When a new mom asks me about whether to swaddle her baby, I think back immediately to my own days as a new mom, eight times. I learned the art of swaddling newborns in nursing school. We taught each new mother how to swaddle. Newborns seem to need the security of feeling their limbs held close to their bodies because that is how they were in the womb. After the first hour or two spent on Mom’s tummy/chest/breast, where birth bonding takes place skin-to-skin (no blankets or gowns please) and Dad has had his time of bonding as well, the swaddle is the best way to reassure the newborn that he is safe and secure.
Swaddling to Soothe
Newborns for several weeks have involuntary jerky arm and leg movements. These movements can startle them from sleep or even startle them when they are awake. And even after several months, a baby who has a fussy period during the day can be helped with swaddling. I like to mention how the use of a baby sling can help with that same kind of holding and at the same time provide the movement that helps settle a baby. A lot depends on the temperament of a baby. Some babies like loose clothing that doesn’t interfere with how they move around in their sleep, and others like the security of being firmly swaddled, their limbs contained, so they can “sleep tight”. Some babies like to have their hands free to find their face and feel soothed. However, intense babies would wind up scratching themselves!
The use of swaddling has its place, but it can be overused. Wrapping babies tightly, “burrito-style”, and keeping them that way for long periods of time every day can actually harm their hip development. For the hip joints to develop correctly (think of the hip joint as a ball-and-socket structure), babies’ legs need to be able to move freely in swinging movements. They also to spend time being held outward in the “frog position”. And this is especially important in the early months, just when a mom is likely to do a lot of swaddling. Be assured, swaddling loosely and for a short time does help a baby to settle. But be careful of swaddling for too long, too tightly. It is good for a baby to be free to move those little arms and legs naturally. For Breastfeeding moms, consider skipping the swaddle until your milk supply has been successfully established. Which means nighttime feeding every 2-3 hours. So again, be mindful about the role of the swaddle keeping baby asleep for those long stretches.
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Written By: Martha Sears, RN
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”