Why You Should Definitely Swaddle Your Baby

Swaddling gives babies security that feels familiar to the womb. Dr. Harvey Karp, author of Happiest Toddler on the Block, shares how swaddling keeps babies safe and helps promote good sleep. 

Baby in swaddle blanket
Photo: paulaphoto/shutterstock

For thousands of years, parents around the world have swaddled their sleeping babies…because it works!

However, I still meet parents who are a bit confused about it: “Shouldn’t babies’ hands be free to suck the fingers?” “I wouldn’t want to be wrapped so snugly.” “My baby hates having her arms down.”

I have to admit, swaddling a frantic baby can feel pretty wrong… like you’re forcing your little child to do something she hates. Or, that you are depriving your baby of “freedom.”

Of course, we’d hate to be swaddled, but we’d also hate living in a womb for 9 months or drinking milk for every meal—for months! However, correct swaddling is one of the very few proven ways to improve a baby’s sleep and reduce crying.

The truth is that babies don’t need freedom—they need security. Think about it: In the womb they hardly have an inch of freedom to move. When we instinctively cuddle babies, we snuggly embrace them…we essentially swaddle them with our arms!

Swaddling Boosts Sleep

Crying makes babies feel like they’re experiencing a three-fire alarm. Each jerk sets off another loud siren. Fortunately, comforting them usually just requires you to imitate the womb. For thousands of years, grandmothers have known that the best way to soothe a screamer is to do what we now call the 5 S’s (Swaddle, Side-Stomach position, Shushing, Swinging, Sucking).

Swaddling is the key first step because it stops flailing and helps babies focus on these calming sensations. But, some parents are told that babies need hands out to suck on their fingers and learn to self soothe. That’s fine during the day. But, at night, unswaddled babies often whack themselves in the nose or startle awake as they fumble for their thumb. Translation: Everyone sleeps less.

To improve infant sleep, you must not only swaddle…but also swaddle correctly. That means keeping it loose around the hips, but snug around the upper body—with the arms straight down. Arms down because babies are little Houdinis! If the arms can wiggle free, sleep goes down the tubes.

Good Swaddling Keeps Babies Safer, Too

A huge benefit of improving sleep through swaddling is that it makes it easier to follow safe practices: parents are less likely to lay an infant down on the stomach because “he sleeps better that way” or fall asleep with a baby in an unsafe location, like on a sofa or in a chair. And, swaddling helps keep babies in the safe back position while sleeping (an upset baby is more likely to flail and flip to the stomach). And, all that fits the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep guidelines.

The AAP does advise that swaddling should stop once the baby can roll. That can happen as early as two months of age. Unfortunately, when swaddling stops, sleep often falls apart. The new SNOO Smart Sleeper solves this problem by introducing a unique style of swaddling that prevents rolling… allowing safe swaddling for up to six months.

If Your Baby Fights the Swaddle, Don’t Give Up

If infants cried because they wanted to free their swaddled hands, calming them would be a snap…just never wrap them. This theory simply doesn’t hold—the instant your fussy baby is released from swaddling, the arms boing back, causing even more crying.

The good news is that modern swaddling is easier—and more effective—than ever before. Happiest Baby’s Sleepea has inner bands that keep babies comfy and secure. And it’s super-fast and easy—no more “baby origami.” It gives a perfect wrap every time; that’s why it’s called the 5-second swaddle!

So, please give swaddling a try for your baby’s good and your own. Getting the sleep you need is super important to promote your health and well-being. (And, don’t forget to add some great white noise to your baby’s sleep routine. It makes swaddling work even better!)

And, if your baby resists, stay confident. Her protest means, “I’m out of control!” not “I hate this.” Once you layer on the other S’s (sound, sucking, swinging—as demonstrated in the Happiest Baby video ), your baby will feel soothed and secure…and begin to enjoy the pure “wrapture” millions of babies have loved throughout time!

Harvey Karp, M.D., FAAP, is the author of Happiest Toddler on the Block and creator of the SNOO Smart Sleeper.

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