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14 Pros and Cons of Swaddling a Baby You Should Know

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Most mothers today are familiar with swaddling, but only a few are aware that it is actually an ancient practice. In fact, swaddling has been used since 2000 BC. However, it lost its popularity when mothers started to believe that using a swaddle traps or harms their babies. 

Before using a swaddle, it is important to know first the advantages and challenges this technique possesses. All babies are unique on their own. While swaddling works for some babies, others do not like it. Therefore, it is important for parents to learn more about this technique.

Are you considering swaddling your baby? We will take a closer look at its pros and cons as we go through this post.

Baby is swaddled in a woolen diaper and sleeps sweetly among tropical plants

What is swaddling?

Swaddling is an old technique of using a thin blanket to wrap their baby, thus making them feel safer and more settled. It also helps them sleep better which helps reduce excessive crying.

Newborn babies like swaddling because it enables them to feel again the environment of their mother’s womb. Most often, swaddling is used for babies with a strong startle reflex, as well as for those babies that often cry.

Pros of Swaddling

Because it is proven to be effective, swaddling has emerged in popularity again. Here are some of the benefits of swaddling:

1. Swaddling improves quality of sleep

Since swaddling is designed to resemble a mother’s womb, it helps babies to have longer, undisturbed sleep. The contained environment helps lull newborn babies back to sleep, thus reducing the risk of waking up spontaneously.

2. Swaddling lessens anxiety

The additional weight that is carried by the swaddle creates the feeling that the baby is being held, thus helping him relax.

3. Swaddling reduces the startle reflex

Because babies haven’t completely figured out their motor controls, they can be peacefully sleeping then exhibit a sudden jerking motion.

This startle reflex can cause them to wake up even if they are having a deep sleep. Using swaddles can help control their extremities, thus limiting their sudden movements.

4. Swaddling helps get rid of blankets

Baby girl yawning swaddled in bed closeup

Parents use blankets to keep babies warm and comfortable especially during cold nights. However, while using a blanket is effective in regulating temperature, it increases the risk of suffocation hazards.

By using a swaddle properly, the baby is kept warm while ensuring that their face will not be covered by a blanket.

5. Swaddling blocks scratching of the face

Most babies unconsciously scratch themselves in their sleep. Sometimes, their little nails can even cause scratches to their delicate skin. Because swaddling keeps their arms and hands secured, this occurrence is eliminated.

6. Swaddling keeps babies in a safe sleeping position

For babies, the safest sleeping position is on their back. Since swaddling keeps newborn babies from moving, it is ensured that they sleep in the safest, most comfortable position. 

7. Swaddling reduces colic

Colic is an occurrence when a baby is crying for a long time for no reason. If nothing else is working out and your baby keeps on crying, swaddling might help.

For babies that are two months old and below, swaddling reduces crying by 42%.

Cons of Swaddling

baby boy lying on the towel before bath

While there are benefits of swaddling, there are also risks that parents should take into consideration before resorting to this kind of practice.

Below are some of the risks and disadvantages of swaddling that you should be aware of:

1. Swaddling can cause hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a health concern wherein the hip’s ball and socket joint does not fully form which results in a more fragile hip joint.

Improper use of swaddling is strongly associated with this serious health concern. Keep in mind that the aim of swaddling is to limit arm movements and not the legs. When parents use a swaddle more on the lower body than the upper body, they are more likely to increase the risk of hip dysplasia in their kids.

To properly use a swaddle, make sure that the baby’s legs can move freely. There are also blankets that are specifically designed for swaddling that parents can use. If the baby is born with hip dysplasia, swaddling is not recommended.

Although hip dysplasia is a serious con of swaddling, it can be prevented so long as parents know how to properly use swaddles.

2. Swaddling increases the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

One of the biggest risks of swaddling is SIDS. Instead of securing the baby in the supine position, swaddling actually restricts the movement of a baby. When they start to roll around, the risk of SIDS is very high since the baby can roll while his movement is kept limited.

Therefore, it is important to stop using a swaddle once the baby starts to roll over and move around.

3. Swaddling can cause overheating

In warm countries, swaddling using a thick blanket can cause the baby to overheat. To prevent this, use light clothing or a thin blanket to swaddle your baby.

Portrait of a sleeping newborn baby in blue fur

4. Swaddling decreases arousal

As mentioned earlier, swaddling can help babies to sleep longer without interruption. However, it can also cause babies to have reduced arousal which makes them slow to wake up.

According to studies, decreased arousal increases the risk of SIDS.

5. Swaddling increases the risk of suffocation

When a baby is swaddled and they roll over on their stomach, there is a high risk of suffocation since they cannot move freely. When a baby shows signs of rolling over, swaddling should be discontinued.

6. Babies can be dependent on swaddling

If the baby gets used to being swaddled before sleeping, this can form into a habit where they must be swaddled before they can fall asleep.

Although there’s no risk associated with this, it will be difficult for the parents because eventually, they will need to wean their baby from swaddling.

7. Swaddling interferes with breastfeeding

Swaddling interferes with breastfeeding, which, in the long run, can affect the baby’s weight. For newborns to thrive and take breastfeeding more often, they need skin-to-skin time with their mothers.

However, a swaddled baby is deprived of this contact. Therefore, it is essential to check with your pediatrician regarding immediate swaddling.

Newborn baby look to mother face and show her hand during swaddling with white cloth

Tips for Proper Swaddling

The key to preventing the risks of swaddling is for the parents to ensure that swaddling is done correctly.

Below are some tips parents can follow for safe and proper swaddling:

1. Avoid swaddling too tightly

If the baby is swaddled too tightly, it may lead to difficulty in breathing, strains on their hips and knees, and poor blood circulation.

Correct swaddling should be firm, but with enough space for the baby to move their chest and lower body.

2. Avoid swaddling too loose

The purpose of swaddling is to make babies feel like they are still in their mother’s womb, and it cannot be achieved with loose blankets where they can easily wriggle loose.

Aside from defeating the purpose of swaddling, loose blankets can also get into the baby’s face which increases the risk of suffocation.

3. Avoid over swaddling

Since the blanket is firmly wrapped on babies when they are swaddled, it means that they are kept warm there. When the baby is kept warm for quite a while, such as for a whole day, this can result in overheating which heightens the risk of SIDS.

Damp hair and flushed face are only some of the signs of overheating. It is also important to use thin blankets and clothes when the weather is hot.

4. Stop swaddling when the baby starts to roll

A baby learning to roll over looks up at her small white dog

As repeatedly mentioned, swaddling should be stopped when the baby starts to roll because it creates the risk of SIDS and suffocation.

5. Secure the swaddle

There are blankets specifically designed for swaddling. However, parents can also use a regular blanket as long as it is secured. If the swaddle is too loose, too tight, or it comes undone, it can potentially be a risk for suffocation.

6. Ask for help

If it’s your first time swaddling, you can always have someone to teach you how to do it properly. Learning how to properly swaddle a baby is very important to avoid risks that your baby may suffer from.

Should you swaddle or not?

Based on the pros and cons listed above, swaddling is beneficial for the first three to four months of a newborn baby. After that, the risks of suffocation and SIDS increase, and therefore the practice should be stopped.

Because there are risks involved with swaddling, it is best to consult with your baby’s doctor to help you assess if swaddling is a good option for you and your baby. Not all babies like to be swaddled, so it is important to observe if your baby enjoys it.

It is also important to swaddle correctly as improper swaddling may cause potential risks which were mentioned above. In the worst-case scenario, it may even affect the baby’s life.