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There is so much pressure for parents to do everything perfectly and in a “correct” manner when it comes to raising newborns. The stress of not doing things right can exacerbate anxiety and lead to further health issues.
Experience parents forget that new parents need to learn the basics of newborn care and that it takes time.
No new parent needs that stress when dealing with a new sleep schedule and a host of other physical and mental health considerations post-pregnancy.
One issue that can cause a lot of stress for new parents is learning how to swaddle a baby so that they can sleep safely and soundly.
Related: Best essential oils to help baby sleep better at night
Why is swaddling so advantageous for newborns?
Swaddling is a great way to ensure that babies feel safer and more secure at night. While it might look too restrictive for us, the process actually helps to recreate the feeling of being in the womb.
As a result, babies can feel more relaxed and are more likely to get to sleep without distress or fussing. There is also the idea that the feel of the material mimics touch and skin-to-skin contact, which can lower their anxiety levels.
Pinning the arms to the torso also removes the risk of babies injuring or scratching themselves.
There are also links to swaddling and reduced risks of SIDS. This is partly because the baby is less likely to roll over into a different sleeping position.
But, there is also reduced reliance on comfort items like toys and blankets that could be suffocation risks.
Finally, there are the potential benefits for parents. If a baby gets to sleep at night without fussing and sleeps soundly without waking up, that means less stress and sleep deprivation for parents.
You can relax for longer at night without getting up so often to soothe a fussing child. This means better long-term mental and physical health benefits.
Swaddling may be beneficial, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful.
Swaddling undoubtedly has great benefits for a newborn’s safety and sleep when they are wrapped securely. However, parents find that it takes time to create that secure wrap and improve the sleep cycle of their newborn.
It doesn’t matter how many times you practiced on a doll during pregnancy. Your baby is anatomically different, likely to move and cry, and may simply dislike the feeling of being swaddled.
So, it is unsurprising that parents feel defeated when things don’t go to plan. The good news is that there are different ways to swaddle a baby and you might find it more beneficial to switch to an alternative method.
There isn’t one single way to swaddle a newborn.
There is a misconception with swaddling newborns and putting babies down to sleep that there is one way to do things correctly. This is only reinforced by those online claiming to show parents the “right way”.
All this does is reinforce the idea that new parents are doing things the “wrong way”. Your current approach may not be wrong. It just might need a little improvement and guidance.
As a result, first-time parents can often feel as though they are failing because they aren’t being precise or doing exactly the same as everyone else. It doesn’t help when you have parents or in-laws hammering home the idea that their way is the right way and you need to do better.
This isn’t about keeping them happy, it is about the health and happiness of your child.
So, if a swaddling style isn’t working or you are struggling with the process, you can make a change. There are some guides online that will explain the same method in detail – this is the diamond method.
You will find this below in case this is something that you want to try and get right and have struggled with. But, there are alternative methods that could prove to be easier or preferable for your newborn.
Take a look at the options below and see which swaddling technique will work best for you.
Different ways to swaddle your baby…
1) The diamond method.
The first option to look at when learning how to swaddle a baby is the diamond method. You may see this under a different name.
Or, you may see it with no name at all because the guide claims it is the only way to swaddle a child. Whatever you want to it, this can be a very effective solution for keeping a baby’s arms and legs tightly wrapped and restricted.
But, it can also take some practice to stop it from coming apart.
The popularity of this approach is clear from the fact that there are so many helpful infographics around, including this one from one of the most well-known diaper providers in the world. This diagram from Pampers shows the basics of tucking and rolling the diamond of cloth into a secure little package.
As long as you remember to fold down the top corner and pass the cloth over each shoulder in turn, you can end up with a neat swaddle that stays in place for a long time.
However, there are drawbacks unseen in the cute step-by-step diagrams. For a start, those children are content to lie there with their arms at their sides.
They aren’t moving or crying. This method also suggests that all babies will appreciate the snug fit around their legs that you get from that bottom triangle of material.
This isn’t always the case, which is where the next option can prove to be helpful.
On that note, it is important to remember not to be too restrictive around the baby’s legs and hips as an unnatural position of straightened legs can be damaging long term. You may see guides talking about a baby’s “frog legs” as a natural position when laying down. Work with this and not against it.
2) The burrito wrap.
This is a popular alternative for a lot of new parents that want a simple way to wrap their child up securely in a blanket. The diamond method only works if you have a piece of material in the right shape and size.
