news item: is routine swaddling ok?

This week as I was surfing the net (geez, does that phrase make you think of the 90s or what?), I came across an article about routine swaddling. Since this is something we have done since our daughter’s birth and continue to do (with one arm out) at six months, it piqued my interest. The Question of Routine Swaddling discusses whether or not this fairly widespread practice is “right” to follow just because it has been done for thousands of years.

Why Even Question It?

For millions of new parents, the ubiquitous presence of pro-swaddling messages creates a reassuring sense of caring both for their baby’s needs and their own. For most, there seems no reason to question the practice. The idea that it elicits controversy may be surprising. Yet hidden behind this friendly face is a growing body of research from around the world that calls into question the benign, warm-and-cozy nature of routine swaddling of newborns and older infants.

As interesting as I found the article, in a broader sense, it made me wonder whether we as parents choose to follow certain practice because it feels right, because of research, because of tradition, or because of some combination of those three factors.

I swaddle because I have friends who swear by it and because my daughter does sleep longer when swaddled. Does that mean I’m not being as attentive to her cues as I could/should be? I really don’t know. I don’t think so, but… 


How do you choose which parenting methods to try out?

Do you think swaddling is a good practice to follow?

How much stock do you put into current research vs. parenting advice from family/friends or just doing what feels right?


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  1. cysterworld says:

    Let me preface my response with the fact that my daughter is 11 months old right now. My parents live in another country so it’s just my husband and I. We’ve had to figure this parenting thing out without any grandparent support/ advice. 

    How do you choose which parenting methods to try out?

    I read some books and some websites. In the beginning I thought I would have to ‘choose’ a parenting method. I quickly realized that you read the books to get ideas, but you just do what you think is best. The parenting books sort of promote themselves as recipes for happy children – but kids are unique and there’s no perfect program for a happy kid.

    Do you think swaddling is a good practice to follow?

    I swaddled. And I will be honest – I did it because I saw the nurses at the hospital do it and my daughter was calm in her swaddle. It seemed logical – she was folded up inside of me – so now that she’s out, she likes to still feel folded. After all – her arms and legs were still curled up.

    I stopped swaddling when she was able to break out of her swaddles. This was purely a safety decision.  I think that by 2 months maybe sooner, we had abandoned swaddling. She was sleeping 6 hours at a time without the swaddle, so I didn’t miss it.

    How much stock do you put into current research vs. parenting advice from family/friends or just doing what feels right?

    I’ve worked in public health with research teams a lot. I understand how a lot of this research is done and understand the flaws in the process that can occur. I’m not saying research is bad, but we tend to believe if it got published – it must be good. You really have to delve deep into the research to understand their methodologies before you accept the research findings. And that’s something I honestly believe very few people do. They read an abstract and accept it.

    I do value parenting advice from the friends of mine who have raised successful normal children. I often reach out to them for perspective.

    But at the end of the day, I value my gut feelings over everything. People say don’t ever let your child sleep in your bed – because it could kill your child – I didn’t share that sentiment. There were plenty of times when she ended up next to me.  People say if you let your kid sleep in your bed they will never leave – my kid sleeps 12 hours straight in her crib in her own room. People have ideas about what to feed infants and when. We sort of followed the guidelines, but we have chosen to adapt her diet to what we eat. My kid walked at 8 months, despite people telling me her ‘not’ crawling would negatively affect her depth perception – and yes a mother told me I should knock her down when she tries to walk because it’s too early!  And despite what everyone told me – I didn’t do any of the popular sleep training methods. I didn’t try to cry it out, I didn’t ferberize my child, I didn’t do elaborate night time routines, or much of what the books and people suggested. I did however get my kid to sleep in her own room on her own time without tears. I just let my gut drive how we were going to transition her.

    My husband and I are quasi-attachment parents I guess. We’re really doing what our gut tells us. The books provide context and some ideas to try, but I don’t really buy into them too much. Now does this mean I think we did everything right? Not at all. But it felt right to us so we ran with it.

    • I love your final paragraph the most – maybe because we have done the same thing. 🙂 You just have to do what your gut says is best. Thanks for all of your great input!

