I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!


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Swaddle Series, Part 2: Three Rookie Swaddling Mistakes

She looks happy now, but....Mistake 1: Unarmed SwaddleSwaddling is such an important way to support your child’s sleep that I’m dedicating several posts to the topic. In multiple studies, swaddling has been shown to enhance development in low birth-weight infants and help babies sleep for longer stretches with fewer awakenings. Sounds pretty great, right?

The Web is full of swaddling tutorials, so I won’t include one here. Every baby is different, and your bundle of joy might prefer being bundled a different way than the baby down the street. Luckily, there are wonderful swaddling products that make the entire process much simpler (I wrote about my five favorite swaddlers last week, from easy-peasy Velcro wraps to old-fashioned flannel blankets).

Even if you opt for one of these newfangled swaddling wraps, remember that practice makes perfect. Find an obliging friend’s baby or even a realistic doll to practice your wraps on. When wrapping an actual, living, breathing, kicking newborn, speed and confidence come in handy.

A little knowledge comes in handy too. There are lots of “right” ways to swaddle, and a few wrong ways. Here are three swaddling mistakes to avoid, for the sake of your baby’s sleep and safety:

Mistake 1: The Unarmed Swaddle

Some new parents feel that wrapping a baby’s arms inside a swaddle looks uncomfortable and confining, but arms-in is the way to go at first. For a brand-newborn, a swaddle offers blessed relief from the bizarre appendages that keep startling him, scratching him, and whacking in the face at all hours. These strange new accessories are his hands and arms, and they’re foreign to brand-new infants at first. So, don’t leave the arms out of the swaddling party!

Older babies will let you know when they’re ready for an arms-out swaddle—most will start working their little fists out of their swaddle on their own. When you begin finding your swaddled babe happily gnawing his knuckles in the morning, usually around three months, you can experiment with leaving an arm out of the swaddle to see if your baby prefers that method.

Mistake 2: Going All Loosey-Goosey

Similarly, sometimes parents will wrap a swaddle loosely because a tight wrap seems less comfortable—and probably would be, to us adults. But infants aren’t little adults. They crave the close, womb-like confinement of a snug swaddle. Another factor is safety; wiggly newborns may work their way out of a too-loose wrap and wind up bunched in layers of fabric—hardly a safe way to sleep. Wrapping too loosely also increases the likelihood that the wrap will work its way up around a baby’s neck and head, which is also unsafe. Ideally, swaddling fabric shouldn't extend above a baby's chin.

Mistake 3: Letting the Swaddle Overstay Its Welcome

You spent all this time learning how to swaddle, bought all the swaddling blankets, and it’s working like a charm—your little one is sleeping. So, um, can you just keep doing it forever? Sorry, but that’s a no. Swaddling a baby who no longer wants to needs to be swaddled is difficult at best (babies are deceptively strong!); at worst, it's unsafe if an older baby kicks his swaddle loose and winds up bunched in fabric (see mistake 2). The general rule of thumb: By the time your baby can roll over, it’s time to say sayonara to the swaddle.

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