A Nurturing Baby Swaddle
Every parent or person who loves a child is concerned about their baby's ability to sleep well, sleep safe and to be comforted. Parents, grandparents and friends usually help stock the nursery with all kinds of essentials to help baby sleep. From cribs and bedding to soft blankets and music boxes, creating an environment where the baby can sleep is at the top of the priority list. And topping that list should be a swaddling blanket, because a fussy baby often requires more than soft bedding and sweet music.
Most parents know there are few things more frustrating and exhausting than a fussy and inconsolable baby. For thousands of years, parents have turned to swaddling to comfort their newborns. It's an age old practice dating back to about 4000 B.C. In recent years swaddling has regained the attention of parents and the medical community as one of the most effective tools in comforting a newborn. Clinical studies have shown that proper swaddling has numerous benefits. By replicating many of the comforting and familiar sensations of the womb, swaddling can trigger the 'calming reflex' that can significantly reduce and even eliminate typical fussiness or crying and is especially effective when it comes to consoling a colicky baby. A properly-swaddled baby feels warm and secure, and the wrap can help prevent a baby from throwing his arms up and startling himself, or even scratching his face.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of swaddling is the ability to keep an infant safely asleep on her back instead of the riskier stomach sleeping position. A recent study conducted in Australia* shows that proper swaddling contributes to a reduction of SIDS risk by as much as 30% when compared to unswaddled babies sleeping on their backs. And the risk factor decreases even more when compared to other sleeping positions.
So as parents prepare their wish list of nursery "Must Have's" a swaddling blanket can be the best purchase to help their baby safely calm down and go to sleep.
Like most any product, not all swaddling blankets are made the same. Helping parents to know what to look for can be the difference in a comforted safely sleeping baby, and one that's simply wrapped in a blanket.
Different Swaddle Types
The most common swaddle involves strategically folding a square receiving blanket. This is often the case in hospital settings. As simple as the OB nurses make it seem though, it's a task new parents frequently abandon since the blankets can easily come unraveled. As a result, several manufacturers have creatively simplified and enhanced the classic swaddle with unique and very effective blanket designs. In fact, the choices have become so diverse that it can be a bit daunting when trying to choose which one to purchase.
The most basic is an oversized square blanket intended for a swaddling wrap.
Another variation of a swaddling blanket is one intentionally designed for swaddling. These special blankets come with instructions on their use, and are specifically shaped and cut to enabling swaddling with little trouble. A superior swaddle will not bind the hips or knees, it will allow for adjustable pressure on baby's belly, it will have no fasteners such as Velcro, zippers, knots or buttons to disturb or harm the baby and it will not confine a baby's shoulders so as to limit growth.
Finally, some people consider safety blankets such as a "wearable blanket" or a "sleep sack" to be a swaddle. However, while the designs are wonderful for eliminating loose bedding and any risk of suffocation, they lack the very discernible scientifically-proven attributes that make swaddling safe and effective. These facts are addressed below.
It's extremely important that swaddling fabric be soft, breathable and have just enough stretch but not too much. 100% cotton knit or cotton muslin are considered the ideal fabric choices.
Various pre-made swaddles can come in multiple sizes. If a blanket has any zippers, knots, Velcro or other fasteners that's an indication that a specific size will be needed. Some brands, however, are one size fits all and will actually grow with your baby. And if you're using a regular square blanket, then the size will depend on the size of your baby.
While swaddling is a fabulous tool for soothing a baby, there are specific precautions to note. First to eliminate SIDS concerns, it's extremely important that a baby not overheat. To remedy this, parents should keep their baby lightly dressed—sometimes even just a diaper is fine—and room temperature should always be comfortable, never warm. Next, a swaddled baby should always be put down on its back. Placing a baby on his or her stomach could hinder breathing.
Finally, it's crucial to separate the MYTHS from the FACTS to realize the true benefits this incredibly valuable tool has to offer.
Myth: A wearable blanket or other zip-up sack is just as good as a swaddling blanket to help babies sleep.
Fact: Medical research showing the incredible efficacy of PROPER swaddling has been done using a snugly-wrapped blanket with arms comfortably immobilized; usually at the sides. Wearable blankets are loose, apply no pressure to the mid-section to mimic the womb, and do not keep the arms snugly inside. Therefore, although they are a good alternative to loose blankets, they do not do anything to help fussy babies sleep that a comfortable room temperature wouldn't do equally well.
Myth: Babies need their hands free to self-soothe, develop motor skills, and to flail their arms if they are in distress.
Fact: Babies are not coordinated enough to practice motor skills and/or self-soothe (ie. suck hands) reliably until 14 weeks. Until then, even if they successfully get their hands to their mouth, their own reflexes will just pull them out again. Swaddling is a substitute for self-soothing during this time (0-14 weeks). Because of their lack of motor control, baby's loose hands can scratch and hit their faces, causing more arousals and crying. As for flailing if they are in distress, babies are very good at crying when there's a problem – flailing arms can only contribute to making the problem worse.
Myth: Wearable blankets and other zip-up sacks contribute to a decrease in the risk of SIDS.
Fact: PROPER swaddling has been shown in clinical studies to reduce SIDS by as much as 30% even over back-sleeping babies without swaddling. Wearable blankets and other zip-up sacks keep a baby warm and eliminate loose bedding to decrease the risk of suffocation only. On the bright side, most wearable blanket manufacturers communicate the importance of putting babies on their backs to sleep, which has contributed to a decrease in SIDS related deaths. But of course that has nothing to do with the efficacy of the product.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swaddling from zero to 14 weeks.
With a little time spent understanding the differences in swaddling blankets, parents can easily have one of the best tools available to help ensure their baby is comforted and sleeps well.
*Dwyer, T and Ponsonby, AL.: This large study of SIDS in Australia found that babies who were on their backs – swaddled – had a ~30% lower risk of SIDS than babies on their backs not swaddled! (Ponsonby, A, et al, Factors potentiating the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome associated with the Prone Position. NEJM 1993; 329:377-82) http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/329/6/377