Learn the pros and cons of swaddling your baby and why I’m a big proponent of swaddling for all sleep in those first few months!
Parents are faced with so many choices when it comes to their baby’s sleep.
Should you follow a newborn schedule for sleeping and feeding? How should you dress your baby for sleep to ensure she’s warm and safe? And should you swaddle your baby for naps and night sleep?
Most newborns get swaddled immediately after they come into this world. But it’s not necessarily a sure thing that swaddling will continue once your family has left the hospital.
So should you swaddle your baby for sleep?
When it comes to swaddling a baby, there are some pros and cons to consider. I’ll break down the pros and cons of swaddling a baby and share with you why I’m a huge fan of swaddling your baby for all sleep those first few months!
Get Your Newborn to Sleep
Learn how to get your newborn to sleep with my Newborn Sleep Program. You’ll learn expert sleep tips for soothing your baby to sleep, getting in good routines, and slowly dropping night feeds. Learn more here.
Should You Swaddle a Baby at Night?
The short answer is yes, yes yes!
There are three main reasons to swaddle your baby at night and during naps.
1. Newborns are born with a startle reflex, also referred to as the Moro Reflex, where they startle themselves awake suddenly with their hands. This reflex typically lasts until your baby is about two months old.
Wrapping your baby’s arms close to their sides stops their startle reflex from waking them in between deep sleep cycles. It also keeps them from accidentally hitting or scratching themselves.
2. The tightness of the swaddle mimics the close-quarters of the womb. This can be comforting and familiar for your newborn, and can also help them sleep for longer stretches of time.
3. The swaddle helps keep your baby warm at night in the safest way. Loose blankets aren’t safe in your baby’s sleep space until at least 12 months old. Swaddling wraps your baby to keep them warm and safe.
Because of these benefits, I often encourage parents of newborns to swaddle their baby as part of their bedtime or nap routine. You can see some of the best swaddles here.
Is Swaddling A Baby Necessary?
Swaddling a baby isn’t necessary, like feeding your baby is necessary. But a proper swaddle can help soothe a fussy baby as part of the 5 S’s and encourage longer durations of sleep.
Simply put, sleep is necessary (for all of us) and swaddling your baby for sleep can help achieve that!
Is it OK to Keep Baby Swaddled All Day?
The swaddle can work really well to calm your newborn. I can see why you’d be tempted to use swaddling for soothing a fussy newborn, even outside of sleep hours.
Unfortunately, I have to caution you not to give in to that temptation. In order for the swaddle to work as an effective way to signal sleep for your baby, you should reserve it for sleep times only.
It’s also important to understand that there’s a lot of development happening in the first few months of your baby’s life. A big part of that is learning how to move their bodies.
To foster that development, make sure that your baby’s wake windows includes some activity in a position where they can move around. That means having their hands and feet free to explore!
When my daughter was young, we stuck to an Eat-Play-Sleep routine following the easy baby schedule idea. Essentially, any of my daughter’s awake time that she didn’t spend feeding, I was playing and interacting with her.
It’s much easier for a baby to fall asleep after they’ve been active. Things like tummy time, reading books, and going outside on walks are a great way to keep your baby sufficiently stimulated.
If you swaddle your baby during their awake time, it makes it harder for them to tire out for a nap or bedtime. Make sure you let your baby move around and kick it out while they are awake.
I also recommend taking your baby out of the swaddle during times where you feed her. The swaddle creates such a cozy environment and unwrapping your baby for feeds can be a great way to help keep your baby awake during feeding.
Save the swaddle for times when you want to signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and get to sleep. It can become a great sleep cue!
What Are the Dangers of Swaddling?
While I am a firm supporter of swaddling newborns for sleep, there can be some cons—and even dangers—to swaddling your little one.
Here are some of the cons of swaddling:
- It can be dangerous if your swaddled baby manages to roll over to their front from their back. It is a suffocation risk if your baby rolls over and they don’t have their arms and hands free.
- If your baby likes to self-soothe by sucking on their hands or fingers, swaddling can prevent them from being able to do so.
- Once your baby is used to being swaddled, the eventual transition to sleeping without a swaddle can be a challenge.
Swaddling becomes dangerous once your baby starts rolling in their sleep from their back to front. As soon as your baby shows signs of rolling, you’ll need to transition away from using the swaddle.
When to Stop Swaddling?
There are plenty of different opinions out there on how long to swaddle baby.
Since swaddling can become dangerous at some point, you’re probably wondering how long to swaddle your baby. Since we know that every baby develops at a different pace, the answer to that question depends largely on your baby’s physical development.
Typically, babies will learn to roll anywhere from 8 weeks to 24 weeks. That’s a wide range, so it’s important to watch carefully as your baby grows!
Make sure to follow the abcs of safe sleep, always placing your baby on her back for sleep. When she starts to show signs of rolling, you should transition out of the swaddle, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Alternatives to Swaddling
Maybe your baby is quickly growing out of the swaddle. Or maybe your baby hates the swaddle and hasn’t let you do it from the very beginning.
If your baby’s main struggle with the swaddle is that it seems too restrictive, try a sleep sack or Zipadee-Zip for a looser fit. These zip-up swaddles still work safely to keep your baby warm while they sleep, but allow for much more movement.
If your baby is starting to roll, you might find some swaddle transition items helpful. There are products out there can help your baby enjoy some of the benefits of a full swaddle without being wrapped up in a tight little burrito.
See some of the best transition swaddles here.
One alternative to the full swaddle is to leave one or both of your newborn’s arms out of it.
I really like the Love to Dream transition swaddle for this, because the shoulder parts of the swaddle are removable. This allows you to test out having one or both of your baby’s arms free while they sleep and makes the transition out of the swaddle much easier!
Getting Your Newborn Sleep Without Swaddling
While the pros outweigh the cons of swaddling a baby, if your newborn hasn’t let you swaddle them from day one, don’t worry. They will still sleep eventually.
Whatever it is making your newborn fight the swaddle, you should know that it is okay for them to sleep without being swaddled. There could be plenty of other things contributing to your newborn’s inability to sleep, such as having an overtired baby.
In fact, if your baby isn’t swaddled at all, they’re just getting a jump start on learning alternative methods to soothe themselves. This is an opportunity for you to introduce other sleep associations to signal that it’s time for bed.
There are lots of other ways to help your newborn start sleeping well that don’t include swaddling. For more tips and tricks, check out my Newborn Sleep Program.
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