Updated: Oct 28, 2021
As an OT, I am a huge fan of swaddling for various reasons from the newborn state to ~3 months of age. In my work I love to explain the rationale of swaddling and I would like to share why I think it is important for infant development from the mind of an OT.
I look at swaddling as a way to support your infant in the first few weeks of life during the transition to the new world. When your infant is developing, especially in the third trimester, they are getting more and more crammed in the womb, pushing on the barriers of the belly (and bladder!), and enjoying that tightness around them. It is familiar, and comforting to them! After their journey into the world, all of those barriers around them, that familiar “home” is now gone. Newborn infants may demonstrate stress cues (which are normal). Some of those cues, can be soothed by providing both a familiar environment and input to their little bodies. If you think about it, tight surroundings the feeling of being secure is EXACTLY what a swaddle offers! Stay with me here…. Doesn’t it feel good when you get a tight hug, or come home after a long day and wrap yourself tightly in a blanket, or even use a weighted blanket yourself? Deep pressure is soothing to our bodies and our brain, because we have been wired since gestation to respond positively to this input.
When an infant is swaddled properly (easier said than done- more on that below), it provides them that familiar feeling and can help their brain and body to calm. Swaddling also promotes early midline orientation. This occurs simply because when a swaddle is done properly, the hands are towards the infant’s chest or face, and the hips are slightly tucked upwards. An infant’s musculature system develops from the middle of their body and outwards from there. Think in simplest terms for “core strength”. As adults if we do not have good core strength, it inhibits our ability to perform other activities as well. What I am getting at here, is that you can start building foundational blocks for both gross motor and fine motor development right away! Pretty cool huh?
This picture is what you think of when you think of swaddled baby.
This beautiful peaceful baby, all swaddled and cute?
Also, swaddling is HARD TO LEARN.
LET ME REPEAT.
IT IS A PAIN IN THE BUTT.
It has taken me probably five years to actually get swaddles down consistently. I only wish I could share the many attempts I have had.
When it comes to swaddling, it takes practice and patience. Practicing on a baby doll can be really helpful!
When researching swaddling, many many many pictures show pictures of the infants arms swaddled “down” or against the body. I personally do not support this because it is against the natural movement of infants and goes against “physiological flexion” that an infant was primed to develop in the womb.
Tips for Swaddling
If using a standard blanket: PREP PREP PREP- get that triangle primed and ready and make sure your baby is as centered as they can be before swaddling.
Do not rush, if your infant is getting fussy, take a deep breath, give them a time out and then resume :0)
You will NOT be good at it the first few times. It will look like a 5 year old wrapped a present, and that is okay. If your baby is happy and you don’t have a photographer coming by, leave the baby be!
Do not worry if your infant hates it, what is more important is to see how your infant’s behavior is AFTER you are done with the swaddling and give them one full minute.
As your baby gets older, they will most likely begin to wiggle out (especially the arms). They might be showing more maturity and may be ready to have some free time and space. Use your judgement, some days/hours/minutes, they may like the swaddle, other times they may hate it.