Swaddling is a centuries-old practice of wrapping an infant snugly, mimicking the sensation in the womb. While swaddling is not without disadvantages -- and can be harmful if you don't do it correctly or if you swaddle an infant who is too old for swaddling -- proper swaddling can calm a crying newborn and make for a happy baby.
Better sleep is perhaps the most well-known benefit to swaddling newborn babies. Swaddling decreases an infant's startle reflex, making him less likely to arouse. However, it's important to note that you should always place your swaddled infant on his back for sleeping and never on his stomach because when infants sleep on their stomachs, it can increase the risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome, according to HealthyChildren.org, a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The secure feeling of being swaddled not only leads to better sleep, but can also help improve neurobehavioral organization. The studies included in an October 2007 review article in "Pediatrics," the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, indicate that swaddled babies have significantly lower levels nervousness and anxiety as measured by the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale cluster scores. The reduced anxiety could also explain why swaddled babies cry less.
Not only does swaddling reduce anxiety and upset in newborns, but the studies discussed in the "Pediatrics" review article also found that mothers who swaddled their newborns, experienced significantly less maternal anxiety and higher levels of overall parental satisfaction. This isn't terribly surprising considering that swaddling reduces crying and fussiness -- two traits associated with the stress and anxiety among new parents.
While there are many advantages to swaddling a newborn, it's equally important to be aware of the risks and safety precautions associated with the practice. Swaddling increases a newborn's temperature, which in turn increases the risk of SIDS. Always use a thin, breathable swaddling blanket. Also, swaddle firmly around the newborn's torso, but leave the cloth around his hips and knees loose enough for movement. Swaddling hips too tightly might cause hip dysplasia. Finally, stop swaddling at 2 months of age or whenever the newborn begins rolling over.