There’s nothing sweeter than a newborn baby, wrapped up tightly, drifting off to sleep. My husband and I affectionately called our daughter, our little burrito. Soon after she was born, we noticed that our muslin swaddle blankets served more of a purpose than being nice to look at. They were our secret weapon when it came to sleep. Soon it became our ritual, wrapping our daughter up before naps and bedtime, to drift peacefully off to sleep. And as your newborn sleep coach, I’m here to talk all about swaddles today!
Why Swaddling Works
First things first, as your newborn sleep coach – I’m here to tell you swaddling DOES work!
Swaddling your baby provides the warmth and snugness that they get inside the womb and eases their transition from the womb into the world. It can help calm a fussy baby and reduce waking up from sleep due to the Moro reflex, also known as the startle reflex. All babies are born with a variety of reflexes, including the Moro reflex. When baby is startled by a noise or sudden movement, they will evoke their startle by suddenly extending their arms and legs, sometimes letting out a gasp, followed by a sudden retraction of their limbs back in. To baby, they feel as though they are falling and may even start to cry.
Swaddling baby provides resistance against their body as if they are being held tightly in the womb. This gives them a sense of security and boundaries and may prevent them from being startled while being set down or sleeping.
The Moro reflex is most common in newborns and generally decreases and finally disappears around 4 months old.
Babies learn their mother’s scent early on and research says that this scent is actually wired into our brains. In addition to providing a baby comfort and security, their mother’s scent has a strong connection to breastfeeding. Newborn babies search for their mother’s nipple, often using scent as a powerful force to build a strong and loving connection with their mother (and make sure it’s really their mom in the first place).
Swaddle blankets are an excellent way to surround your baby with your scent, even when you can’t be right there with them. Try immersing your scent onto the blankets, by covering up with them while you sleep or holding them in your lap or on your shoulders while sitting on the couch. Keep a rotation of baby’s blankets so you always have something on hand to soothe a fussy baby.
It is not recommended to put loose blankets or bedding in your baby’s crib or sleeping space. Always tightly wrap baby in the blanket, so they are safe and gaining the benefits of having mom’s scent close by and feeling snug.
My Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle
As a pediatric sleep consultant, I often hear exhausted parents say that their newborn baby doesn’t like being swaddled and begins to cry as soon as they are wrapped up. I encourage parents to remember that every baby is different and so are their needs and dislikes. Some babies can’t get enough of the swaddle while others prefer more freedom to move around.
Before giving up on the swaddle and all the benefits it can bring, I encourage parents to experiment with different swaddling techniques. Here are a few options: swaddle baby with both hands out of the top, so they can have access to their fingers and thumbs, swaddle one arm out and one in, swaddle one arm up and one down, swaddle around the torso with both arms out. Sometimes all it takes is finding the right amount of movement within the swaddle for your baby, before they can enjoy the benefits of being wrapped uptight.
If you find that your baby continues to cry no matter what swaddling technique you try, it may be time to consider that there is something else going on. Newborn babies can easily become overtired, with only a 45-minute awake window before needing to sleep again. Wrapping up an overtired baby is a sure way to bring protest. Try putting baby down sooner and more often for naps and see if baby is happier while being swaddled. If all else fails, move on to a sleep sack.
When to Stop Swaddling
Swaddling is an amazing tool for newborns, getting them through some important developmental milestones and adjustments in sleep early on. At some point you will find baby is ready to transition to a sleep sack or wearable blanket. This is generally between 8-10 weeks old.
If you find that your baby has reached the new milestone of rolling on to their side or all the way over, you need to immediately stop swaddling. Safety is a priority when it comes to your child’s sleep. You may also find baby breaking out of the swaddle repeatedly. This is another sign that it’s time to transition. Read more about swaddle safety here.
Pro mom tip: your swaddle blankets have so many other uses for when you’re done with this stage of your baby’s development. Use your blanket as a breastfeeding cover, car seat cover, tummy time blanket, or stroller blanket.
Newborn Sleep Tips
When I was expecting my daughter, I read every baby book I could get my hands on. I knew exactly which bassinet to get and which breast pump I was ordering. When I look back now, I realize I was missing a big piece of my baby’s development – her sleep! I admit now that I knew nothing about how much sleep she needed or how we would get her to sleep well. We were ready to just “wing it.”
Tip 1: Newborn babies require 18-20 hours of sleep in a 24-hour day and only have a 45-minute threshold for staying awake before needing to sleep again. Sleep promotes growth and development for your baby as well as immune health and healthy growth.
Tip 2: Help baby straighten out their days and nights by exposing them to lots of natural sunlight in the day, and darkness at night. I encourage parents to think of their day being split into two, 12-hour chunks of time, so they can visualize what this looks like while living in a sleep-deprived fog.
Tip 3: Maintain your baby’s feeds around the clock, so they have the opportunity to grow and gain weight normally. I promise that there will come a time when your baby sleeps through the night. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
When should my baby sleep through the night?
Almost every parent that comes through my door has the same question: when will my baby sleep through the night? The good news is that the newborn stage isn’t going to last forever. As your newborn sleep coach, my advice to parents is to start practicing healthy sleep habits and routines from the start. Parents that educate themselves on their baby’s sleep needs early on and practice healthy sleep, rarely need any big interventions later. Be kind to yourself, you are still getting to know your baby as they are getting to know you too.
Your baby is ready to be sleep trained at 4 months old. This is a fantastic time to foster great sleep habits for your baby, as so much development and growth is going on.
If you are struggling, consider seeking professional advice. Just as you would hire a mechanic to fix your car or a personal trainer to get in shape, you hire a sleep coach for sleep challenges. You don’t have to be a mombie.
I’m Becky Remley, your newborn sleep coach, and Colorado Pediatric Sleep Consultant.
Partnering with the families of children, ages newborn to 5 years old, and expecting parents.
Becky Remley is a certified sleep consultant and newborn sleep coach located in Fort Collins, Colorado, and is honored to partner with families who need realistic yet gentle solutions to their child’s sleep challenges. Becky provides personalized services in person as well as virtually, all over the United States and internationally.
Wondering if you will ever sleep again? I totally get it, I’ve been there! Schedule a free 15-minute sleep evaluation today.