Practical advice for new parents

Swaddling a Baby

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Providing More Than Just Warmth and Comfort To Your Baby

Swaddling is the technique of wrapping a baby snuggly in a blanket to provide warmth and comfort and to promote sleep. While the practice of swaddling has been used for many generations throughout most of the world, it had fallen out of favor in most Western countries until recently. With new medical studies debunking theories of possible associated risks involved with swaddling, and new evidence now showing that babies benefit from the practice, medical and childcare professionals are once again encouraging new parents to learn this ages-old technique.

It is commonly thought that a baby is comforted through swaddling because the feeling mimics the confined experience in the womb. Parents who utilize swaddling are often amazed by how quickly a warm wrapped blanket can stop crying and fussing in their babies. In many cases, swaddling induces sleep, and many parents routinely swaddle their babies during sleeping hours for the first several months of life.

Swaddled babies may also have deeper, less interrupted sleep. Because babies are born with the Moro or 'startle' reflex that can wake them from sleep, a baby confined by swaddling will not be woken by the twitches and flailing associated with this reflex. As well, a recent study, conducted by Washington University physicians at St. Louis Children's Hospital, has shown that swaddling encouraged babies to sleep on their backs, and thus, helped to prevent stomach sleeping which has been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Swaddling also has been demonstrated to be beneficial in treating the symptoms of colic. This little understood condition affects approximately 1 in 5 babies, generally between the 2nd and 12th weeks of life. Colic is defined as bouts of persistent crying lasting more than two hours at a time for more than five days a week. The causes are not clear, but many experts believe that abdominal gas and an infant's immature nervous system might be linked to the problem. The warmth and gentle pressure of swaddling is an effective strategy in helping to minimize the symptoms of colic.

These days, most new parents are either instructed on how to swaddle a baby in a birthing class or in the hospital after delivery. The technique is quite easy to learn, and almost all babies respond positively to swaddling for some period of time. For a few babies, swaddling is effective for only the first few weeks before they begin to start trying to escape from the blanket. Other babies are so comforted by being swaddled that they will continue to sleep wrapped in a blanket until they are nearly walking. However, it is recommended that babies older than one month should not be routinely swaddled during waking hours so that it doesn't interfere with motor development.

Although there are specialised swaddling blankets on the market, you can swaddle your baby with a normal baby blanket or cloth. To swaddle a baby, lay a small thin receiving blanket or cloth on a flat surface. Fold down the top right corner, and place the baby on the blanket with his or her head on the folded section. Pull the left corner of the blanket across the baby's body and tuck under the back. Pull the bottom of the blanket over the baby's body and under the chin. Then, take the loose end of the blanket and fold it over the baby's body and tuck it in under the back. Some babies prefer to have their arms wrapped in the blanket, and others prefer to have access to their hands and fingers. Try experimenting with both techniques. Remember when swaddling a baby, make sure that the blanket does not cover the face or restrict breathing in any way. The blanket should be snug but not tight. Do not swaddle a baby in more than one blanket at a time as this may lead to overheating.

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