Swaddling is one of the oldest baby-calming techniques known, and a 2007 review of swaddling by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that swaddled babies do awaken less often and sleep longer.
Some people argue, though, that swaddling poses a danger to babies because the blankets meant to soothe them could come loose and cover their faces.
Like so many child-rearing issues, parents are likely to get different – even conflicting – advice on the issue of when, how and how long to swaddle their babies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics review showed that swaddling can soothe pain, lessen crying and, in pre-term infants, help improve neuromuscular development and motor organization.
But the review also showed that swaddled babies are more likely to suffer from hip dysplasia. And while swaddling makes it more likely that babies will be put to sleep on their backs, as is recommended, putting swaddled babies to sleep on their stomachs increases the chance of sudden infant death syndrome.
Contemporary Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed journal for pediatric health-care providers, says swaddling should be snugly wrapped around baby so it doesn’t loosen during the night. That publication says some babies do fine with no swaddling, but the fussier your baby is, the more she’ll need to be swaddled. Tight bundling is so successful at soothing infants that some babies even have to be unswaddled to wake them up for feedings.
Despite the controversy, Lisa Stipe, owner of Nanny for Newborns, recommends swaddling for all babies until 3 or 4 months of age.
“There’s a lot of stuff out there. That’s a big tennis match right now,” she says. “My belief is that swaddling, done properly, is very beneficial to a newborn, from a neurological standpoint, from a sleep standpoint – basically, if you swaddle a baby properly, it’s kind of like putting them back in the womb. I’ve seen plenty of people get their babies to sleep just by whipping out a swaddle blanket and a sound machine. They don’t consult with me, they don’t have to do anything. Some babies are good sleepers that way and they just need a little push.”
Stipe says some swaddling products on the market don’t work the way they should and she worries that they could come loose and pose danger to a sleeping baby. She sometimes uses a regular 42-inch square blanket, but says her favorite is the Miracle Blanket®.
Mike Gatten, who invented the Miracle Blanket®, says he was working in the casino business at night when he came up with the prototype for the blanket to swaddle and soothe his third – very colicky – baby.
“Swaddling works, and it works very well. It works a lot of the time but the blanket gets too small really fast,” he says. “Then you can get a bigger receiving blanket but then you have all this extra fabric. With the way that this wraps horizontally instead of diagonally up from one side you can get it a little bit snugger across the tummy and control it, and the arms stay at the sides. And it does it without Velcro and it grows with the baby – it just wraps around less.”
Little Rock pediatrician Dr. Kim Skelley doesn’t argue with parents who say their babies don’t like to be swaddled.
“I think that could be the nature of the baby,” she says. “I think they’re all different and so I think there definitely are some that don’t like to be swaddled. It’s kind of like drinking coffee. Does everyone like coffee? So why would you want to make your baby get used to swaddling if they didn’t like it? That’s my opinion.”
Skelley hasn’t used any of the newer swaddling products on the market today but says she recommends that parents explore them as options for babies who benefit from swaddling but who move around too much to be safely swaddled in regular blankets.
“I think swaddling is OK until the child starts to move around and wiggle around,” she says. “After that, I think it might be OK as long as it’s something that cannot move around enough that it gets up over the nose and mouth.”