Expert Advice

How to swaddle a baby - Kiwi baby whisperer Sharlene Poole answers your questions

Everything new parents need to know.

There is so much to learn when you become a new parent, and one of the first things you're told about is the importance of swaddling your baby.

Swaddling is something that's only needed in your newborn baby's first few weeks of life, to help them transition to their new world.

Wrapping them securely emulates the tight space they've occupied in their mum's uterus, and helps them sleep better, says Kiwi baby whisperer Sharlene Poole, who shows us how to swaddle a baby in the video above.

Here, we answer your questions about swaddling:

Why should I swaddle my baby?

Newborn babies are born with a startle reflex, which means they can startle themselves awake when they're sleeping.

When you swaddle them this prevents them from startling themselves awake.

A well-rested baby takes a better feed, and a well-fed baby sleeps more soundly - so there is a definite positive knock-on effect all round.

Swaddling can also help make a baby feel more secure by emulating the enclosed space of their mother's uterus.

"There is a vulnerability they can feel from coming from a tight space in the womb out into a world that can put them into sensory overload," explains Poole.

"There's smell, sound, light, touch and everything else - plus their startle reflex. If we can support them by giving them that security physically then they can deal with all the other senses in what I call that transition phase."

Does every baby need swaddling?

Poole would say that most do.

"The majority of my clients tell me that their babies don't like being swaddled - but that's because they're fearful of being the parent.

"The baby may have had their arms free in utero, but in the womb they also weren't exposed to all of the sensory experiences. So what I say to parents is that we need to be the parent and say 'I know you don't feel like you need this but I know better, and this is going to make you sleep better and feel more secure'.

"And that's where being a parent and not being led by the baby comes in. Wait until they've adjusted to this world and then be led by them."

The babies that particularly benefit from swaddling are babies that suffer from reflux - being swaddled can help calm them - and babies that find it difficult to 'switch off'.

"I call these babies my spirited babies or my wise owl babies," Poole says. "They're very alert or watchful. If they can't 'shut down' or 'switch off' when they're tired then they will need more assistance to switch off, and that means reducing all of the stimulation."

The babies that are least likely to need swaddling are usually placid in nature, and settle easily anywhere.

"They're the babies that can be carted around here, there and everywhere, or they're in mum's arms a lot of the time.

"They're generally of a more passive personality. They're easy-come-easy-go and can fall asleep wherever they are," Poole says.

How long should I swaddle my baby for?

The majority of babies need to be swaddled for some or all of their sleeps until they get to around six weeks or three months, Poole advises.

Most babies grow out of the startle reflex by three months.

It is paramount that parents stop swaddling their baby the moment they start rolling, to prevent the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Observe your baby during their awake times to get a feel for when they're starting to show an interest in becoming mobile and rolling, Poole suggests.

How tight is too tight?

To begin with, wrap them snugly to give them that sense of security. If a wrap is too loose it can come undone and get up around baby's face. Many wraps have inbuilt 'envelopes' that keep your baby's arms securely down but still allow them a little wriggle room.

The wrap needs to be loose enough around their hips and legs for them to move and position their legs naturally.

There are expert concerns that tightly wrapping your baby over an extended period of time can affect your baby's hip alignment.

Always lie your swaddled baby on their back - never on their side or tummy.

To help your baby transition out of swaddling Poole's suggests: "Start your baby off in a more snug swaddle but keep progressing with each developmental stage so that they learn to transition out of them. The Love to Dream swaddles allow a little bit of movement."

Can swaddling cause overheating?

The key is to keep an eye on your baby's temperature. The best way is by using two fingers to feel the back of her neck or her chest.

In summer, opt for a light muslin wrap and sleep your baby in just a nappy.

In winter, dress your baby in layers and use a light woollen or cotton wrap.

What types of swaddle are best?

The stretchier the better, made with breathable fabrics.

Why does my baby always come unwrapped?

There are three main reasons for babies coming unwrapped:

  • The wrap is too small

  • The wrap doesn't have enough stretch. The best fabric for a really firm wrap is stretch cotton.

  • Your wrapping technique is not right.