A couple of weeks ago I was making rounds at the hospital on a baby I had delivered a day prior. As I entered the room I noticed the baby was very cranky and experiencing some nicotine withdrawal (as the mother was a smoker throughout the pregnancy). The mother was very frustrated and stated she had recently breastfed and changed the baby's diaper. The baby's arms were flailing as the mother held the baby in her arms. I gently took the baby to examine him and afterwards I swaddled him snuggly. A strange thing then happened--the baby quickly stopped crying. The mother immediately started smiling and took a sigh of relief. She then asked why I was wrapping the baby like a burrito! She couldn't believe that something so simple could have such a large impact on the baby's disposition. I then explained to her that the custom of wrapping babies snugly in light cloths or sheets has been used for centuries. Swaddling also most likely reminds the baby of being in the womb--which is comforting. I remember my travels to Africa and how the mothers that I worked with had the act of swaddling down to an art. They had seen the act of swaddling done as routine and it was an automatic given that you swaddle your newborn. Since being a midwife I have taught my mothers how to swaddle their newborn babies, but haven't stopped to actually research the act of swaddling. I found through research that swaddling has been linked to a decreased risk of SIDS, improved sleep, and reduced crying in the newborn. I also found that research advocates only swaddling for the first two months. Too much swaddling after this age can interfere with muscle development and the normal development of the ball and socket joint of the hip of the baby. Also, a baby starts to turn over around the age of two months so swaddling could become a safety issue.
Here are some detailed instructions on how to properly swaddle a baby:
1. Lay the blanket out on a flat surface in the shape of a diamond.
2. Fold down three or four inches of the top edge of the blanket.
3. Place your baby on the blanket so that his head is overlapping the top edge you turned down.
4. Tuck your baby's right arm into the flap made by the folded down edge of the blanket and the right corner of the blanket. Pull that corner across his body, tucking it behind the opposite side of his back.
5. Bring the bottom corner of the blanket up and tuck it inside the blanket near his chest.
6. Tuck your baby's left arm into the flap made by the folded down edge of the blanket and the left corner of the blanket. Pull that corner across his body, tucking it behind the blanket on his back.
If you have problems swaddling your baby, you can actually buy a swaddling blanket with Velcro flaps to make the procedure easier!
PS I enclosed a picture of my midwife partner, Leigh, swaddling a baby and giving it her sugar thumb!