New moms are always amazed at the swaddling skills that labor and delivery nurses have. And the babies love it! At the hospital anyway...after the hospital, all bets are off! Swaddling can be a great soothing technique when you get home from the hospital, but there are good and bad aspects of swaddling.
Swaddle helps calm baby by making them feel like they are still in the womb. It can also help babies learn to sleep on their backs and sleep more soundly. Babies sleeping on their backs tend to startle themselves awake. This involuntary startle reflex is called the Moro reflex.
The Moro reflex occurs when babies have a feeling of free falling. They will extend their arms and legs and sometimes even gasp, followed by curling up into the fetal position for security. The Moro reflex is a common culprit of waking babies. Swaddling reduces the effect of the Moro reflex since the startle factor is not as severe if they are wrapped up. This reflex will disappear around 4 to 6 months of age.
Swaddling also helps baby by mimicking touch. We love to hold our little ones but it’s impossible to do 24 hours a day! The wrap will keep baby from scratching their face too!
While swaddles are comforting to most babies, they still come with some risks. Studies show that too much swaddling can cause hip development issues. If baby is swaddled for too long with their legs straight, over time it could lay the foundation for development issues.
If you are going to swaddle baby, make sure that you are doing it correctly. The swaddle should not be too tight but it should also be tucked so that it does not come undone. If baby unwraps themselves while sleeping, it presents an unnecessary suffocation risk. You should stop swaddling your baby if your baby begins to roll over on their tummy or gets unraveled frequently at night. Most babies will be ready to kick the swaddle around 3-6 months.
If baby is happy not being swaddled, let them be. Lots of babies don’t like it after they leave the hospital and that’s okay! It will be one less transition that they have to make. Swaddling is a great tool for babies, but make sure that you monitor swaddles regularly to determine if baby still needs them and that they are safe while they are in them.