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Baby Whisperer: Swaddling - 29 June

The transition from the womb to this big wide world is a huge change for a small baby as in the womb it is dark, they have little stimulation and are rocked peacefully to sleep during most of the day. They are also limited by space towards the end of the pregnancy they have little to be stimulated with.

Swaddling or wrapping a newborn baby is an old and very helpful practice which adds a baby's transition from the womb into this 'new world'.

Coming from such a safe, warm and small space, it takes time for a newborn to adjust and by swaddling their body, tucking their limbs away, they feel safer and more secure.


The majority of babies need to be swaddled for at least 3 months as their Moro Reflex (startle reflex) slowly disappears at around this time.

The reflex they experience often happens when they are moved about or hear certain stimuli, particularly loud noises or sudden sounds, their arms 'reaching out' in a primitive form to grab hold of something.

It can give them a fright and can then in turn break sleeping patterns which have snowball effects, affecting feeding and the happiness in a 24hr day.

The Baby Whisperer's tips

Few babies have the ability to sleep without the aid and comfort of a swaddle/wrap but there are some and the best why to know if your baby does in fact require swaddling is the by the following:

- Does your baby startle with their arms during their sleep time, sleeping then for short periods of time (a short period of time for a newborn would be less than 1 1/2 hrs for most of their day/night sleeps).

- Is your baby a physical and active one?  These babies often do not need swaddling for as long as other babies, but definitely require it for the first 6-12wks of life.

- If your baby is inquisitive and is easily stimulated with visual and sound stimulation you are best to swaddle to take away the 'startle' reflex and to reduce the physical side of their personality!

- If your baby resist's being swaddled don't presume they do not like it. It is a natural reaction for a baby to pull their arm away from you when you are about to swaddle them, it is a defense mechanism and it easily misunderstood by parents as a sign of a baby not liking it.

- Often a baby can cope without being swaddled in the night, there is less stimulation and therefore they startle less, however I would still suggest you swaddle them until they are sleeping for good stretches of time, creating good habits from early on.

- If your baby is sleeping well without being swaddled for the first 3-6wks but then starts waking after a short 45min sleep cycle, it may be that they are becoming more aware and more physical and therefore they may need to return to being swaddled while you transition through this phase.

There are many options today when buying a wrap or swaddle for your baby, parents find some of the newer options, like the purpose made wraps, helpful as their babies escape from the old method used when wrapping with a square cotton piece of fabric.

Be careful with some of the ready made designed swaddled with Velcro or layers of wraps, it is very easy to do these up too tight which can lead to poor circulation for the baby.

Another thing to keep in mind is being careful about is that you do not over-heat your baby.*  When the summer months arrive babies can get very hot and so I advise you dress your baby in less clothes before swaddling, adding more blankets if you feel they need more warmth. It is easier to cool a sleeping baby by removing a layer or two of the top rather than undressing and then stimulating a baby during their sleep.

*To check on your babies temperature place your forefinger and middle finger down their back, between their shoulder blades.  If they are sweaty or clammy, remove a layer and keep and eye on them.

If you use the side settling technique make sure you swaddle with their arms across their bodies so that you do not turn them on top of their arm, this will make them more uncomfortable and is not safe if you are doing my "in and out" of the room Supervised Settling.  Remember that you are recommended to turn your baby back onto their back once you have settled them successfully.

Where to go for further info

- Sharlene Poole - Baby Whispering DVD, Sleeping Section
- Baby City - For plan swaddles
- Dimples Baby Wear - For pre-designed swaddles.