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Swaddling: What is it and does it really help your baby?

New parents are often introduced to swaddling as a way to wrap up their babies in blankets - but what is swaddling? And does it REALLY have any effect on your baby? Closer Online are here to answer your burning questions...

There are SO MANY things to learn as a new mum or dad.

It can be really quite overwhelming.

You hear words that you've never even heard before, like "colic" or "colostrum". Or "swaddling".

But don't panic - we're here to help you understand swaddling in its fullest form.

We're here to help with your swaddling queries (Credit: Getty Images)

What is swaddling?

According to Babycenter, swaddling is when you "snugly wrap" in a blanket to keep them warm and secure. It can help to stop your baby from being disturbed by their own startle reflex, which is when a baby feels a sudden loss of support and may feel as though they're falling. Swaddling can help the baby feel snug, as though they are still in the womb.

It can also help to keep your baby nice and warm for the first few days of their life until their internal thermostat starts to work.

The NCT describe swaddling as the "practice of wrapping babies from the neck down, with the aim of pacifying or calming them".

Is swaddling safe?

There is not enough evidence to suggest whether swaddling is safe or unsafe, but neither the NHS, the NCT nor the Royal College of Midwives will advise either way. Some parents find that it helps their baby settle more than just laying them on their back to sleep, but other parents that it doesn't help them at all. As outlined below, there is a link between incorrect swaddling techniques and hip dysplasia.

But there is nothing concrete to say that swaddling is bad for your baby.

Jenny Ward, Director of Services at the Lullaby Trust, also helped to explain this. She said: "We neither advise for or against swaddling because there is no evidence that swaddling, when done correctly, increases the risk of SIDS, but neither does it decrease it. So it is up to families if they decide this is something they would like to try with their babies.

"If you decide to adopt swaddling, this should be done for each day and night time sleep as part of a regular routine. Make sure to use thin materials, do not swaddle above the shoulders, never put a swaddled baby to sleep on their front and don’t swaddle too tight. Check the baby’s temperature to ensure they don’t get too hot."

Look at that little cutie (Credit: Getty Images)

How to swaddle a baby

Babycenter describe how to swaddle a baby in five simple steps:

"1) Lay a blanket on a flat surface like a diamond and fold down the top corner about 6 inches to form a straight edge.

2) Place your baby on his back so that the top of the fabric is at shoulder level.

3) Bring your baby's left arm down. Pull the corner of the blanket near his left hand over his arm and chest, and tuck the leading edge under his back on his right side.

4) Bring your baby's right arm down. Pull the corner of the blanket near his right hand over his arm and chest, and tuck the cloth under his left side.

5) Twist or fold the bottom end of the blanket and tuck it loosely behind your baby, making sure that both legs are bent up and out from his body, his hips can move, and his legs can spread apart naturally."

WATCH: How to swaddle a baby by Mothercare

How does swaddling help a baby?

The main purpose of swaddling is that with some babies, it can help to soothe them and might help them sleep better. The reason we say "some" and "might" is that, like all things, what works for one baby might not necessarily work for every baby.

The reason that swaddling might help soothe your baby is that the snug condition harks back to being in the womb and could help them drift off to sleep easier.

However, swaddling can help parents too – as it helps to keep babies sleeping on their backs, something that is strongly recommended to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Abi Wood, Head of Campaigns at NCT, said: "Some parents swaddle their babies because they think it can help them feel more settled and get them off to sleep.

"If parents do decide to swaddle their baby, they should follow the Lullaby Trust's safety recommendations. These include not swaddling above the shoulders, using only thin materials and never placing a swaddled baby to sleep on their stomach."

Why is swaddling a baby important?

Swaddling can help to keep a baby asleep as it helps to stop their Moro reflex which wakes them from sleep.

Another reason to swaddle a baby is so that they stay warm whilst asleep, meaning that no additional blankets or coverings are necessary. If a baby is covered with a blanket, there is a risk that they might become tangled in the blanket whilst asleep and suffocate.

According to a study done in 2005, swaddling can enhance both the length of sleep that a baby has, and also REM sleep, also known as active sleep, which stimulates the brain's regions that are used when learning and can help to develop brain development.

Sophie King, a midwife at Tommy's, said: "We at Tommy's, like the RCM and NHS neither advise for or against swaddling. Some believe that it can help settle young babies to sleep, but we would advise parents to be cautious and sensible if they do decide to swaddle their little one.

