Swaddling is the practice of wrapping a blanket around your baby’s body which is thought to can resemble the mother’s womb and help calm your newborn baby so they sleep better.
I often get asked whether I recommend swaddling for babies particularly recently as there has been some negative publicity on swaddling again. This time a study showed that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was increased due to swaddling. