The Magic of the Swaddle
By Lydia Bighouse
- Swaddling can be magic
Swaddling is a fantastic tool to keep your baby the correct temperature while keeping them safe (no loose blankets in the crib until your baby is 12+ months old) and to help your new baby sleep more soundly by calming their startle reflex…and we all want our babies to sleep more soundly! The tricks to swaddling are to know how to swaddle and when to swaddle. Once your baby is ready to move out of a swaddle and into an arms-out-sleep sack, there are many options to choose from. We are here to help you make the right choices at the right times to transition your baby through the stages of swaddling and sleep sacks with ease.
- Startle reflex and swaddling newborns
Our newborn babies often jolt due to a startle reflex in their first months of life. This often occurs while they are sleeping. If there is nothing holding their arms close to their bodies, this jolt easily will wake a baby. If a baby’s arms are being constrained, then the startle is less likely to wake a baby. Therefore, keeping a new baby’s arms swaddled down and close to their bodies can help them sleep much more soundly. Swaddling with a simple muslin blanket works very well. If swaddling is not coming easily to you, or your baby is Houdini, you can purchase a sleep sack that hugs your baby closely in the same way as a swaddle would. A popular option is the Woombie.
- Babies love to be swaddled
The drastic change from womb to world can be shocking to new babies. All babies have different temperaments and that can show quite quickly when we see how they respond to their first few weeks “on the outside.” When swaddled, a baby may swing their limbs around trying to find their boundaries, they may be peaceful just lounging, or they may be somewhere in the middle. Whatever their reaction to being swaddled is most likely a view of their personality and not a representation of whether they like being swaddled or not. We know that babies appreciate having the womb be re-enacted so that they can feel the comfort of familiarity. Babies love to be swaddled even if they look they are trying to escape (they did those same kicks and punches when they were in your belly, remember?).
- Arms up sleep sacks
When a baby is around 6-8 weeks old, they are starting to get used to the outside world more. They may begin to a have a preference of sleeping with their arms up by their face. Two good sleep sack options for babies that appreciate this sleeping position, are the Love to Dream and the Zipadee-Zip. The Love to Dream option holds your baby’s arms up so that they have their hands by their face, but if they jolt from the startle reflex, there is still resistance from the sleep sack which helps keep them asleep. The Zipadee-Zip is a less structured sleep sack than the Love to Dream sleep sack. In the Zipadee-Zip, a baby’s arms can move a bit more, but they are still restrained just enough to settle the startle reflex.
- Stop swaddling when the baby starts rolling
You must stop swaddling your baby and/or stop using sleep sacks that restrict their arms completely as soon as they start rolling. It is dangerous for a baby to not have their arms and hands available to help lift their body up if they roll onto their stomachs. Once your baby begins to roll, it is time to transition to a sleep sack that does not restrict their arms. A Zipadee-Zip is one of the only sleep sacks on the market that covers little hands, but is still safe to use once a baby is rolling because their arms are free enough to still help them if they roll over. When your baby starts to roll, begin by leaving one arm out of their swaddle blanket for a few nights before letting both arms be free in an arms-out-sleep sack. This will ease your baby into their new sleepwear. Another option to help a baby adapt from swaddling to sleeping with their arms out is to use a Love to Dream Swaddle UP 50/50, which allows you to unzip one or both “wings.” While transitioning away from swaddling, this can be a very helpful product. Another benefit to this product, is the sleep sack can be used before your baby rolls (keeping the “wings” zipped on) and after your baby rolls (keeping the “wings” zipped off), so you get more bang for your buck when buying this type of sleep sack.
- Early rolling dilemma
Some babies learn to roll very early, so their startle reflex is still strong. In this case, it is not safe to swaddle your baby anymore, but they still need the comfort of pressure on their arms to not startle themselves awake. Usually the start reflex occurs during the lightest phase of sleep, which is the first 10 minutes or so after a baby falls asleep. Try putting your baby in an arms-out-sleep sack and then holding your baby for their first 10 minutes of sleep. Then, slowly place your baby into their sleep space when they are in their deeper phase of sleep. The hope is that they will not startle awake in that deeper phase of sleep. Once your baby’s startle reflex has diminished, it is wise to move towards putting your baby down awake to help them learn to self settle.
- Comfortable position and self-settling
Movement is an important part of the sleep puzzle for babies once they begin to roll. If a baby is allowed to move their arms in their sleep space, then they can learn to find their comfortable position. This is one of the first steps in a baby learning to self-settle. We do not suggest the use of the Magic Merlin Sleepsuit for this reason – it restricts a baby from finding their “comfy spot.”
- Keep using sleep sacks
Swaddles and sleep sacks are an important part of peaceful sleeping for babies. We suggest keeping children in sleep sacks as long as possible because they hinder the ability to climb out of cribs when little ones get older. Also, until children are around 3 years old, they do not have the skills to pull a blanket onto themselves if they get cold. A sleep sack will keep your child the right temperature so they do not wake up due to being cold.
- We are here for you
If you have any questions about swaddling or sleep sack use, please reach out to our team of Certified Sensitive Sleep Consultants. We would love to help you and your little one!