Contrary to the appearance of being confined and immobile most infants really love the feeling of being wrapped tightly within a blanket. The reason for the infants’ love of swaddling has to do with their first habitat. Developing within the mother, for nine months the babies are wrapped up in the confines of the womb – all cozy and cuddly. So, that is what they know and that is what they are used to. Swaddling an infant mimics that secure sensation.
It is not possible for an infant to regulate the temperature inside her body, so it is crucial that her parents give her a helping hand and make sure she is neither too hot nor too cold. Being too cold is dangerous for an infant. They are so used to being nice and warm that just a blanket laid over them won’t be enough by their standards. This is where swaddling with a baby blanket fits the bill.
The opposite is also a consideration. The infant shouldn’t be kept too warm as babies have a difficult time cooling off. In overheated rooms swaddle only the baby’s lower body without binding hands and chest or do without the swaddling all together. Basically, if the room is above 77 degrees swaddling can be put away, or not bound too tight. Lots of newborns enjoy having free hands when they have been swaddled, so, swaddling loosely or only the lower body will not become an issue.
While an infant is enjoying a good sleep and everything seems peaceful and relaxed all of a sudden arms start flapping, legs kicking and the baby wakes up startled, crying with fear and confusion. Newborns don’t recognize their limbs and still have to learn how to control their muscles. Parents have witnessed more than once these jittery reflexes; even though it’s a normal occurrence it could be very frustrating. Swaddling binds the baby limbs gently so that she doesn’t get scared from her own arms and gets a good, undisturbed sleep.
Swaddling an infant also prevents too much stimulation from getting in and overwhelming her senses. After nine months in the womb, with very limited sound and sight, the new sensory experience the baby is exposed to can quickly lead to sensory overload. Swaddling her the right way blocks much of this overwhelming amount of sensations. Even though sounds and sights can still frighten her, the sense of touch is limited to just the warm blanket or the clothing she is wearing. This cuts down on the surprises and helps her get a stress free sleep feeling protected and comfortable.
After the first month of life the infant has better control of her arms and legs, does a better job at regulating her internal temperatures, and starts to enjoy exploring the use of her body. Therefore, swaddling at this age can be reserved to full sleeping time only, such as when she is put to bed for more than a few hours. This means that at nap time, or when she is just “hanging out” with mommy, the swaddling baby blanket should be loosened from her arms so that she is allowed movement and the freedom to explore.
After two months, you can consider ‘relaxing’ the swaddling rule. Some babies are not only very comfortable with their flapping arms and legs but also start using them to wiggle out of even the tightest swaddle. Other babies get so accustomed to being swaddled that it might be easier to start the weaning process earlier.
There are many reasons why swaddling is good for your baby – comfort, warmth, security – and studies have shown that a good swaddle will help babies self-soothe. However, if you baby wants nothing to do with swaddling, please remember – babies are unique!