new sights and sounds.
6. Tug the remaining corner fabric lightly, draw it around your baby like a belt, and tuck it into one of your folds to secure it: Finish by testing tightness. As long as 2 or 3 fingers fit between your baby’s chest and the swaddle, you’re set for sleep or snuggles.

Rather see a demo? There are a variety of videos on YouTube that demonstrate different swaddling techniques which you can easily bookmark and share with others who are caring for your cutie pie. For example, Pehr put together a step-by-step tutorial on how to safely swaddle your baby with vocal directions from a doula — along with a very adorable and cooperative model:

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Happy Hip Check

After you do your finger test to make sure the swaddle isn’t too tight across your baby’s chest, you’ll want to make sure it isn’t too snug around the hips and legs too. According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, about 1 in 6 infants will show signs of hip instability that can lead to hip dysplasia or dislocation when swaddled too tightly. In the womb, your baby’s legs were curled up in the fetal position, and they aren’t ready to be suddenly straightened for long periods of time. Instead, your baby’s legs should still be able to bend up and out inside their swaddle. If your baby isn’t able to move their legs much during their first 6 months, it could cause the hip joint to grow abnormally and make it difficult for the thigh bone to fit and stay in the socket. Not only can that be incredibly painful for your little one, but it could lead to mobility issues later on in life. To make sure there’s enough room, gently push and move your baby’s legs to make sure their range of motion isn’t restricted below their belly, like they do in this quick, 30-second clip for happy hips:

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Alternatives to Self-Swaddling

Many parents find the pressure of needing to find the perfect balance between a too-tight tuck and an overlap that’s too-loose can cause a lot of anxiety. Fortunately, there are specifically-designed swaddlers for newborns and bigger babies which get rid of all that guesswork. For newborns, the embé starter swaddle has earned the approval of the International Hip Dysplasia Institute and racked up a number of awards in recent years. Their patented starter swaddle design offers 2-way adaptability, providing the option of having legs in or out. This flexible feature means baby can be quickly cooled down, warmed up, or cleaned off when it’s time for a diaper change — all without unswaddling. A zipper closure prevents baby break-outs, and every design includes a no-rise neckline. Best of all, these swaddles are made of 100% natural cotton jersey, and VELCRO fasteners ensure there’s no loose cloth that could unwrap and cover your little one’s nose or mouth.

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The starter swaddle’s adjustable straps allow for 3 different lengths, but if anything is sure, it’s that babies will grow fast. For little ones who are starting to roll or wiggle their arms free, embé offers a transitional swaddleout that has the legs-in and legs-out flexibility as well as arms-in-or-out adaptability. The no-breakout design can still swaddle one or both arms — but it can also do neither! If your little one wants to move their limbs freely, there are soft sleeves built in. When it comes to washing, both the starter swaddle and transitional swaddleout are simple to clean — just toss in the machine and tumble dry.

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As for how to use them, the intuitive design and clever closures make it a breeze to get your babe bundled. Additionally, embé offers a series of video tutorials on their website. In under 2 minutes, they can demonstrate the 2-in-1 versatility:

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Keep Crib Clear

When you’re feeling sleepy, few things sound as good as a soft pillow, but for the first few months of your baby’s life, you’ll want to keep their sleeping space super sparse. Tempting though it may be to snuggle up together in bed or on the couch, your baby will be safest in their own crib or bassinet when it’s time to sleep. Your swaddle should keep your cutie pie plenty warm — and actually, your baby may start to struggle against the swaddle if they start feeling too hot. If you notice damp hair, flushed cheeks, heat rash, rapid breathing, or sweating, give your baby a break from being bundled up, and take the swaddle away for a bit.

In general, it’s not recommended to have loose blankets, pillows, or even soft toys near a sleeping baby because they could cover your baby’s face and become a suffocation hazard. This is also why you’ll want to keep an eye on your infant rather than rely on baby monitors — so you can refasten your swaddle as soon as you notice the blanket has come un-tucked and ensure your little one isn’t overheating. If your child needs some extra comfort in their crib, consider using a pacifier during naps and bedtime.

Back Is Always Best

Whether swaddled or not, one thing is always true: When you need to lay your baby down, be sure to gently rest them on their back. Back-sleeping is the best position for infants, and your little dear is probably going to be dozing more often than not during their first few weeks. Once you’ve got your newborn nestled in the swaddle and settled into the crib or bassinet, you’ll want to monitor to make sure they stay on their back too. Watch out for signs of rolling, because if your baby turns onto their side or stomach, your wee one will have a harder time filling their little lungs. Keeping your baby on their back helps both of you breathe easier, and reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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So, What About SIDS?

Let’s face it — there are few things scarier than SIDS, which is sometimes referred to as “crib death.” The term is used to describe an unexpected death of an otherwise healthy seeming baby who is less than a year old. Though the cause remains unknown, studies show it tends to occur while an infant is sleeping, and there are several sleep factors that can increase risk for newborns. While the Mayo Clinic maintains there is no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS, there are some big sleep safety don’ts:

  • No sleeping on the stomach or side: Babies experience more difficulty breathing in these positions than when laying on their backs.
  • No sleeping on soft surfaces: Fluffy comforters, soft mattresses, and waterbeds can all block an infant’s airway.
  • No sharing a bed: SIDS risks lower when baby sleeps in the room with you, but increase when co-sleeping with parents, siblings, or pets.
  • No sleep sweats: Being too warm at bedtime increases a baby’s risk of SIDS, which is why air-permeable, natural fabrics are best.

In 2016, research into SIDS and sleep arousal in the journal Pediatrics led to some startling headlines about swaddling, because swaddled infants show a higher risk when sleeping on their side or stomach, and after they are 6 months old. Even so, pediatricians say the study data is more of a confirmation of the current advice for sleep positions than a newly-discovered sign that swaddling itself increases SIDS risks. It should be noted that even the authors of the study said swaddling’s relation to SIDS remains unclear. Mayo Clinic does not list swaddling as a SIDS risk factor.

Dr. Rachel Moon, chair of the task force that authored sleep safety recommendations for the AAP, said that parents should be aware that there are some risks to swaddling. Although no clear cause of SIDS has been found, research suggests that it may be associated with brain defects that affect a baby’s breathing and ability to awaken from sleep. Moon said swaddling may decrease a baby’s arousal — and indeed, that’s part of swaddling’s appeal for many sleep-deprived parents.

“The baby sleeps longer and doesn’t wake up as easily,” Moon explains. “We know that decreased arousal can be a problem.”

If you find yourself waking your baby more often than your baby wakes you — or if it’s difficult for them to be alert after awakening, you may want to stop swaddling and see if your baby has an easier time waking up in just a onesie. Snoring, disrupted breathing when asleep, difficulty staying awake during the day, or a decrease in daytime activity could be a sign that your child may have a sleep disorder. If you see those symptoms developing, it’s a good idea to check in with your pediatrician and get some guidance.

Yet, Moon urges skepticism when it comes to products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. The AAP stresses that there are no specialized mattresses, positioning tools, sleep surfaces, or wedges which have been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS — but there is a time to swaddle, and a time to stop. Your baby’s sleep startle reflexes should begin to diminish once they reach their third month. By then, swaddling will be less beneficial — but the swaddle you used can get a second life as a comfort blanket or burp towel.

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