It is often more practical for parents to get a rectangular blanket and use that for swaddling. If you want to put your child down at night you want to use the most convenient item you have, rather than search around for that square swaddling cloth that turns out to be in the laundry.
An added benefit of using this sort of technique is that you get a bit more freedom over the tightness of the material around the legs. The larger piece of fabric here should give babies plenty of room to get comfortable and kick their legs while their arms remain tightly pinned to their sides.
This video from the creators of 7swaddles.com gives a great step-by-step guide to this method and shows the balance between the tighter wrap on the arms and the looser gathering around the legs. The video also shows the use of this wrap in conjunction with a Velcro swaddle, which is something you will see below. .
Burrito Swaddle from Markimberly B on Vimeo.
The use of pretty normal blankets means that you can use a wide range of materials and items in the nursery to create this swaddle.
You may have seen lots of parents buying tortilla-print blankets like this one on Amazon for a more literal translation of the burrito theme.
Just make sure that the blanket isn’t too thick because of all that extra material. You don’t want your child getting too hot and at risk of overheating at night. A temperature monitor in the crib may be a good idea if you are concerned about this risk.
3) The sack or Velcro swaddle blanket.
First of all, these Velcro swaddles and similar products are not cheating. You are not giving in if you decide to take an easier approach and use a shaped swaddle with these helpful features.
Companies create these products to make life easier for busy and stressed-out parents. If older generations want to criticize that then that is their problem.
The concept of these swaddles is pretty simple. You get a pouch/pocket area on the bottom that goes around a baby’s legs. This is a fixed shape so there is no concern about it coming unwrapped or the baby getting too restricted.
There are then two wings on each side. The left wing goes over the shoulder and under the child’s left arm, much like the wings on the diamond swaddle.
Then the right wing comes over the left shoulder for a secure fit over the torso. The use of Velcro tabs makes it so much easier to hold the material in place. You can get a better idea of the method in this diagram from Summerinfant.co.uk
There are pros and cons to this approach. While this can be a more practical solution for a lot of parents, others will prefer to use the lighter muslin blankets and avoid the rough patches of Velcro.
It is also a good idea to learn the other methods in addition to using a product like this. There will be times where this isn’t a viable option and knowing how to swaddle a baby in a blanket is a great skill.
Adapting your swaddling technique for premature babies.
A lot of the guides, diagrams, and videos that you will find online relate to babies born at 9 months who are perfectly developed and healthy. But, what if you are the parent of a newborn premature baby?
Premature babies can benefit from the security and comfort of a tighter swaddle with their legs tucked in and arms at their torsos. This is much like the fetal position.
With practice, you should be able to create this secure swaddle with an appropriate blanket or the diamond method. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for guidance from nurses and those caring for your child while they are in the hospital.
If you are with your premature child and see a nurse swaddling them, ask for a demonstration so you are better equipped for when you get to go home.
Adapting your swaddling technique as your baby gets older.
Before you know it, your baby will be old enough that they won’t need to be swaddled anymore. This stage can be just as stressful, as parents deal with the same instructions and advice from family about when to stop and what to do.
Again, there is no single method that works for everyone. Just because your parents stopped swaddling you at a certain point, that doesn’t mean that it is right for your child.
So, one way to ease the uncertainty here is to use a different swaddle to see how your child reacts.
All of the methods above involve tucking your baby’s arms into the swaddle so they can’t fuss. As babies get older and more comfortable sleeping, this process becomes less important.
So, an arms-free approach is a good transitional method to test where your child is in their development. I prefer sleep sacks like these for this stage of life, they’ve worked wonders for my son.
They get the same enclosed feeling and security around the rest of their body but can move their arms. If they continue to sleep like this without fussing and waking up, it might be time to stop swaddling.
If not, you can continue with your other method for a little while.
Nestedbean.com has a great guide on transitioning from swaddling, including this little diagram.
Find the best swaddling technique for you and your child.
In the end, the best way to swaddle a newborn is the one that keeps them safe and relaxed and allows them to sleep soundly. If that means switching to square or burrito wrap then so be it.
And remember, if you do have an in-law inspecting your work and criticizing you after finding a better method, just point out that your child is sleeping better through the night and your stress and anxiety levels are lower as a result.
Find what works for you, both in determining the best way to swaddle your newborn and in phasing them out of swaddling. Be patient with yourself and give it time.