As parents, we often have questions about all kinds of health issues relating to our kids - from illness to prevention to child development. Come ask the experts what you want to know about pediatric health! A selection of answers to your questions will be posted on the site each week.
The Physician Answers:
Let me begin by explaining to others what swaddling is and why it is done. Mostly a receiving blanket is used. Place the blanket on a bed or a changing table and turn down one corner about five inches. Place the baby on the blanket with his head right above the folded corner. Take one arm and place it at the baby's side while taking the blanket on that side and pulling it across the baby's body to tuck under his back on the opposite side. Lift the bottom corner and tuck it in (by the neck) of the side you just arranged. Lastly, reach for the remaining side corner and bring it over the baby's body to the opposite side and tuck it under his back. The reason that we do swaddle babies is because it is soothing, and after just being born all the open space can be overwhelming. It is purported that swaddling most closely represents the environment of the womb-providing warmth and comfort to the newborn. Additionally, the jerking movements of a newborn during sleep often cause them to wake; by restricting their movement they may sleep better. It is standard of care at most hospitals to swaddle all infants soon after birth. This helps them to retain some warmth that may otherwise be lost as their immature thermostats are trying to regulate.
Normally, within several days after birth, as the newborn becomes more active, they will typically begin to kick away their swaddling. In general, by two weeks of age most newborns no longer want the restrictions of swaddling and make their decision obvious to the parents. In any case, by one month of age the swaddling should be stopped because it may interfere with physical development. I suspect the best rule of thumb is to let your infant determine whether swaddling is for them -- believe me, they will let their feelings be known.
Dr Jane Forester