Swaddle With a Blanket or a Swaddle Garment? How to Decide What is Right for Your Family

You have decided to swaddle your baby, and you read the book/watched the DVD/had a private consultation with me.  You know why swaddling helps your infant calm down, fall asleep, and stay asleep.  But what do you actually use for swaddling?  Two choices appear: the blanket or the manufactured garment.  Swaddle blankets can be muslin, microfleece, synthetic, natural or organic, and come in a fairly standard size.  Manufactured swaddle garments can be made from the same materials, usually have velcro closures, and are sized newborn-large.  Some are convertible from arms-in to arms-out.  So how do you choose?

  • Preemies may or may not fit the small sizes, and some babies are large for their age.  Swaddling success depends on a firm wrap that doesn’t leave any fabric covering your baby’s mouth or nose, and is large enough to prevent accidental unraveling.  For a firm custom fit with the tiniest or the largest babies, you can’t do better than a blanket.
  • A few generously-sized blankets may be all you need for the entire period you use swaddling.  Once your garment needs to be washed, and overflow diapers and spit-ups do occur, you will need at least 2 of each size.
  •  Effective swaddling is a skill that you learn, and not everyone is good at the origami-like wrapping right away.  Are you good at wrapping a package, or does the mere thought of tape and ribbon send you over to the gift bag section? This a moving package and it could be fussy!   I think anyone can learn to swaddle, but not everyone wants to.  If you want something that is easy to get right, then you might want the garments.  You should know that it is possible to use them incorrectly.  If you ignore the signs that a child has grown out of their first one or you bought a larger garment than you needed, you will find that they either fuss more or they get their arms out and wake up.   And just like blankets, there should be plenty of room for both legs to move. Swaddling never involves limiting leg movement.   If your baby cannot stretch those legs out straight and out to the sides, you need a bigger garment right away.
  • Some daycare centers will not use a blanket but will allow you to provide a garment.  Why?  I am not sure, but I suspect it is because unless all the employees really know how to swaddle correctly, they are aware that loose fabric over a child’s airway (that no one notices) is a danger.  Even if your swaddle garment is wrapped too loosely to be effective, the velcro usually holds and doesn’t come fully undone and cover the airway. You probably won’t be able to challenge rules like that, so if you need daycare while you are using a swaddle strategy, you should check their policy closely.
  • As your baby transitions out of swaddling, many parents go to the one-arm swaddle.  Either the blanket or the garment will allow you to swaddle with one arm out, but again, the garments make it very easy to get that right.  Just check that it is still a firm swaddle, and that you are using all the other great steps to keep your baby calm and sleeping (white noise and sucking can still be very effective as they transition out of swaddling).

If you need more assistance with your decision, or want more support as you use swaddling or any of the other 5 S’s from The Happiest Baby with your little one,  visit my website: tranquilbabies.com, and purchase a phone/video support session.  You can get answers to all your questions and feel more confident in minutes!

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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