Apr 17 , 2020
Swaddling is a popular yet sometimes controversial practice often done to improve sleeping practices and provide comfort. It involves wrapping a baby in thin blankets and cloth so they can feel like they’re right back in the womb or in their mother’s arms.
Many ancient cultures and communities practiced swaddling for a variety of reasons. According to a 1965 study on swaddling, Russian and Polish mothers became concerned that their babies would become harmed or that they would develop fragile legs if they weren’t restricted. They also swaddled their children due to the belief that suffering was necessary for one to harden himself and prove his worth. In contrast, Jewish parents swaddled their children mainly to provide them with warmth and comfort.
Parents also swaddled their babies for convenience. In South America, peasants would often swaddle their young and carry them on their backs using special blankets. Some mothers in Iran also had their babies restrained and tied to their backs while they worked.
Swaddling practices today aren’t nearly as restrictive as they were several years ago. Most parents now know better than to tightly bind their children’s arms and legs. Bandages and heavy cloth have also been set aside in favor of softer and safer materials. The aim of swaddling has also shifted towards providing warmth and comfort and assisting with sleep.
Though some parents can attest to the benefits of swaddling, many health professionals believe it can lead to hip dysplasia and even SIDS if done incorrectly. In fact, some daycare centers have even been banned from swaddling babies due to the possible risks to their health. The American Academy of Pediatrics also believes that parents should avoid swaddling babies who are older than 8 weeks in order to lessen the risk of SIDS and other health problems.
Anti-swaddling stances aren’t anything new. In 1761, a Swedish royal physician named Rosen von Rosenstein included a plea for parents to end tight swaddling practices in his book on childhood diseases. He believed that tight swaddling would only lead to physical deformities and health complications later on in life and that children would feel much happier being free and unswaddled than being restrained. This line pretty much sums up his whole stance on the matter: “Was a fullgrown person obliged to be thus swaddled, would he not think it a great hardship? But we seem to have no compassion on our innocent children.”
Can Swaddling Lead To SIDS?
Sleep-related infant deaths are sadly not uncommon according to the American Academy for Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP reported in 2016 that around 3, 500 babies in the United States died annually from SIDS, ill-defined deaths, and accidental suffocation in bed.
According to the AAP, it is very possible for a swaddled baby to die if they are left in the wrong position—in other words, rolled to the side or lying on their chest. The best way to lessen any risk of SIDS is to always place your baby on their back when they are swaddled. You should also avoid swaddling your baby when he or she shows signs of trying to roll. Many doctors from the AAP believe that one of the best ways to avoid death and suffocation is to avoid swaddling babies after they turn 2 months old.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Pediatrics also cautions parents against using products that are designed to restrict a baby’s spontaneous movements. The restrictive nature of these products can make it very difficult for babies to roll and move away from suffocating bedding. It’s important to practice caution when choosing blankets and wraps for swaddling and to avoid products that can lead to death by suffocation.
Can Swaddling Reduce Crying?
Some studies suggest that swaddling alongside other soothing activities can help in calming fussy babies. A 2006 study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that though swaddling did not have much of an effect on older babies, it did help soothe babies who were younger than 8 weeks. Another study conducted in 2019 found that fussy babies responded positively to soothing done through a combination of swaddling, movement, and sound.
Swaddling is considered part of the 5 S (Swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking) Method for soothing babies. Many believe that it can calm fussy and distressed babies by making them feel like they’re back in the womb. Though you can definitely try calming your baby down by swaddling them, you should also remember to do it in a way that’s safe and risk-free. Unnecessarily restricting your baby’s movements and simply leaving them alone while they’re swaddled won’t do either of you any favors, but following safe swaddling practices will really make life easier for you and your little one.
Does Swaddling Help With Sleep?
A 2005 study published in the AAP found that babies did actually sleep longer and better when they were swaddled. The researchers found that when babies were swaddled, they were less likely to suffer disrupted sleep or wake up spontaneously.
Many parents also believe in swaddling as a way to reduce the Moro reflex in young babies. When babies experience this reflex, they spread out then pull in their arms while crying. Swaddling can prevent babies from suddenly waking up due to this reflex by safely restricting their arm movements.