  2. We swaddled, and I seriously thought we’d be swaddling her until she was 3 she liked it that much. We swaddled her when she was a newborn, stopped for a few months, and then started again at 4 months when we moved her into her own room for naps and bedtime because she wasn’t sleeping as long without. I was fine letting her go for a while being swaddled, and then one week she broke out of it three times and that was the end. I do think once they start becoming more mobile it’s more difficult and maybe time to reevaluate swaddling, but to each his own. Chloe is so mobile in the crib, there is nothing stopping her from getting to one end or the other, standing up, rolling on her belly, etc.

    • Stella is starting to break out of the swaddle as well, so I’m guessing our swaddle days are close to an end. Isn’t it amazing how every baby’s timeline is so different though?!

      • Julie Anita says:

        It really is, especially when there are two babies who are very different and you can compare them side-by-side! I’ve had to evaluate all of these sorts of decisions on an individual basis for both of my girls.

    • Julie Anita says:

      It’s amazing how they can stop and start like that. I was so sure that once we mastered something, it would stay that way. Definitely not, unfortunately!

  3. I think the most important thing to do is go with your gut. Sometimes my gut follows the norm and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t I will ask my doctor and take her opinion into account and go from there. My doctor is pretty laid back and will let me know if something I am doing is unsafe, but otherwise whatever works best for my little girl is what we do.

    We still swaddle her at night. But really swaddle isn’t the right word. We wrap her core with a blanket and keep her hands and legs free. It is just a comfort to her and part of the bedtime routine.

    I take advice from anybody (friends, family, blog friends, and research), but I only apply what I feel is right for Avery.

    • Our peds docs is incredibly laid back and supportive as well, which I love. She’s there to guide us and to answer questions, but she definitely doesn’t judge if we do something different than she did, as long as it isn’t harming the child of course. 🙂

    • cysterworld says:

      You make a good point – My pediatrician’s opinion is the only one I take serious note of hehe!

  4. I swaddled HGB. We sucked at it for about 2 weeks after he was born, and then we got this pocket-style wrap-around thing it was a MIRACLE. We did it until about 4 months, and then one arm out for a few weeks before transitioning to the sleep-sack. I have no idea why I wanted to do it, I just did. It seemed like a very natural thing to do. Hundreds of millions of people have been doing it for countless generations, so that was good enough for me.

    Unfortunately, none of my close friends have children, so I had/have no-one to ask for advice. And you know how mothers (in-law) can be. It’s difficult. When I was struggling with IF and loss, I relied 100% on medical knowledge and scientific research – not the least of which because I literally work in the field. It consumed me. Surprisingly, as a parent, I don’t read anything (other than blogs of course!). Perhaps because I am intimately aware of how academic research is conducted in the various ‘hard’ and social sciences and how ‘a study’ it is ultimately disseminated to the general public. (Which is not to under-value research, but to put it in the context of being a series data points on a larger scale, not the scale itself). But also because while I don’t trust my body, I implicitly trust my gut. Other than medical conditions, or things I literally don’t feel safe doing (like taking him on my bike – BJB can be in charge of that apparatus thankyouverymuch) I believe I am perfectly qualified to make parenting decisions and/or change said decisions in light of new developments. I think I outlined this in my theme post a few months ago, but my basic parenting premise is just do whatever it is you gotta do, man.

    • That’s a great point about how even academic research can be presented in a specific way to make the general public think a certain way — whether it’s a true representation of the findings or not. Kind of scary when you think about how many people take abstracts as irrefutable proof!

    • cysterworld says:

      You nailed it right here “Perhaps because I am intimately aware of how academic research is conducted in the various ‘hard’ and social sciences and how ‘a study’ it is ultimately disseminated to the general public. (Which is not to under-value research, but to put it in the context of being a series data points on a larger scale, not the scale itself). ”

      I also know far too much about how research is done and I’m not the biggest fan of social science research. Medical research, I too have more faith in that…

  5. I’m with kkasun. For me it’s about going with my gut. I’m about to become a FTM and have read so many different options for how to feed the baby, how to help the baby sleep, how to comfort the baby etc. I wish there was one clear path, but there’s not. My husband and I will do what works for us. And if it doesn’t work, well, we’ll just have to let go of our preconceived notions and adjust accordingly. As much as I would like to do something in a certain way now, reality might be completely different. My baby may not LIKE the path we’ve chosen and I’ll be darned if I’m going to let her (and me) be miserable because I’m attached to a specific method and refuse to let go.
    I’ve read different opinions on swaddling. I’ve heard that babies who co-sleep with their parents don’t need swaddling as much as babies who sleep on their own because they get that sense of closeness and comfort just by being close to other people. We’re choosing not to co-sleep, but our daughter will be in our room with us for the first few months. I’ll try swaddling her and if it works, awesome. If not, then we won’t.
    I respect other peoples parenting choices but some just aren’t for me. But I promise not to judge them if they don’t judge me!

