Babies sleep much better when they are swaddled – it’s a fact! Two sleep consultants at Sleep Sisters, Debbie Sasson and Melissa Zdrodowski, read the book by Dr. Harvey Karp, Happiest Baby on the Block, watched the accompanying DVD, and found that Dr. Karp’s advice for soothing newborns was incredibly helpful and has held true for all the babies that they’ve worked with.
Babies feel calmer when they are in an environment that mimics the womb – dark, cool, noisy, and confined. They also have a very strong startle reflex (the Morrow Reflex) and when they are swaddled, this reflex is dampened. When they are not swaddled, they wake frequently and are startled easily. Debbie and Melissa believe that these wakings are unnecessary: swaddling is the solution.
However, problems can arise when parents do not know how to swaddle their children properly, don’t do it consistently, and don’t know how to transition out of it!
Here are a few of Melissa and Debbie’s helpful hints for swaddling:
- When your baby is new and tiny, the SwaddleMe blankets are easy to use and generally work. You can use them at night to help get longer stretches of sleep and use them for naps when possible. Make sure you pull the fabric tight enough!
- Parents often comment that their baby does not “like” to be swaddled, perhaps because their baby cries when they are wrapping her up. However, babies do this! Debbie’s daughter used to cry as she was in the process of wrapping her but as soon as Debbie was finished, her daughter often immediately fell asleep right there. Babies like to be swaddled as long as it’s done correctly (tight around the arms and trunk, loose in the legs.)
- Pediatricians often warn parents that swaddling for too long can be dangerous. They are referring to the possibility of hip dysplasia which occurs when babies are swaddled too tightly around the hips and legs. The key to a good swaddle is to make sure that you are leaving the swaddle loose enough for the baby to move their legs and to bend at the hip.
- If your swaddle seems to unravel easily, ask another caregiver to give it a try. Debbie’s and Melissa’s husbands are experts at swaddling. Somehow, they manage to do it more tightly than Debbie and Melissa do. Maybe they are less timid about getting it really tight!
- Once your baby can get out of his swaddle, you can switch to a different swaddle-type product. Do not assume this means that you should no longer swaddle – some babies can get out of a traditional swaddle at 2 months! Try switching to the Miracle Blanket, a product both Debbie and Melissa highly recommend.
- Finally, when your baby is ready to move out of her swaddle, help her gradually get used to the new freedom. Instead of moving her directly to a sleep sack, try the Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit (also known in some families as “the space suit”!) It’s a very thick sleeper with batting inside that dampens the startle reflex.
Some parents remark, “If my baby is swaddled, he can’t soothe himself with his hand.” This is true; however, he will learn to soothe himself in other ways and will be unswaddled with plenty of time to discover his fingers and hands. It’s not suggested that you swaddle your baby forever! Usually, by three-and-a-half to four months, a baby is ready for something like the Merlin. Many parents have found it helpful to have their children in a sleep sack during naps and in the Merlin at night – the babies get to practice different self-soothing techniques at different times of day but when they need more support at night, the Merlin is there! It’s a win-win.
Finally, remember that swaddling your baby is only one tool you can use to help your baby sleep for longer stretches. It does not replace the need to teach her healthy sleep habits.
About Our Guest Authors
Debbie Sasson is a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant, the co-founder of Sleep Sisters, and has a doctorate in clinical psychology. She is experienced in a broad range of methods and techniques, and works with each individual family to find an approach that suits their unique style and needs. All of her sleep work is informed by her knowledge about brain development, emotional development and family relationships. Debbie sees clients in person throughout the Philadelphia area and by phone/video around the world. She also speaks to groups and teaches seminars. Learn more about Sleep Sisters and book a consultation at www.sleepsisters.com.
Melissa Zdrodowski is a Certified Maternity and Child Sleep Consultant and the co-founder of Sleep Sisters. Melissa has been helping families improve their sleep for over three years. She is experienced in a broad range of methods and techniques, and works with each individual family to find an approach that suits their unique style and needs. Melissa understands how challenging everything feels when the family isn’t getting enough sleep, so she provides sisterly support to help caregivers make difficult changes. Melissa lives in Woodside, CA with her husband and two children. She sees clients in person throughout the Bay Area and by phone/video around the world. She also speaks to groups and teaches seminars. Learn more about Sleep Sisters and book a consultation at www.sleepsisters.com