Swaddling calms newborns because they feel tight and snug -- just like in the womb. But if you do it incorrectly, your baby can get overheated or be at risk for suffocation. Use this checklist to check if your baby really needs that blanket.
1. Does it really help him settle down and sleep longer? Some babies like swaddling, but if your child always fusses and tries to wriggle free, he may be trying to tell you something! Try removing the blanket and calming him down with white noise or a baby bouncer. Both mimic the womb environment: the swooshing of amniotic fluid and muffled sounds from the outside world, and the gentle rocking when you’re moving around.
2. Is he too warm? Swaddling in Manila weather can cause many babies to get overheated. That’s actually dangerous, since they’re more prone to heat stroke.
Dr. Roman Araullo of FEU-NMRF says to watch for signs of heat exhaustion: skin is cool/moist, fussiness (which can mean discomfort or a headache), lethargy, and unusual thirstiness. He also recommends using a light blanket or dressing swaddled babies in a sando or even just a nappy.
And don’t overreact to cold hands and feet. “Babies have underdeveloped circulatory systems, so their extremities may be cold even if they’re not,” says Dr. Araullo. When in doubt, check his tummy. If it’s warm, then he’s fine.
“A rule of thumb is to check what you would be comfortable wearing. A baby less than 3 months old just needs one more extra layer than an adult, while you should dress an older baby the way you would yourself,” says Araullo. He adds that many imported baby clothes are made for foreign climates, so that could already count as that extra layer.
“Many worried parents will overdress their baby, and that’s a real risk in the hot Manila climate, unless he is in an airconditioned room the whole day – and I advise against that. Choose cool, loose clothes and skip the blanket.” 3. Is the baby tightly swaddled? Loose blankets – even swaddling blankets that come undone and can cover the baby’s face – can be suffocation hazards. Make sure the blankets are large enough so you can tuck them in really well. Thinner fabrics also hold their shape a lot better. A genius swaddling hack: sew Velcro tabs on the corners.
4. Is he older than two months old? Stop swaddling when your baby’s already trying to learn how to turn on his own. If your baby’s particularly malikot, Dr. Araullo suggests removing blankets and keeping him warm with cotton jogging pants and socks. “Mobility – freedom to safely move and explore – is very important in your baby’s development,” he says. The crib should be relatively empty. “In my experience, a lot of babies cry when they wake up because they’re trying to kick off a blanket. Make it easy for him to just play on his own when he’s done with his nap.”
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5. Is he swaddled for too long? Swaddling can help your baby sleep, but it also restricts your baby’s opportunity to discover his hands and toes, explore different textures with his fingers, and exercise his limbs. Even just watching his hands move is an important part of brain development – it’s the start of spatial reasoning, and realizing that those “moving things” are actually part of his body!
So don’t keep your baby swaddled the whole day. You can make it part of a sleeping ritual (bath, swaddle, milk, sleep) but it shouldn’t be a default position.