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New Dad Tip #12: What is Swaddling and Why Should You Care?

Hey new dads (and moms)! Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some more quick, helpful (I hope) posts on short topics that may make life with your newborn just a bit easier. To be clear, I’m no expert; I’m just a loving dad learning as I go. If we all stick together and share what we learn, we and our kiddos may just make it through this brave new world of parenthood alive and sane.

For those of you who are too impatient to read the following background information (which actually contains a few other tips you might find kind of helpful… but it’s your choice… don’t let me influence you… really… feel free to stop reading this parenthetical aside at any time) simply jump forward to the “WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW” section. Go ahead. It won’t hurt my feelings.

For the rest of you, if you have read my posts for a while, you know I take on subjects you often don’t hear other dads talking about. For example I, a dad, wrote about breastfeeding recently. Yeah, I know that’s a women’s domain, and how dare a guy weigh in, right? Well, I dared, and it certainly started a great conversation in the comments. You can read them here: a fathers feelings on breastfeeding

Happy Swaddled Baby - How and why to swaddle your infant

Photo Source: stock.xchg

This post is about a much less sensitive topic, but one I truly believe may help a good number of new parents sooth their newborn children, and just perhaps get everyone a bit more sleep. I’m not promising miracles here, but to parents of a newborn every minute counts, right? The subject of this post is something that I’d never heard of until about a month before our daughter was born: Swaddling.

If you are reading a blog like this then you are probably the sort of person who already has a stack of baby books, and bookmarks to your favorite parenting websites? These resources are a great start, but I strongly recommend attending actual classes about caring for a newborn. Our hospital offered them, and the investment paid us huge dividends when our baby arrived.

And guys, these classes aren’t just for the women. Don’t let me catch you off in the corner browsing the latest sports scores on your cellphone! Pay attention. It was in one of these classes I learned a skill that may well have saved my life… well, my sanity anyway. I learned how to properly swaddle a baby. Don’t know what swaddling is? I strongly recommend you read on.

In these classes they had us practice diaper changes, swaddling and bathing a life-sized (not too creepy) doll. Believe me, reading about these things in a book versus actually doing it physically is a big difference. Another underutilized opportunity to learn is from the nurses at the hospital after your little bundle of joy arrives. Notice how deftly they change diapers and swaddle your child.

Ask them to show you how to change a diaper. Then start changing them yourself, with their help if you need it. There are little tricks you can only learn from an expert. Same goes for the aforementioned swaddling. Doing it on a doll in class wasn’t the same as doing it on my baby girl the first time. The nurses showed me how, and I became a (self-proclaimed) expert.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. Spread a cotton cloth out flat, with one corner at the top folded over about 6 inches or so.
  2. Lay your baby on her back on the cloth, with her neck and shoulders lined up with the fold of the cloth.
    Wrap the top-left-hand corner of the sheet across your baby’s body and tuck it under her left arm.
  3. If this is starting to sound confusing see my tips above about educating yourself. I think you may also find this YouTube video on swaddling a baby really helpful.
  4. To continue, bring the bottom left-hand corner over her feet, and then wrap the right corner behind her back, leaving only her head and neck exposed.
  5. Critical: Allow enough room for your baby to move her hips and knees freely, so she can bend her hips up and outwards.
  6. Put your swaddled baby gently to sleep on her back in her crib (reducing risk of SIDS).
  7. Now drop silently to the floor, and army crawl to the door praying she doesn’t wake up.

Does this work for every child? Clearly all are different, but it is definitely worth a try, especially with particularly fussy babies. Why does it work? Probably several reasons. It mimics to a degree the warmth and security of the mother’s womb. It also helps reduce the times the baby is wakened by small starts that cause it to wave its arms.

Be careful not wrap the swaddle too tight, especially around the hips which must be allowed room to move and spread. It’s the gentle, soothing comfort around the arms and chest that seemed to help our daughter most. Be sure to keep the room a comfortable temperature and don’t swaddle in heavier fabrics or blankets. The swaddle is not for warmth.

I used some of the 30×30″ light flannel “blankets” at first (those ones with the pastel footprints all over them that hospitals always seem to use), but found larger muslin swaddling clothes worked better as our baby grew; something in the 45×45″ range. Some babies outgrow swaddles in a month or two… some in five or six months. Good luck and sweet dreams.

As always, the information in this post is the opinion of the author, who is neither a doctor nor does he play one on TV. It should not be construed as medical advice. Ask your doctor or other healthcare provider for guidance concerning your unique child.

Have you tried swaddling? What other tip do you recommend to new parents?

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12 comments

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  1. Dominick Jordy

    This post will be really helpful for new dads. Thanks for sharing it. I had not heard of swaddling before becoming a father either, but it helped so much.

    1. Michael Schmid

      I know there are other more important tips, but this was one that really helped our little girl feel safe and secure when she was a baby. Do watch the video (link above) for anyone new to it… and be sure not to swaddle TOO tight, especially leaving the hips and legs free to move.

  2. Michelle Swank

    My twins were born two months early and swaddling, as important as it is for a term newborn, is even more important for preemies. Bath-time can be a sweet and soothing experience for the baby and the new parent, but if your baby startles easily, particularly in the bath, or seems frightened, or if you just want the extra control this method might give you, I highly suggest trying what the awesome NICU nurses of Baylor Dallas taught me when my girls were preemies. They swaddle the babies before bath time and actually put them in the baby baths swaddled, then they slowly untuck one arm, while leaving the rest of the baby swaddled, and just gently bath and rinse the baby, while they are safely tucked in the blanket. We just used the standard receiving blankets, which usually come in packs of 5. My girls loved this and it was really calming for my babies and made me more sure of bathing time with such tiny precious babies.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Wow. I’d not heard of doing that, but it makes perfect sense, and of course preemies would need that extra soothing support. Very cool. The Baylor hospitals are great. Our baby girl was born at the new Baylor All Saints Medical Center’s Andrews Women’s Hospital.

  3. Bonny

    I didn’t swaddle my first three babies, primarily because I stunk at it. I’d wrap them as best I could, but they’d wiggle out of the blanket, so I gave up. With our fourth baby, we received some swaddlers that were like a mix of a nighty and a straight jacket. Yup, it sounds cruel, but my daughter absolutely loved being swaddled in these things, and she slept better than any of her older brothers. Basically, this contraption had velcro on it to keep the baby snuggled up just right. I loved it and if I were crazy enough to have a fifth baby, I’d use them again!

    1. Michael Schmid

      We had a couple of those, too, Bonny. They do make it easy if you have trouble doing it with regular square cloths. Most often people have problems swaddling because the cloth used is too small and comes untucked too easy. These sleep-sacks also ensure you don’t wrap the hips and legs to tight, as this can hurt the baby. This is one we had made by HALO, though personally I’d stay away from micro-fleece ones unless you’re baby is in a particularly cold room. Adjust the thermostat instead if you can. And as with anything you use with your baby ensure it meets the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) guidelines for fabric flammability.

      HALO Sleepsack for easy swaddling

  4. becky cunningham

    My dasughter loved being swaddled until she she was about 6 months old. swaddling is one of those things that goes in and out of fashion in the labor & delivery and nursery worlds of the hospitals. but as a parent you will always learn to do and use what is right for your child.

    1. Michael Schmid

      You’re right, Becky. Parents should always trust their instincts. Every child is different. This is a tip, though, that I think is definitely worth if try, if done safely. Have a super weekend!

  5. Mandy

    I am a huge fan of the swaddle. It seems it is quite normal in Australia where I am from, less known in Englad where I live. My two boys were swaddled from birth and as they got older I used to swaddle them so they had one hand up near their face which was very comforting as well. Well done for sharing.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Thanks so much, Mandy. I was lucky we took a parenting class before the baby was born, and swaddling was covered. It helped us so much in comforting our wee girl. Hope you had a super weekend? Have a great evening!

  6. Sean Leacy

    Love reading about this from a dads POV! We had great success with swaddling our first but settled on a half-swaddle with out subsequent children. If they are fussing like crazy when they are wrapped up you can leave the arms out and still get a lot of the compression a normal swaddle gives. Worked well for us!

    1. Michael Schmid

      Good point about every child being different. You’re absolutely right, Sean, (and you should know) that it won’t work for all. A moderately secure swaddle worked for our daughter, but (as noted in the post) be careful not wrap the swaddle too tight, especially around the hips which must be allowed room to move and spread. For brand new parents, I recommend asking your pediatrician and if she/he says it’s cool give it a try, but as Sean points out, every child’s needs are different.

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