There's so much to think about when you're pregnant and the nesting instinct arrives - and it can be stressful preparing for your little one's arrival when they're just around the corner! One element of care you'll be thinking about a lot when baby arrives is sleep - mostly, you'll be wondering how to get more of it! That's where swaddling can come in, and if you haven't received a swaddle already with baby shower gifts or bought one earlier in your nesting phase, now is the time to consider it!
However, swaddling can only be effective, and more importantly safe, if you follow certain guidelines (many of them are based on the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep guidelines, which you can read here). Here, we'll go over why swaddling is so useful in helping your baby fall asleep, and look at ten different ways you can make sure you're swaddling your little one correctly when the time comes.
In this article:
Why swaddling works: the womb to world transition
At the third trimester, your baby will be curled up snug in your womb, oblivious to the outside world - but once baby arrives, it's a whole different story, and they'll be surrounded by sights, sounds and sensations that they couldn't have even dreamed about a few months ago! Moms to be don't remember their own time as a tiny baby, but you can see how overwhelming it might be for your little one.
Swaddling works to ease some of this overstimulation, providing your baby with the cozy, secure feeling they experienced long before their due date. Not only that, but it can also stop nighttime wakeups caused by the Moro, or startle reflex, by keeping baby's arms secure to prevent the flailing associated with this instinct.
We know that nesting urges often manifest as cleaning and sorting baby clothes -and we highly recommend adding a swaddle into the mix!
One: Always place baby on their back
Whether you choose to swaddle your baby or not, you'll always want to make sure that you're placing your baby face up on their back to sleep. This is because tummy sleeping before the age of 12 months is associated heavily with an increased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and as swaddling restricts arm movement, it can be hard for a swaddled baby to move out of a dangerous position.
Two: Bare crib, no bumpers
It might be tempting to put a cute blanket or stuffed animal in your baby's crib for a Pinterest worthy nursery, but this can be a safety issue for your baby and pose a suffocation risk if anything were to cover your baby's face while they sleep. Instead, you should keep the crib clear of loose blankets, bumpers, and other baby items.
Three: Make sure you get the right fit
Swaddling is only effective - and safe - if you get the right fit with your baby's clothes or blanket. If the swaddle is too loose, your baby's arms can wiggle out and loosen the fabric, posing a suffocation risk if it covers their face. On the other hand, a swaddle that is too tight on the chest can restrict breathing.
If you're nervous about folding a traditional swaddle blanket correctly, try our new Zen Neo swaddle pod! Made from a snug and stretchy fabric, you can get a perfect fit every time, and it's quick and easy to change your little one in and out of this gently weighted sleepwear.
Four: Avoid overheating
If you're expecting baby's arrival to line up with the summer months, or if you live in a hot climate, you should prevent your baby from overheating in their swaddle by dressing them only in a diaper underneath or ensuring the room doesn't get too hot. Signs of overheating in babies include damp hair, flushed cheeks, feeling hot to the touch, and seeming uncomfortable or more lethargic than usual.
If you're getting that nesting urge to get everything together for baby's arrival but you live in a hotter climate, why not try our Zen Swaddle premier? Made from a breathable bamboo cotton blend, this swaddle can keep your baby feeling snug and safe even in warmer weather.
Five: Leave room at the hips
Though you'll want to only leave two to three fingers of space between your baby's chest and the swaddle blanket, this isn't the case for their legs and hips, which need plenty of space to wiggle freely! This is to prevent conditions like hip dysplasia from developing - you can check out the International Hip Dysplasia Institute for more information.
Hip safe swaddling: from the experts
'Many parents find that swaddling can provide comfort for fussy babies, reduce crying, and develop more settled sleep patterns. When babies are swaddled, care should be taken to swaddle properly so the baby is safe and healthy.
There are many ways to swaddle babies by using blankets or commercial products designed for swaddling. In order for swaddling to allow healthy hip development, the legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints.
The baby’s legs should not be tightly wrapped straight down and pressed together. Swaddling infants with the hips and knees in an extended position may increase the risk of hip dysplasia and dislocation.'
Six: Don't share a bed
We know that many pregnant women have images in their heads of them and baby sleeping peacefully together on their beds, but this isn't a safe option for swaddled babies. Without their arms and legs free, swaddled babies who bed share with a parent aren't able to move covers out of their face or wiggle out of uncomfortable or dangerous positions. This doesn't mean that you can't co-sleep in the form of room sharing with baby, though!
Seven: Leave the face and head uncovered
When you're swaddling your baby, you want the swaddle blanket to only come up as high as their shoulders, not on their face or head. This is to prevent the suffocation risk that can arise if they have their airways covered.
Eight: Make sure others know about safe swaddling
We know that every pregnant woman wants to be a supermom, and this ideal of being able to achieve everything and more when your baby comes is common during nesting. Pregnancy, birth, and the first few weeks of your baby's life aren't always that easy though, and there's absolutely no shame in asking for extra help from your partner, friends, and family.
But if you are getting help from other sources, make sure they know how to swaddle your baby safely, following these tips and the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep guidelines before they spend time responsible for your little one.
Nine: Follow your baby's cues
It's easy to make a lot of plans for your baby in the nesting phase that may actually be trickier in reality once your baby actually arrives. If your baby keeps trying to resist the swaddle blanket, and you've tried to troubleshoot the fit of the swaddle and whether your baby is the correct temperature, it may be best to stop trying with a traditional swaddle blanket.
Instead, you may want to try out our Zen One convertible swaddle, with its detachable arm sections - perfect for babies who like to have one or both arms free while they're snoozing!
Ten: Stop swaddling at 8 weeks, or when your baby starts rolling
Swaddling is a fantastic tool for any parent in their baby's first few months to get them sleeping for longer stretches. But sadly, it can't last forever - as any parent will tell you, your child's life goes by in a flash, and once your baby starts rolling independently, the swaddling will also be relegated to the photo albums. Usually, this is at around the 8 week or 4 month mark, but it's perfectly normal for your baby to start rolling a little before or after this.
However, just because the swaddling phase is over, it doesn't mean that you can't provide your baby with that same feeling of snug security! Our Zen Sack wearable blanket is available for babies up to 24 months old, and is gently weighted to mimic your touch and help your baby learn to self-soothe as they sleep - perfect for the sleep training that you might begin at this age.
Swaddling transition: mom hack!
'I was so nervous to transition my daughter out of her swaddles after hearing so many stories of babies having sleeping issues after but we switched her to nested bean at 3.5 months and no issues at all. She is sleeping all night and we’re loving this product!!! Definitely getting more!'
- Dominique R., Zen Sack review
Commonly asked questions about swaddling safety