To Swaddle? How Long?

To Swaddle? How Long?Should You Swaddle Baby or Not and For How Long?

Most parents wonder how long they should swaddle their baby, if at all. The question of whether or not to do it at all is an obvious yes! Swaddling has been around since babies have been (FOREVER) and for good reason. Some people look at swaddling through their adult eyes, not the baby’s, calling it a “straight jacket” and assuming it is too binding and uncomfortable, an unnecessary restriction of movement. The truth, however, is that babies love to be swaddled and it is best to swaddle from the day they are born until they tell you they are done with it. (For videos on how to swaddle, click here.)

Safety First

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a study in May 2005 suggesting that swaddling may reduce the chances of SIDS and that babies who are swaddled have fewer night wakings and fall back to sleep more quickly. They also suggested that swaddled babies are more responsive to outside stimuli (which means they may wake up more easily if something is wrong).

Womb To World Is a Shock

When babies are first born they are in total shock. All the comforts of a tight, dark, warm womb with the constant loud swish of mom’s heartbeat have been replaced with bright light, new sights and sounds and no more security of being snug all the time. While most of the elements of the womb are hard to replace for your baby, a tight swaddle is an easy way to give them the cozy, cradled, secure feel they miss.

The Startle Reflex

Newborns are born with the Startle Reflex, also called Moro Reflex. The Startle/Moro Reflex is when a baby will startle and spread out her arms and legs (actually a fear of falling) and possibly cry. While this reflex demonstrates proper motor development in babies up to five months, it can cause sleep disturbances or problems falling asleep.  When babies are tightly swaddled, the Startle Reflex is contained and does not interfere with sleep.

Involuntary Movement

Babies under the age of three months have no control over their arms or legs and when tired, their arms and legs wave and jerk. Babies don’t realize that their limbs are attached to their body, so when flailing arms hit them in the face, they think they are part of the environment, an outside stimulus that is disturbing them. By swaddling, you contain their involuntary movements and remove stimulation that keeps them awake.

Swaddling Is a Great Step In the Bedtime Routine

Starting from the day they are born, you can use swaddling as part of your wind-down/bedtime routine, both for naps and night. Being put in a swaddle is a consistent and recognizable sign for baby to know that sleep is coming. Many babies are ready to calm down and fall asleep as soon as they are snugged up in a swaddle.

How Long to Swaddle

The question of how long to swaddle baby is not as black and white and whether or not to swaddle at all. Almost every resource you look at will tell you a different time as well. Some will tell you as little as one month is long enough and others may suggest swaddling for up to seven or eight months. The important thing to look for are real signs from your baby that she is ready to stop being swaddled. These signs might not be as easy to recognize, either.

Getting Out of  Swaddle Doesn’t Mean She’s Ready to be Done With It

As a baby gets older he is going to get more mobile and be able to move around. And this movement will cause the swaddle to come undone. This is not an indication that your baby does not need to be swaddled anymore, though. Some babies will wake as a result of becoming unswaddled and can only fall back to sleep (and stay asleep) when reswaddled. Another cause of the swaddle coming undone is that babies get bigger and it is harder to make small blankets stay tight around a larger baby. The swaddle wraps with velcro are a fabulous way to keep a swaddle in place on babies as they get bigger.

Experiment

Around three months is a great age to experiment and try unswaddling your baby. This is the average age for babies to find their fingers, which can be very helpful for being able to self-soothe. Some babies, however, might not find their fingers until 5 months, or even later. Leave one of your baby’s arms out of the swaddle (so you can still incorporate it into your wind-down routine for now) and see how he does. Give it a few days, as the first sleep like this will likely be disturbed. If your baby does ok with it after a few days, is able to fall asleep and stay asleep, he is probably ready to get rid of the swaddle. If he is having a hard time falling asleep and wakes often, it is an indication that the swaddle is still needed. Go back to it and experiment again in another month or two. Don’t feel bad about sticking with a swaddle for a while, regardless of what others tell you. I got rid of the swaddle at six months and I hear a lot of success with using it until five months old. Do what your baby needs and feel good about that!

Recommended Reading

To read more about swaddling, we recommend Tracy Hogg’s books, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems