Swaddling helps infants feel calm and secure. It also promotes sleep and improves the development of the brain.
It’s a safe and effective method to soothe newborns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, if your baby has hip dysplasia or other hip issues, you should talk to your doctor before swaddling.
1. Promotes Sleep
Swaddles can help your preemie sleep longer and more consistently, reducing the number of times they wake up during the night. This is especially important because preemies can experience a lot of movement while sleeping.
While swaddling isn’t necessary for all babies, most experts recommend starting it around 2 months of age. It’s also best to stop swaddling once your baby starts rolling over on his own, usually around 4-5 months.
Swaddling also limits the startle reflex, a jerky involuntary movement of the arms as if they’re reaching or grabbing for something. All newborns experience the startle reflex, but swaddling helps to control it and prevent the jerky movements that can cause your baby to wake up during the night.
2. Regulates Body Temperature
Newborns have less body fat than adults, so it’s important to keep their temperature regulated. This helps them maintain healthy development.
Premature babies are especially at risk of hypothermia as they can lose heat four times faster than an adult. This leads to a variety of health complications, including neurological disorders and hyperbilirubinemia.
A swaddle can help regulate body temperature in preemies by providing a tight, secure feel that mimics the feeling they experienced in the womb. It also provides warmth without the need for loose blankets.
Swaddles are typically made from a soft, stretchy fabric like muslin or cotton. They often come in both traditional and two-in-one designs, which allow you to wrap your baby snugly or leave their arms out, depending on how you prefer. They also usually come with features like snaps, zippers or Velcro to help keep the swaddles snug and secure. Some swaddles are even made with IntelliThread technology that absorbs and stores heat to keep your baby at their ideal temperature.
3. Limits the Startle Reflex
A tight, womb-like wrap helps babies to feel secure in their environment, which can prevent them from waking up because of the startle reflex. A swaddle limits their movements and draws their extended limbs back to recreate the womb environment that can help them calm down, according to Dr. Hamilton.
A swaddle also helps to create an environment that helps preemies to sleep well. Swaddling can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other suffocation risks, especially when used in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to place baby on their back while sleeping to decrease the risk of SIDS.
A swaddle should be tight enough that it can’t come loose, but not so tight that it restricts the baby’s movement. Swaddling too tightly can cause the baby to hunch over and increase the risk of hip dysplasia. It can also make it more difficult for them to roll over.
4. Encourages Skin-to-Skin Contact
Swaddling encourages skin-to-skin contact, which reduces stress and helps regulate temperature, stabilize breathing, hormone levels and heart rate. It also enables a baby to touch her mother’s breast, which can trigger the hormone that causes milk to flow.
Preemies can also benefit from swaddling because it strengthens muscles. They often have weak abdominal muscles and face difficulty bringing their hands to their mouths.
Babies who are swaddled can also experience a decrease in their stress hormone levels, notes the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Kangaroo care is an example of swaddling that has been used to improve premature babies’ health and well-being.
In a study, swaddling also improved a preemie’s muscle tone and strength. The study also found that the swaddling helped prevent gastrointestinal tract complications. These findings were further supported by a 2018 study in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine.