As a Child and Family Health Nurse in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, I am a convert to swaddling babies.
In the UK, as per SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) guidelines, we didn’t swaddle. Instead, we tucked baby in with a sheet and a couple of blankets according to the weather and body temperature. The blanket is placed at shoulder height and had to be firm under the mattress i.e. no way of escaping for the little munchkin.
Then I arrived in Australia and was exposed to swaddling! In my early midwife days, back in the late 80’s and 90’s, we swaddled babies. This was pre-SIDS but we also placed them in un-SIDS recommended positions i.e. on their tummies and sides. This was found to increase the risk of SIDS as babies overheated easily. So I had learnt how to swaddle, unlearnt it and now was re-learning but in a new way.
The new thing was placing babies arms in their natural, in utero position (upright or folded across their chest) rather than the traditional ‘straight-jacket’ sort of swaddle from the late 80’s where their arms are down by their sides. And I love it and most importantly so do the babies and their parents.
It works at keeping the baby in a relaxed state that mimics the womb. Genius. Swaddling works at reducing the effects of the startle reflex and so aids restful sleep. Un-swaddled babies allow their arms to flail about, constantly hitting themselves in the face and waking them up, just as soon as they are about to fall asleep. How annoying must that be?
By mimicking the in utero environment it keeps things like circadian rhythms, heart rate, breathing etc. at a constant rate that promotes maximum chance of survival. It also helps a baby feel more secure and it helps them get to sleep easier and stay asleep for longer. It is a sleep association, but a helpful one.
If you’re interested in the history of swaddling/wrapping then have a look at this Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swaddling
It is important, not to swaddle too tightly, as constriction of a baby’s chest can increase the risk of respiratory illness and if the bottom half of the baby is wrapped too tight it can lead to hip dysplasia. So a happy medium is called for!
There are a few wraps out there that I really love. An ideal length of a swaddle is 120cm x 150cm to allow for a growing baby. If the swaddle is too short i.e. 120cm x 90cm or 120cm x 100cm the baby will wriggle out of it very quickly. It’s amazing to watch a mini Houdini in action!
The type of fabric for your swaddle is important. Not too warm a fabric, especially if you live in Australia or a warm climate. You don’t want the baby to get overheated. I prefer muslin as its breathable and has a bit of stretch. Some parents like a stretchy fabric, maybe OK in winter but remember manmade fibres are not as breathable.
A local manufacturer (Sydney) sells an extra large muslin swaddle (4 little ducks) of 120cm x 150cm. Marvellous. They retail for @$25 and are worth every cent. I’m giving one to my sister who’s expecting her first. They are available from
The other ready-made wraps a lot of mums I know love is the one with the zip up the front. Designed, by an ex-client of mine, she loved the concept of why to swaddle the baby with the arms and hands in an in-utero position and voila the Love To Dream swaddle was born. And yes I gave her the idea!
It’s important to buy the correct size or the arms flail, but once in the right size parents swear it’s as good as a long muslin swaddle.
I also think the ergo pouch is very good too.
Important things to know on how to swaddle:
- Once the baby can roll over you should stop wrapping/swaddling them (SIDS guidelines).
- Make sure it is not constricting breathing or the hips.
- The wrap should not be above shoulder height.
- Follow good instructions on how to swaddle for maximum success. http://youtu.be/QN_WW-ne07E at 4:07 it demonstrates nicely the arm up method. I found this you tube video one of the best and, believe me, I looked at quite a few!