Gently wrapping your newborn up in a swaddle can help him feel more secure and aid sleep. We show you how to do it safely
Your baby was kept all snug and cosy while he was in your womb, so it’s no surprise that he’ll enjoy that same feeling once he’s born.
That’s why swaddling – a practice that’s been carried out for thousands of years – can be an effective method of helping your baby to sleep.
‘Wrapping your baby in a swaddle mimics the feeling of security he felt when in the womb and can really help when settling a new baby,’ says Alison Scott-Wright, a baby consultant at Tinies and author of The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan (Bantam Press, £12.99). ‘However, even in the womb, babies can move and turn so it's important that the swaddle isn’t too tight or restrictive as this could cause problems within the hip joints.’
The best material to use for a swaddle is 100% jersey cotton as the natural elasticity in this material allows your baby to move, flex and stretch. ‘You can buy ready-made swaddles, and most of them are made in this jersey fabric and are quite simple to use,’ says Alison.
How to swaddle your baby safely
Lay out the swaddle on a flat surface and place your baby on his back, with the top hem of the swaddle under the back of his neck. If you don’t have a special swaddle, fold the cloth into a large triangle, with the point of the triangle facing towards you.
‘Fold his arms across his chest and NEVER swaddle with arms down by his sides,’ says Alison. ‘This is far too restricting and could be dangerous.’
With your left hand hold his arms in place whilst reaching across with your right hand to pull over the left side of the swaddle. As you pull it over cover his hands, with the hem of the swaddle going right up under the chin. Keep the swaddle taut and bring it over his left side and shoulder and tuck it round, under his back.
‘Once it's securely tucked under his back repeat the same with the right side by pulling it over and tucking it firmly under his left side,’ says Alison. ‘Each side of the swaddle should form a small V-shape under his chin.’
During sleep, many babies will gradually wriggle their hands free, which is fine – this isn’t designed to be a strait jacket! In fact, some babies like to be swaddled, but prefer to have their arms free, so just wrap the swaddle sheet round his body but under his armpits.
‘Finally, flip the free material at the bottom part of the swaddle up and over the feet, tucking the loose ends around the back of the legs,’ says Alison. Make sure his legs are slightly bent at the hips in a ‘frog’ position and leave the material lose enough so that he can move them and to prevent hip dysplasia.
Always use a swaddle with caution. Alison recommends taking the following points into consideration:
- Ensure your baby will not overheat by using appropriate clothing determined on the temperatures in your baby’s room or the house.
- Once in a swaddle many babies will lie incredibly still and with most sleeping on their backs this can induce plagiocephaly (a flattening at the back or the side of the head) and also cause a stiffness in the hip joints. Ensure you use a plagiocephaly pillow and as you place your baby in the crib very slightly tilt him onto his side so he can bend his knees up. Each time you put your baby to bed alternate this slight, side inclination from right to left so his head remains rounded and cushioned in the pillow.
- Never place a baby on his front, face down when in a swaddle.
- Swaddling is only advised for the first six to eight weeks maximum and around week four to six it's a good idea to start gradually loosening the swaddle so your baby slowly gets used to being without it.