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Unwrapping the Challenges of the Swaddle

We believe strongly that babies sleep much better when they are swaddled. Melissa and I read the book by Dr. Karp called Happiest Baby on the Block (and watched the amazing DVD) and found that Dr. Karp’s advice for soothing newborns was very helpful and holds true for all the babies with whom we have worked.

Babies feel calmer when they are in an environment that mimics the womb – dark, cool, noisy, and confined!  Babies have a very strong startle reflex (the Morrow Reflex) and when they are swaddled, this reflex is dampened. When they are not, they wake frequently and are, well, startled! We believe that these wakings are unnecessary. Swaddling is the solution.

Problems can arise when parents do not know how to swaddle their children properly, don’t do it consistently, and don’t know how to transition out of it!

Here are a few of our helpful hints:

  • When your baby is new and tiny, the SwaddleMe blankets are easy to use and generally work. Use them at night to help get longer stretches of sleep. Use them for naps when possible. Make sure you pull the fabric tight enough.

  • Parents often comment that their baby does not “like” to be swaddled, perhaps because their baby cries when they are wrapping her up. Babies do this. My own daughter used to cry as I was in the process of wrapping her but as soon as I was finished, she often immediately fell asleep right there. Believe me, babies like to be swaddled as long as it’s done correctly (tight around the arms and trunk, lose in the legs.)

  • Pediatricians often warn parents that swaddling for too long can be dangerous. They are referring to the possibility of hip dysplasia when babies are swaddled tight around the hips and legs. The key to a good swaddle is to make sure you are leaving the swaddle loose enough for the baby to move his legs and to bend at the hip.

  • If your swaddle seems to unravel pretty easily, ask another caregiver to give it a try. Both Melissa’s husband and mine are experts at swaddling. Somehow, they manage to do it more tightly than we do. Maybe they are less timid about getting it really tight!

  • Once your baby can get out of his swaddle, you can switch to a different swaddle-type product. Do not assume this means that you should no longer swaddle – my baby was able to get out of a traditional swaddle at 2 months! Try switching to the miracle blanket. I love it!

  • Finally, when your baby is ready to move out of her swaddle, help her gradually get used to the new freedom.  Instead of moving her right to a sleep sack, I highly recommend Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit (also known in my family as “the space suit”!) It’s a very thick sleeper with batting inside that dampens the startle reflex. An added bonus is that the owner has offered our clients a 15% discount!

Some parents remark to us, “If my baby is swaddled, he can’t soothe himself with his hand.” This is true, however, he will learn to soothe himself in other ways and will be unswaddled with plenty of time to discover his fingers and hands. We’re not suggesting you swaddle your baby forever! Usually, by three-and-a-half to four months, a baby is ready for something like the Merlin. I’ve found it helpful to have my 5-month-old in a sleep sack during naps and in the Merlin at night – She gets to practice different self soothing techniques at different times of day but she seems to need more support at night and the Merlin helps with that! It’s a win-win.

Finally, swaddling your baby is only one tool to use when helping your baby sleep for longer stretches and it does not replace the need to teach her healthy sleep habits. As always, let us know if we can help your family get on track with a healthy sleep routine and a happy family!

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