    • “I’ll be darned if I’m going to let her (and me) be miserable because I’m attached to a specific method and refuse to let go.” — I think that is the most important point right there! You’re a great Mom already. 🙂

  6. We swaddled for as long as Matthew would let us! He loved it, so we just went with it. When I did stop, though, was when it was apparent that he wanted to be a tummy sleeper. He would start out on his back, roll to his side, and then often times try to get to his tummy. Not having mobility to move out of that position freaked me out so he was done with the swaddle! I think it was about 4 months when we quit. He does not move much at all in his sleep, but always falls asleep on his tummy.

    I love how every single thing we do or don’t do is controversial. I don’t even validate my choices anymore. Them being my own choices makes them valid enough, in my book!

    • Yep – I always figured we would stop if she was a tummy sleeper, but other than one time as a two week old, the child has never wanted to be on her tummy. Love your last sentence!

  7. Julie Anita says:

    I answered one of those questions in my blog post on swaddling 🙂 Now to read through and see what you all did!

    • It’s so interesting getting a perspective from a Mom of twins – it makes it very clear that every baby is SO different. Great post!

  8. Alex was swaddled until she started flipping over and sleeping on her tummy, around 3 months old. As soon as that happened, I took her out of the swaddle very quickly, as I was afraid she would suffocate or something if she didn’t have the use of her hands. Up until then, it was very useful – she definitely liked being swaddled. It started in the hospital, and we were so desperate to get her to sleep a little when we came home that we would do anything the nurses had suggested! But now she is in a sleep sack, which she seems to like. As soon as we put that on her, she seems to get drowsy and more snuggly.

    I’m a huge parenting book reader, and I kind of wish I wasn’t. But that’s the way I am – I’ve always been an avid researcher, and most of the time (like in infertility) it’s been very helpful. But parenting is the one area that I’ve encountered where more information isn’t necessarily better. Primarily because the stuff out there is so incredibly conflicting! I got myself really worked up there when Alex was around 5 months, reading conflicting books, feeling guilty, questioning my instincts, and just feeling pretty awful about my parenting skills. A lot of it had to do with reading books. And so I’ve had to cut myself off from reading books about parenting. And I feel much healthier! I’m intentionally trying to listen to myself about what feels right, and develop my instincts. And I think this will make me a better parent in the end.

    • I think this is such a great point. During IF/TTC years, I read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on, and there is so much great information out there that is incredibly helpful…but I think b/c it’s more about science and biology at that point, it makes sense to research. Now that Stella is here and I’m a parent, I’ve come to the same conclusion as you – there are SO many conflicting opinions out there that it has actually been easier to NOT read parenting books. The Happiest Baby on the Block is the only truly helpful book I’ve read. Other than that, EH. (and this article I linked to today basically says that book is crap – so who knows?! lol)

  9. Oh yah, chronic swaddler over here (raises hand). We swaddled the girls until they were nearly 6 months… I was even hunting down the “large” sizes in swaddles because they had outgrown the newborn-small-medium. But then one day, they just didn’t need them to sleep anymore. Now I have two large sized, hardly worn swaddle wraps on my hands (and those things cost like, what $23 apiece!?)

    We initially swaddled because the girls were in the nicu, swaddled, for three weeks. I read the research on it, understood the history behind it, but really what kept us going was how much it calmed and helped the girls sleep (infant hands waving all over uncontrollably, you know the drill). Plus, there was nothing better than watching them streeeeetch out their little arms and grin big gummy grins when we unswaddled them in the mornings.

