libby cain: on swaddling
This post was written by our friend Libby Cain | Nurse, midwife, lactation consultant and childbirth educator
Amongst lots of different information to navigate as a new parent, there is plenty of confusion amongst parents and experts around swaddling little ones.
To break down this information, I've looked at the current evidence and talked to other professionals, and have still found very mixed views around the benefits and the downsides of swaddling your baby.
Generations of parents have wrapped their babies to comfort and settle them. Today, there are concerns about tight cocooning of newborns. It is thought to cause overheating as well as parents being unable see a baby’s hands at their mouths, showing early hunger cues.
I believe there are plenty of benefits to swaddling new babies, but it should be done right. Babies feel secure by wrapping them just as they were in the womb. Their innate startle reflex is restricted, so their arms and legs don’t jerk them awake.
From first hand experience, when upset premature and new born babies have their arms and legs gathered up into their body in a close hug, they are soothed within seconds. This is similar to a swaddle, the feeling of being enveloped and secure.
Swaddling wraps should be made from natural fabrics such as merino, cotton or muslin, as the fibres breathe, preventing babies getting too hot. For the same reason, a baby shouldn’t ever be put to bed with a hat on, as this prevents them regulating their body temperature through their heads.
And while a swaddle should feel secure, it shouldn’t be too tight. It is important that parents can see if a baby is sucking its hands, an early hunger cue. It is a good idea to leave one hand out of the cloth so little one is able to do this. By pinning both hands inside the swaddle, parents can only look for more subtle feeding cues like lip licking and sucking.
After three months, most babies will be ready to transition away from swaddling. This may mean loosening the cloth, or leaving out both hands, with just the torso wrapped. If the night-time temperature is cool, you can then move to a sleeping bag, which will prevent your more active baby kicking off their covers.
Parents often tell me that their newborns don’t like to be swaddled. I suggest that they try it for the early weeks, that they leave a hand out and that they don’t pull the cloth too tight. But they should also trust their instincts and if their baby is sleeping well, and not waking themselves up, then parents don’t need to swaddle. Every baby is different. It is worth persevering wrapping your baby in a natural cloth in the early days, however, as most newborns feel more settled and secure when swaddled. Once baby starts rolling we recommend to stop swaddling as it can be dangerous if they roll and are unable to use their arms to help them lift up and get a clear space to breathe.
Thank you Libby for sharing with us, you can shop our range of organic cotton, muslin and pure merino wool swaddles here.