To swaddle or not to swaddle?

To swaddle or not to swaddle is one of those hot topics of motherhood. Swaddling is one of the oldest baby traditions there is, but recently it has become a controversial topic. Swaddling is a technique of wrapping up a baby that gives the baby a feel similar to the tightness and security of the womb.  When my kids were little, swaddling was a way for me to calm them when they were fussy and for us to get more sleep.

Mom guilt

Motherhood is challenging, and mom guilt is real. Swaddling sounds like yet another source of mom guilt. There is already breast versus bottle, nurse exposed versus cover up, crib-sleeping versus co-sleeping, work versus staying at home, and now to swaddle versus not to swaddle.

Swaddling is a controversial one because there are guidelines on how to swaddle safely but there are recommendations that don’t support any swaddling at all.  Canadian guidelines suggest swaddling can be done safely for newborn babies until around 2 months of age.  At 2 months of age, babies are developing motor skills and swaddling should be stopped before baby is able roll or unravel the wrap. If a swaddled baby was to roll to their tummy they may not be able to get themselves back onto their back and would therefore be at a higher risk for suffocation. Recent questions about safety, are prompting hospitals to speak out against swaddling and most are not endorsing or recommending this practice anymore.  As you can see, this creates a double standard, causes confusion, and can potentially be a source of guilt for parents.

Pros & Cons

Advantages of swaddling:

  • Studies suggest swaddled babies sleep longer
  • Research shows that swaddled babies are less likely to roll and get themselves into a more dangerous sleep position, such as their bellies, and this can therefore lower the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Swaddling can be beneficial for sleep with the babies who are disturbed by their startle reflex
  • Swaddling can help calm an irritated, fussy, or overstimulated baby.  Research shows babies that were not swaddled but were fussy ended up placed in the more dangerous sleep position such as on their tummy or brought into an adult bed to settle them.

Risks for swaddling include:

  • Risk for SIDS
  • Risk of suffocation if blanket comes loose and covers face
  • Risk of overheating if babies are dressed to warmly underneath
  • Can get in the way of mother-baby bonding and newborn feeding
  • Tight swaddling can interfere with breathing and lead to hip dysplasia

So what do we do!?

As a nurse, there are somethings that I cannot recommend but I can provide parents with the education and information so they can make informed decisions for their child.  As a mom, I say consider the information given to you and trust your instincts, trust that you know what’s best for your child.  If you have a new baby that you have been safely swaddling and its really working for you, then as a mom I’d be reluctant to mess with a good thing.

So, if your baby likes to be swaddled then swaddle, but always follow the safe swaddling guidelines.  Vonbon is a Canadian company that makes a beautiful swaddling blanket.

If your baby doesn’t like to be swaddled then don’t. Remember as with everything in parenthood, its only a problem if it’s a problem for you.

If you don’t want to swaddle but your baby likes the cozy feeling then consider a swaddle blanket, such as the Miracle Blanket, an escape proof simple wrapping system.  Or a sleep sack such as Love To Dream or Woombie that fit snuggly and mimic the feeling of the womb.  Another option is if you have tried calming your baby and nothing has worked, you can try swaddling to settle your crying baby and then unswaddle for sleep.

The “Baby Burrito”

Follow these steps to safety swaddle your baby!  And remember always dress baby lightly to prevent overheating.

  1. Start by spreading the blanket out flat with one corner folded down. Lay baby face up with head and neck above folded corner.
  2. Bring baby’s hands together over the chest. Bring one side of the wrap over top of the arms and tuck it beneath the baby.
  3. Fold the bottom of the wrap up, leaving room for feet to move freely. The hips and knees should have a little bend and room to move.
  4. Bring the second side of the wrap across the baby, tucking the end behind the baby. Check that the swaddle is not to tight by being able to place two fingers between the wrap and the baby’s chest.

The bottom line

It’s only a problem if it’s a problem for you!

The swaddling topic is full of double standards.  Hospitals don’t recommend swaddling, Canadian guidelines stand behind swaddling as long as it is done safely.  Swaddling can be a risk for SIDS, swaddling can prevent SIDS.  Swaddling can keep a baby cozy and warm, swaddling decreases skin to skin and can overheat a baby.

For sleep in hospitals, babies are always recommended to be placed in the hospital bassinet, in a sleeper or sleep sack, on their backs.  At home, the Canadian recommendations are from birth to aged 6 months the safest place for baby to sleep is a crib, playpen, or bassinet in the same room as parents.

If you choose to swaddle your baby, once baby has reached 2 months of age and is getting closer to rolling then it is time to transition them from their swaddle to a sleep sack.

When your looking to make this transition and want to reduce stress, there are some really great options out there!  My favourite is the Swaddlenot. This sleep sack works really well because it still allows the baby to have that enclosed and cozy feel but they can still move freely allowing ample room for safe hip flexion to prevent hip dysplasia.  It is the perfect alternative for a baby who hates the swaddle but needs gentle resistance to sleep well.  In these sleep sacks the babies hands are covered so if you have a thumb sucker, and you would like to try to break that habit, these sleep sacks would be beneficial!  They are also great for those older babies who are starting to think about crib jumping and your not ready to transition them to a bed yet.

My son likes his arms to be free, so I just bought him a aden + anais sleeping bag .  I love the muslin fabric and they come in the super cute designs and large sizes!!


I am giving away a Swaddlenot!!  For a chance to win like my Facebook page and tag a friend in the comments, the more friends you tag the more times you get entered!  This would be perfect for keeping your little ones hands and feet warm on an evening stroller walk!  It is also safe in the carseat!

Just remember, I am not here to judge or to pressure parents to do one thing or another.  I am here to support, educate, and provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision about what’s best for your family.

If you like this blog, please share!  And as always, if you have any sleep questions or if you are having trouble transitioning your child I would love to help, contact me here.

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