A newborn baby with blue eyes is shown. The baby smiles.
Swaddling is still great for your baby, but only to a certain age. If he can roll over, he’s too old for swaddling. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Picture your new baby wrapped tightly in a blanket, and it’s easy to see why swaddling conjures up many creative descriptions: baby bundle, baby snuggler, even baby burrito.

But no matter what you call it, swaddling is a great way to comfort your baby.

Think about it: Your baby had been “squished” for many months in utero. He grew accustomed to that tight space. In his new world, after delivery, your baby has more room to move around—and it’s sometimes hard for him to adjust.

Swaddling can help soothe a baby, ensuring he feels safe and protected. Some of the other obvious benefits to swaddling:

  • It can help your baby sleep longer.
  • It’s helpful when learning to breastfeed, as it keeps your baby’s arms and legs from moving too much.
  • It can help keep your baby warm.

Art of the swaddle

Swaddling is something I enjoy teaching to children in our Big Brother and Big Sister class. A rectangular blanket works best, and we also use a baby doll as the baby.

Here’s how it’s done:

We take the open, rectangular blanket and lay it down flat. We then take one corner and fold it down, and we place the baby doll’s head on that corner. We take one of the side corners and fold it across the baby, ensuring we don’t cover the head or face.

The bottom corner is then folded up, careful again not to cover the head or face. Finally, the last corner is tucked around the baby and the baby is swaddled.

Swaddling has been taught to children and parents for many years.

I recently read some online discussions concerning swaddling, in which people wondered if it’s OK for baby. Specifically, they were concerned babies might not be able to display their feeding cues if they’re swaddled.

Now when I teach swaddling, we talk about making sure that baby’s hands are free so he can get them to his mouth, which is one of the feeding cues.

Safe, careful

In examining the safety of swaddling, a study released earlier this year in the journal Pediatrics concluded that a baby should never sleep in a front or side position, especially when swaddled. The study also found swaddling should not be done after a baby is old enough to roll over.

Dr. Michael Goodstein, a neonatologist at WellSpan York Hospital in York, Pennsylvania, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on SIDS, weighed in on the Pediatrics study.

He found that the study did a good job of reinforcing what pediatricians have long known: Swaddling is safest when it is done properly with a young infant who has yet to develop the motor skills to roll over. The infant should sleep in the supine position—never on his tummy.

Dr. Goodstein’s takeaways on swaddling:

  • There is a danger to placing a swaddled baby into the tummy position. Just remember the aphorism “Back to Sleep.” A baby should sleep on his back.
  • The Pediatrics study found a higher risk of SIDS with swaddling as the child gets older. Experts agree that you should only swaddle younger babies, not older babies.
  • Make sure you don’t overheat the baby by swaddling. Overheating is a risk for SIDS.
  • Swaddling should be firm so that the blanket doesn’t become loose and create an issue for the baby.
  • Experts recommend using a wearable blanket as an alternative to a simple blanket.

Several Spectrum Health hospitals provide new parents with SleepSacks, which are essentially wearable blankets for babies. Halo, the company that makes SleepSacks, provides some great information about swaddling.

The authors of the Pediatrics study did not suggest that parents stop swaddling their babies; they only pointed out some of the risks associated with swaddling.

They concluded that the current advice—avoid prone and side positioning for a sleeping baby—is especially important when the baby is swaddled. And again, a baby who is old enough to roll over should not be swaddled.

So what does this all mean? Because there are great benefits to swaddling, use it.

Just make sure you’re swaddling your baby correctly, and always keep your baby on his back for sleep. And make sure your baby isn’t too old for swaddling.