"Our advice for swaddling would be -

  • To not swaddle baby to tightly (as this is thought to be linked to hip dysplasia when the baby has his/her legs bound very straight and too tightly)
  • To use very thin materials - like muslins or a thin cotton blanket to ensure that the baby does not become too hot whilst swaddled
  • To avoid swaddling 'above the shoulders'
  • To always lay the baby on his/her back whilst swaddled - never on the side or the front as this is believed to be linked to sudden infant death syndrome."

It's totally your choice as to whether you swaddle your baby or not (Credit: Getty Images)

Can swaddling stunt growth?

There's nothing to suggest that swaddling can stunt growth, but MedBroadcast say on their website: "One theory is that touch has been shown to stimulate growth, so babies being swaddled may not get the touch they might need for growth."

Can swaddling cause hip dysplasia?

There's nothing to definitively say that if you swaddle your baby, they will 100% develop hip problems. However, if your baby is swaddled incorrectly, it could cause hip problems.

This is due to the fact that when your baby is in the womb, they are in the foetal position – with their legs bent. If your babies legs are constantly being straightened out and they are only a few months old, the joints can become loose and damage the soft cartilage around the socket, better known as hip dysplasia.

So, swaddling CAN cause hip dysplasia if it's not done correctly, but it won't ALWAYS cause hip dysplasia.

Does swaddling help reflux or colic?

It's hard to say whether swaddling explicitly helps with reflux or colic, as not much is known about what causes those issues in babies. But if one of the reasons your baby is colicky or suffering from reflux is because they struggle to settle, the soothing element of swaddling can help to calm them.

Swaddling helps some babies sleep better (Credit: Getty Images)

Does swaddling cause SIDS?

Jenny Ward says: "Swaddling does not increase or decrease the chance of SIDS. There was previously some debate about this, but we now know the evidence does not prove that it helps either way."

However, Gail Johnson, Professional Advisor for Education at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: "The RCM does not recommend swaddling of babies as there is evidence to suggest a link with swaddling with an increased risk of sudden infant death. This may be partially related to the baby overheating. Swaddling may also inhibit breastfeeding as the baby may feed more freely when it is able to move.

"If parents choose to swaddle their baby, which the RCM does not recommend, then they should take great care, ensuring that the material is lightweight, keep the baby’s head uncovered and not lay them on their tummies."

We understand that these conflicting opinions may cause confusion and possible concern, but it is completely your choice as to whether you swaddle your baby.

What are swaddling clothes made of?

A lot of swaddling clothes for babies are made from muslin, which is a woven cotton material that is also used for baby blankets. New parents find muslin blankets very helpful to mop up the inevitable colic, sick or spills that come with having a new baby.

Jenny Ward added: "There are some specific blankets designed to help you swaddle your baby easier. Whatever you use, make sure it is made from thin materials and that you keep checking you baby’s temperature to ensure they are not getting too hot."

Will swaddling help my baby sleep?

As we said before, there's not a sure-fire technique for making babies sleep as all babies are different! But with some babies, it has been shown to make babies sleep for longer and make their sleeps deeper.

As swaddling restricts a baby's movements, it stops their involuntary jerky movements (Moro reflex) and helps them to stay sleeping.

There may be a link between swaddling and hip dysplasia (Credit: Getty Images)

Muslin swaddle blankets

£££

"Soothing Stars" by CuddleBug (Pack of 4), Amazon, £29.89.

Organic Muslin Swaddle Blanket in Forest Friends print, Etsy, £22.43.

Unisex muslin swaddle blankets (Pack of 3), Amazon, £20.95

££

aden + anais Jungle Jam Cotton Muslin Square (Pack of 3), Amazon, £19.95.

Extra Large Nautical Muslins (Pack of 2), JoJo Maman Bébé, £18.

Extra Large Floral Muslins (Pack of 2), JoJo Maman Bébé, £18.

£

Cotton Muslin Squares Swaddle Blanket Wraps (Pack of 3), Amazon, £16.99.

Summer Infant SwaddleMe Muslins - Triangle Stars (Pack of 3), Mothercare, £11.99.

Extra Large Elephant Print Muslin with Bag, JoJo Maman Bébé, £10.

Did you swaddle your baby? Or did you NOT swaddle your baby for a particular reason? We want to hear from you – get in touch via email, or on Facebook and Twitter.

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