Why Swaddling Promotes Better Sleep

Mum swaddles baby on the couch

In the opinion of many baby sleep specialists, swaddling is a vastly under-rated exercise.

Swaddling is one of the easiest methods to calm, soothe and settle your baby. It is a parental skill that is easily picked up, and once learnt is rarely forgotten. Sure, there’s a bit of fiddling about and a bit of little trial and error but when the upside is so huge and the benefits so tangible, it seems strange that some parents abandon swaddling so soon.

Swaddling Does Not Cause Hip Dysplasia

Babies cry. We all know this. Don’t give up on swaddling because of it. Don’t assume that your baby cannot tolerate swaddling because she cries sometimes.

Likewise, if your little critter manages to wriggle out of your swaddle, it’s likely not because she’s desperate to be released from its confines or that you’re swaddling-incompetent.

Babies wriggle, it’s one of their core competencies 😉 We all know this too. Don’t despair – swaddling is a little bit of art, a little bit of feel and is not hard to master. Trust me, it’s worth the investment.

Let’s also clear up the elephant in the room – swaddling, when properly applied, does not cause hip dysplasia (DDH). Those reports that have posited a relationship between DDH and swaddling have demonstrated that the problem was with the wrapping technique and not with swaddling per se. The faulty technique associated with hip dysplasia is when the knees and hips are rigidly wrapped and bound.

Instead, concentrate on making your swaddle firm around the baby’s upper body so that it cannot be wriggled out of (or kicked off), and purposely keep it loose around the knees and hips so that little one’s legs fall effortlessly into the ‘frog’ position.

Benefits of Newborn Swaddling

1.   Swaddling makes it harder for a baby to flip over to their front or obstruct their faces with their bedding. The evidence suggests that in preventing these risk factors, swaddling can reduce the rate of SIDS in newborn babies.  

2.    Newborns startle easily. They have an immature startle reflex which has not yet evolved with life experience. Babies are often startled by an unfamiliar noise, an unexpected movement, a change in stimulation (it can even be the process of nodding off to sleep itself) and their limbs can jerk and flail as a result. Newborns unnerve themselves. When a baby is swaddled, their arms are kept snug to their bodies and any sudden movements will disturb them less. 

3.    The womb experience of secure containment is perhaps most closely replicated when a newborn is swaddled correctly. Swaddling likely provides a sense of security and warmth which, in turn, leads to longer stretches of sleep and less crying. 

Mother kisses newborn baby on the head with muslin swaddle

What Swaddles to use?

There are a lot of options when it comes to swaddles. Overall, the best fabric to use is the 100% cotton muslin as this is lightweight and breathable. Bigger is better so aim to obtain large wraps, particularly if you have a big baby, and to cater for baby growth. 

Aden and Anais have a great range of 90cm wraps.

Swaddling reminders

• Remember the back is always best. Put your baby down on her back to sleep

• Keep baby’s room cool and layer her clothing to avoid overheating

• Avoid having any loose items (pillows, blankets, toys) on baby’s sleeping surface 

• Swaddle the upper body tight but leave plenty of room for the knees to bend up and move around (frog-like) in the swaddle

• Always take note of any manufacturer recommendations or instructions with the swaddle

Explore Amazon’s Swaddle Range

How to swaddle baby infographic

We thank Dr Kate Johnson for her assistance on this post. Kate has worked in the field of Sleep Medicine for over 15 years. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne and has since worked extensively both here in Australia as well as most recently in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She is passionate about working with families to help children sleep better and is the founder of Babysomnia.  

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