    Making parenting decisions like this is kinda a 3 step process for me. 1) read the books/websites/talk to friends to get some ideas on how/what/why 2) take what resonates with my gut and my beliefs and give it a whirl 3) watch the girls for their reaction and keep what seems to work for them and toss out what doesn’t and go back to the drawing board (books/websites/friends) to get more ideas. I don’t believe in doing something just because “that’s what has *always* been done”, but I also don’t believe in doing something just because “that’s what some current expert tells me I should do.” At the end of the day, I’m just doing my best using what God gave me in the brains and instinct departments and so far, I still have two happy healthy babies to show for it so I think I’ll stick with it. 😉

    • Hahaha – i forgot to mention the BIIIIIIG STRETCHES and grins in the mornings at the moment of unswaddling. Definitely a highlight of my day.

  10. We didn’t swaddle Ginny because 1- she hated it (even the nurses at th hospital commented on how she would break out from the beginning) and 2- I wasn’t very good at it. We would wrap a blanket around her middle and legs, and sort of tuck it under her. Pippin, on the other hand, loves Loves LOVES his swaddle. I had to improve my swaddling skills pretty quickly, and now we have one of those pocket wrap things that has made my life so much easier.

    In terms of parenting style and how we decide… mostly I follow my gut. Like most IFers, I read everything I could get my hands on while we were TTC, but now I’m pretty limited in what I read about parenting. If I have a particular issue (current major issue: why oh why can’t I put Ginny down for a nap without her taking her diaper off???) then I’ll do some research/asking friends & family to see what the general opinions/options are, and then decide how I will handle things from there.

    One thing that working in bookstores for more than a decade taught me… anyone can write a book. Just because they get published doesn’t mean they’re right about what they’re preaching on. At best, I take all those parenting-gurus with a huge grain of salt. I need to do what works based on my experience, not what some author on the other side of the continent or the planet says I should be doing.

    I try to just make the best choice for my family. I’m going to make mistakes, and in 10 or 20 years I’ll probably look back and laugh at some of the parenting issues I chose to take a stand on, but we have to do what works when it comes up.

    • Julie Anita says:

      So off topic, but I have toddler teacher experience– is Ginny into princessy stuff at all? Would she be freak-out excited over, say, a special pair of sparkly “princess” tights that maybe she would want to never ever take off? Something like that might help keep the diaper on. Even a cheapie tutu that didn’t impede diaper access might do it. (She’s two, right? I’m trying to remember from editing the blog roll!)

      • Oooo, thanks for the suggestion. She’s 18 months now, and has just recently fell in love with Elmo and Cookie Monster. I wonder if I can find something with them on it that will work… or maybe a pair of bright red or blue tights? Thanks for the

  11. With regards to parenting styles, I think after YEARS of doing research into my recurrent pregnancy loss I was DONE looking into “what was best” when we finally adopted Lil K. I wanted to enjoy it. If you start researching parenting styles you will inevitably come across a whole lot of negative opinions on certain parenting styles out there. I was done with what other people “thought”. I went by pure instinct. We didn’t know the first thing about anything and I think it honestly made us better parents for the most part. You get to know your baby pretty quickly by trial and error and reading their cues. I think it was really just being in the moments with her that allowed us to let go of all the negatives that we had associated with babies in general that we were finally freed of being tied to what Dr. Google and the other Dr’s thought was best for us.

    Lil K was swaddled right from the minute she was born. The nurses just started doing it and while we were in the nursery we had this military nurse who made us perfect the swaddle before we left. I think she was excited that she got to spend so much time with us as we had 24 hours in the nursery with her before the adoption agency arrived and everyone said it was okay to leave the hospital. I LOVED swaddling Lil K. My god, her face once she was in her straight jacket (err..Mi.racle Bl.anket) was priceless. She’d smile!! Like HUGE GRIN smile and then just nod off. I used that thing way past when you were supposed to stop and altered it so I could continue using it lol! We only recently transitioned her to a sleep sac at night and I am slowly starting to unswaddle her during naps. She’s 5.5 months now 🙂

