By Kathryn Trudeau
The American Academy of Pediatrics created the National Back to Sleep Campaign to spread awareness about safe sleeping habits for children, especially babies under the age of one. One of their recommendations is for parents to forgo pillows and loose blankets in cribs. Because blankets are a no-no in the crib, what does that mean for swaddling?
Swaddling, when done correctly, can be a safe way for your baby to sleep. In fact, swaddling might even help your baby sleep more soundly — as long as it’s done correctly (and in conjunction with other safe sleep guidelines.)
Below, we share six tips for swaddling safely.
1. Avoid Loose Blankets
Loose blankets pose many problems for infants and even bigger babies. If a swaddle blanket is too loose, it can become unwrapped and cover your baby’s face, which increases the risk of suffocation.
You can reduce the risk of the swaddling blanket from coming undone by choosing the appropriate size swaddle blanket, ensuring that it is tied snugly, or opting for a wearable-blanket type swaddle. The Zippy Swaddle features two wings that are easily secured with Velcro. This eliminates the risk of the blanket becoming untied.
2. Ensure the Swaddle Isn’t Too Tight on Your Baby’s Hips
If a swaddle is too tight across your baby’s hips, it can force your baby’s legs into a straightened position. Baby’s legs aren’t naturally straightened out; they are still in a frog-like position. Forcing a baby’s hips out of this natural froggy position can damage his/her joints and cartilage.
Tip: To ensure healthy hip development, check to make sure the bottom of the swaddle is loose enough for your baby’s legs to stay in that natural frog-style position — bent out and up almost in an M-shape. You can see what this natural position is when your baby lays on his or her back without a swaddle.
3. Don’t Wrap Your Baby Too Snugly
A snug swaddle is a comfortable swaddle, but too much of a good thing isn’t good. Here are two tips to check that your swaddle is just right:
- At the top of the swaddle, you should be able to fit three fingers between your baby’s chest and the blank/swaddle
- The bottom should still allow your baby’s feet and legs to maintain their natural position
4. Remember: Back to Sleep
Whether you swaddle or not, the AAP recommends that you always put your baby “back to sleep”, meaning lay your baby to sleep on her back. This is the safest position and can help reduce the risk of SIDS.
5. Check the Thermostat
Sleeping in a hot room or under too many layers isn’t comfortable — for adults or babies! Experts agree that people (regardless of age) sleep better in cooler temperatures. To reduce the risk of overheating, keep your baby’s nursery between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature guidance applies to all 12 months of the year. When it’s hot, your baby can snooze in a diaper and his/her swaddle. If it’s cold, pajamas and a swaddle are all that are necessary, provided you keep the nursery at the recommended temperature.
Know the signs of overheating: excess sweating, flushed cheeks, damp or wet hair, heat rash, and rapid breathing are all red flags that your baby’s too hot.
6. Know When It’s Time to Transition Out of the Swaddle
As wonderful as swaddling is, there’s a time and place for it. Swaddling is wonderful for newborns who still have the startle reflex. However, once your baby is starting to roll over, it’s time to transition out of the swaddle. This timeline varies from baby to baby, but a baby can be ready to transition anywhere from 2-4 months old.
Even when your baby transitions out of the swaddle, you can continue to practice safe sleep habits, including:
- Placing your baby to sleep on his back until 12 months old
- Avoiding pillows and blankets until 12 months old
- Always sleeping on a firm mattress
- Refraining from sleeping on soft surfaces (like a couch) with your baby
- Sleeping in a cool, dark room
Other practices (like using a white noise machine) can further create an environment conducive to peaceful sleep.
Swaddling (and general sleep safety) can be intimidating at first, but by following these safety tips (and any additional tips recommended by your pediatrician), you’ll quickly feel confident with your sleep routine.