To Swaddle or Not To Swaddle?

Contributed by Dr. Giancarlo Toledanes

As with most parents, your baby was probably swaddled when you received him in the hospital.  Swaddling is an effective and safe way to soothe and comfort your newborn. However, like most things in parenthood, the practice has generated debate. The following questions are often asked by parents:

When can I swaddle my baby?
You may swaddle your baby as soon as they are born.  The warmth and tight bundling can mimic the security of the mother's womb.
Does my baby need to be swaddled?
If your baby is calm and content without being swaddled, then swaddling may not be needed.  The fussier your baby, the more likely that swaddling may need to be used to help calm.
How tightly should I swaddle my baby?
Your baby's swaddle should be tight enough that the blanket does not get loose during the night.  Loose blankets can get in your baby's face and can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Two to three fingers should fit between your baby's chest and blanket.  Your baby should also be able to bend his legs up and out to prevent damage to the hip, known as hip dysplasia.
How many hours a day can I keep my baby wrapped?
Most newborns can be wrapped up to 12 to 20 hours a day with some time to allow them to stretch and move.  As they get older, you may reduce the amount of time they spend wrapped, depending on how calm they are without swaddling.
When do I stop swaddling my baby?
Many babies will no longer want to be swaddled after 2 to 3 months old.  To decide if swaddling is still needed, try to swaddle your baby with one arm out.  If your baby is able to sleep, you probably don't need to swaddle.
How can I keep my baby safe when swaddled?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you place a baby on his back to sleep on a flat surface to prevent them from rolling over. Place your baby in his crib or bassinet to keep him safe, NOT in your bed.

About the Expert: Giancarlo Toledanes, D.O., is a pediatric hospitalist and clinical instructor at UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.  He is father to a 7-month-old baby boy and is enjoying every minute of it.

For More Information

Learn more about hip dysplasia and watch videos on proper swaddling techniques at the International Hip Dysplasia Institute website. [go now]