    Truthfully, I HATE, let me rephrase DESPISE asking family & friends for advice on parenting. I feel like I had so much “try this” nonsense during our RPL phase that we just stopped telling/or asking people anything. Probably not a good thing, but it’s made us really rely on our gut instincts with Lil K. Sometimes, I’ll throw a “shit I dunno what to do about this” out at my bff and I’ll get some advice but I shy away from coming out and asking for help. Totally my own issues but again, I feel like I really am going totally on gut instinct. Recently, we decided that Lil K needed to start sleeping longer at night and that we were going to use the “wait” from the Brining up Bebe book combined with a schedule from Ferber. We were both miserable and she wasn’t eating at night just fussing and didn’t know how to get back to sleep without being swaddled or her soother back in her mouth. We both agreed on how we were going to do it and went with it. One week later she was doing awesome (I think it was at 16 weeks). Up only once a night to feed and that’s it and I’m happy as a clam about that. When I told my friends what I was doing though holy shit did I get crapped on. I got so many “current research” says don’t do this, that or whatever that it made me feel like I was being a horrible mom. I know nobody meant any harm but I think that when you arrive at parenting after your mind, body and soul has been shit on (a lot) you really have a hard time with what other people think about what you are doing and take everything really, really personally. I have my go-to bff who I know will support whatever I do but for the most part – plain ole’ instinct goes a long way in our house.

    I have no idea if that made sense now that I’m re-reading it lol.

    • And I don’t mean to sound like my friends and family suck – they just don’t get it from my perspective. Again, not sure if that makes sense – geez!

      • Stella was the same way with the swaddle. Every once in awhile she’d fight it for a sec, but as soon as she relaxed, she would look around and SMILE and look so calm and happy!

        So far I’ve asked very few questions of friends and family. A few have felt free to share their opinions, but I never really care to ask. It’s nice to just go by instinct and figure out what works for US!

  12. I’ve yet to get to the parenting stage, but hubby and I have suddenly becoming aware of all these ‘parenting styles’ that are talked about. He has come home a few times now and said ‘what is this …….. parenting?’ or ‘I heard on the radio if you do this, your child will turn out that’. It[s funny and in the end we always come back to what we did and didn’t like in our parents. All these ‘parenting styles’ remind me of a quote I once read ‘We all screw up our kids in our special way’.

  13. We never really swaddled–we tried it a little and knew how to do it from the hospital, but in all her ultrasounds, my baby had her hands up to her face and when she came out she wanted her hands at her face as well. I thought that was just a personal quirk, and was quite surprised to read in the article that many babies self-soothe with their hands at their face.

    I think having family members who are doctors makes me skeptical of taking the pediatrician’s word as anything more than, as SRB put it, “another data point.” They’re not *usually* better informed about lifestyle choices than any mom who’s bothered to read the different opinions of the major health organizations and who has talked to other parents. Their opinions differ. My pediatrician, a young, well-trained doctor in a major city who I like, recommended solids for my breastfed baby at four months and would have recommended moving her out of our room at that time too if we’d been open to it. I’m quite sure neither thing is a “best practice,” but they’re common practices where I am.

    • Good point – just b/c they’re a doctor doesn’t make the doc omnipotent. We chose our peds doc BECAUSE she was more laid back and “natural” about parenting approaches…so basically we chose one that would agree with the way we were doing things. 🙂 I’m sure people who parent differently could choose a completely different doctor and be just as happy with THAT doctor’s advice!

      I am surprised your doc recommended solids at 4 months since the American Association of Pediatrics now says 6 months. My friend’s doc did the same thing. Interesting. They say it hurts nothing to start at 4 months – just completely unnecessary nutritionally. There are so many opinions out there!

  14. Swaddling never worked with little C. She was the baby in the hospital that screamed when they wrapped her up like a burrito. She likes to be lightly wrapped in a blanket to fall asleep, but she needs to have her hands by her face. After she falls asleep and we put her in the bassinet, she sprawls out and doesn’t want anything touching her any more. She’s slightly weird like that! She also likes to snuggle in bed with me at around five in the morning. It cuts my sleep time short, but I wouldn’t trade those three hours from 5-8 for anything!

    I’ve learned to just take parenting advice with a grain of salt. Some of it works for us, some of it doesn’t. There will always be someone out there that says I’m doing it wrong. But I know that what I do is the right choice for us. As long as I’m satisfied and have a happy, healthy baby nothing else matter.

    • LOL, I like to sleep sprawled out like that as well. I wonder if my parents swaddled me as a child? 🙂 You’re right that every baby and family is different. Early morning snuggles are the best – we do the same thing!


  1. […] is pretty good”? I think this highlights some of the flaws of social science research that SRB highlighted in her comment in last week’s news item. But I also think– especially in the ALI world– there […]

  2. […] Is Routine Swaddling OK? – (parenting practices) […]

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