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What Is Swaddling and What Are The Risks and Benefits?

As a first time mom, I had no idea how to swaddle or why we even swaddle babies. Fortunately, I learned how to swaddle 2.5 years ago with Madi and was ready to swaddle George when he was born! I now explain swaddling to parents as wrapping your baby tightly in the shape of a baby burrito. 

How do you swaddle?

1.  Start by laying a blanket on a flat surface oriented like a diamond.  Fold the top corner down so the blanket is now a triangle.

2.  Place the baby on the blanket on their back with the baby’s shoulders just below the fold. 

3.  Straighten the baby’s right arm against their side.  Pull the right side of the blanket down and across the body and tuck it under the left bum.  

4.  Bring the bottom corner of the blanket up to the left shoulder and tuck the edge around the left arm.

5.  Grab the left side of the blanket and pull it down and across the center of the chest.  Wrap the blanket across the forearms like a belt and around baby’s back.  Tuck the free corner in to the front of the swaddle. 

The swaddle should be snug, but not too tight so the baby can move his or her legs freely.

The Canadian Pediatric Society provides some suggestions for swaddling safety which include:

  • Make sure your baby is flat on its back.
  • Avoid soft bedding/blankets.
  • Don’t overdress your baby. Use light blankets so your baby doesn’t overheat.
  • Stop swaddling when your baby shows signs of rolling over.
  • Make sure your baby’s nose and mouth are not covered.
  • Make sure your baby can still move her legs 

What are the benefits and risks of swaddling?

There is evidence that swaddling may have benefits in infants and preterm infants. Swaddling has been shown to help infants arouse less and sleep longer and help sooth pain. Swaddling has also been shown to improve muscular development in preterm infants.

However, there are also some potential risks with swaddling. Swaddling has been shown to be helpful in helping keep a baby warm, but there is also a risk of the baby overheating. In addition, if the infant is swaddled with the legs extended too tightly together, the infant may be at increased risk of hip dysplasia (abnormality of the hip joint where the hip may become easily dislocated). Also, although swaddling helps the baby remain on his or her back, once the baby is able roll there is an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

What did we do?

Our daughter Madi loved being swaddled. For the first 2 months of life she needed to be swaddled to fall asleep. We had a wide variety of blankets and always made sure to have one with us in case she needed a nap when we were out.

The post was co-authored by Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc and Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP.

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