Since time immemorial, swaddling has been considered good for babies. In olden times, this practice was begun for a mom to get better sleep and to get the newborn to sleep deeper and more soundly. Grandmothers and great-grandmothers will vouch to date how peacefully babies slept once swaddled. It used to be them (rarely nurses) who put babies to sleep too. It used to be them (rarely nurses) who put babies to sleep too. They were always the ones to design good swaddle wrap for babies from old clothes, mostly cotton.
With modern practices and a lot of research showing adverse consequences of swaddling, mothers get anxious when asked to swaddle their babies. Some research even shows the number of crib deaths or SIDS (Sudden Infant Deaths Syndrome) is due to excessive swaddling. This makes it more important for mothers and family members looking after the baby to know the correct methods of swaddling and good swaddles.
As soon as a child is born, grandmothers bring in old cotton sarees or soft fabric to wrap the newborn baby. Swaddles for a baby mean keeping it as warm as it was inside a mother’s womb. A baby needs to feel secure and assured physically and emotionally. In earlier times, newborn babies were placed in a “jhoola” or cloth swing to put the baby to sleep. They were swaddled and placed in them each time they were sleeping. Co-sleeping wasn’t much recommended.
Over a period of time, paediatricians have evolved, and they started encouraging mothers to have their babies next to them. Swaddling, too, has undergone a major change over the years. It is quite different from what it used to be nearly 50 years ago. In earlier times, nurses would tightly swaddle babies, thinking it is imitating the ambient temperature inside the womb and let the baby sleep comfortably, with its hands and feet (nearly tied up tight). Later, doctors found out that it is not as healthy to bind a baby’s hands and feet while sleeping. In fact, it might be suffocating if the swaddles are too tightly wrapped around the baby. Babies might even die of extreme heat – subsequent sweating and suffocation. Also, because they cannot flail their arms and legs, they keep awake as well.
Swaddling is a mastered skill as well. Unfortunately, many nurses do not know how to swaddle the newborn, and they end up making the baby feel extremely uncomfortable. The baby, more often than not, ends up crying because of the discomfort it experiences. Many times, a new mother (who is already undergoing a major hormone rush after delivering the baby), feels guilty as soon as the baby cries. Her feeling that she is unable to comfort the baby ends up also confusing her that the baby is crying because of hunger and not because of the uncomfortable swaddles. Therefore, it is extremely important to know the correct ways of swaddling a baby.
Swaddling isn’t needed once the baby begins to roll over the sides. It is needed only in the first few months of the new-born’s entry into the world. For a mother and her baby to be happy, the swaddles must be of extremely comfortable materials. It shouldn’t restrict the baby’s movements. They should just give comfort to the baby – enough to give ambient warmth (not heat-producing). In a tropical country like India, it becomes more and more inevitable to have swaddles that are made of cotton, allowing hand movement for the baby.
Gone are the days when the baby wouldn’t be given breathing space whilst being swaddled. Loose, comfortable swaddles are available now and the baby can sleep peacefully, undisturbed. Thanks to co-sleeping being encouraged by paediatricians, a lot of crib deaths too are being prevented. Tight swaddling is no longer being encouraged. The nurses in hospitals and other medical staff are being trained too for the same. Above all, now mothers are also learning to swaddle their own babies comfortably.
There are innumerable books, websites and apps guiding new mothers to look after their babies. Unlike earlier times, mothers are much more prepared to bring their babies into the world and have better guidance to look after the young ones. Let’s look at the benefits of swaddling first.
- Imitating the warmth of the womb – A mother needs a lot of rest once the baby is born. Sometimes after hours of labour, the mother feels extremely exhausted to lift the baby and comfort. Swaddles help in keeping the newborn warm in the crib. It takes time for the internal temperature of the newborn to reach normal levels. A swaddle helps in doing the same.
- Helps in moderating the startle reflex – Babies experience the Moro reflex. It is the sudden movement of the baby’s body in reaction to external sounds or change in temperatures. Swaddles help in reducing this reflex action, helping them to sleep peacefully. Usually, they tend to wake up suddenly and start crying because of the same reasons.
- Reduces separation anxiety – Newborn babies need warmth and comfort of the mother. Touch is extremely important for a baby’s healthy growth and development. A newborn feels less anxious if swaddled warmly. It helps better sleep too.
- Better sleep – Comfortable swaddles mean happier babies who sleep well. They tend to be less cranky and irritable once they wake up, if they feel comfortable in their new environment. It is extremely important for us to make sure the cribs and the room they are sleeping in has ambient temperature.
Safety tips for swaddling
There are some things to keep in mind when you swaddle a baby. A newborn baby needs warmth and comfort but also in a way which is not invasive to its movements. Also, unlike earlier times, when babies were sleeping in cotton cloth swings, co-sleeping is the norm. So comfortable swaddles are important. Following are some tips to follow while swaddling a baby:
- Use thin materials – cotton or muslin to swaddle the baby.
- Check the temperature of the room as well as the baby regularly when swaddling. Avoid wrapping the baby if it has fever or it is unwell. The baby must be left free of any restricting materials then .
- Make sure the hips are left free while swaddling. Mothers can even hip swaddle their babies. This is to avoid hip dysplasia. Let the baby be in a position to move its legs freely. The natural position of any baby is frog style rather than legs left straight down. This is recommended for all new mothers.
- No swaddling above shoulders and the head. Hands must be left free to move around easily.
- The baby must be laid flat on the bed after swaddling. Avoid putting them on their sides since their movement and breathing can be constricted. It is dangerous to leave them in uncomfortable swaddles.
- Finally, the most important safety tip is to buy good quality swaddles or stock soft cotton material for swaddling the baby. If you are buying the product online, then make sure the product has good feedback and ratings on the website.
Remember a newborn needs swaddling only until it turns three or four months old – when it begins to move and turn to its sides. Happy parenting!