Swaddling (also referred to as wrapping) or using a safe sleep bag is a useful method to help babies settle and sleep on their back.
According to Ann de Belin, a Clinical Nurse Consultant (Perinatal & Infant Mental Health), infants are used to a restricted environment within the uterus and it is thought that wrapping can help to recreate this space.
"It can promote a state of calm and may assist to ease the infant to sleep. It may also reduce the incidence of awakenings," explains Ann.
"Wrapping can assist the infant to remain on their back while sleeping which is the safest and recommended position for infants to sleep."
Ann advises the following when swaddling your baby:
• Infants under 2-3months may have their arms included in the wrap to reduce the impact of the startle reflex
• After 3 months you may choose to wrap with the infant's arms free. The infant is able to find their hands to suck for self-soothing and comfort
• Wrap securely allowing room for the infant to move its legs and chest
• Ensure that the infant is positioned on their back with their feet touching the bottom of the cot
• Sleep infant with face uncovered, not overdressed under the wrap. Only use a lightweight wrap.
• As soon as the infant shows first signs of rolling, wrapping to sleep should be ceased. This could occur as early as 4months of age.
Whether you choose to swaddle or use a sleeping bag, it's important to follow safe sleeping guidelines.
How to swaddle
1 Lay the wrap out flat. Place your baby on top of the wrap, with her shoulders level with the top of the material. Put your baby's left arm down at her side, and her right arm away from her side.
2 Now bring the side of the cloth over your baby's left arm and body. Rolling her over slightly, tuck the cloth smoothly under the right side of her body. Then put her right arm by her side.
3 Bring the other side of the cloth over your baby's right arm and body. Rolling her over slightly, tuck the cloth comfortably and smoothly under the left side of her body.
4 Fold the bottom of the blanket over her legs to her chest, making sure she has room to move her legs and hips freely. Rolling her gently from side to side, tuck both sides of the blanket under her body.
There are two health concerns to be aware of when swaddling: overheating, and affecting the development of your baby's hips by swaddling too tightly.
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Using a sleeping bag
According to Red Nose, a safe baby sleeping bag is constructed in such a way that the baby cannot slip inside the bag and become completely covered. The sleeping bag should be the correct size for the baby with a fitted neck, armholes (or sleeves) and no hood.
When using a sleeping bag, ensure that baby is dressed according to the room temperature. In cool climates, dress baby in layers of clothing within the sleeping bag.
If additional warmth is needed, use a single, lightweight blanket over the sleeping bag, ensuring baby's feet are at the end of the mattress and the blanket can only reach as far as baby's chest and is tucked in firmly so it cannot ride up and cover baby's head during sleep.
The benefits of using a safe baby sleeping bag are:
• they reduce the risk of bed clothes covering baby's face
• they delay baby rolling onto the tummy during sleep until baby's past the age of peak risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI)
• they promote back sleeping as the zipper opens to the front
• they will keep baby's temperature at a more constant level while sleeping
Arms in or arms out?
Mothercraft nurse and routine expert, Jennifer Hamilton has the following advice for new mums on when to transition their bub's arms out of a swaddle."In my experience, from birth to three or four months, babies settle and sleep better with their arms swaddled inside and across their chest. The reason for this is that often their newborn startle reflex can hinder their ability to sleep well so it's best to control their arm movements and swaddle nice and snug.
When they start to get a little bigger, so from about three to four months, baby does not need to be swaddled as tightly and this is when they can begin to learn how to sleep well with their arms out.
At this stage I typically recommend products such as the Swaddle Grobag. This is a favourite of mine as it's a great transitional wrap. It lets you swaddle your baby from birth and as they get bigger it provides room for their arms to move while still feeling the security from the swaddling.
This swaddle is also great because as soon as your baby starts to roll they can stay within the familiarity of their swaddle but are able to have their arms out for safety.
At this stage, your baby now has the developmental ability to learn to settle with arms out whether or not they are rolling.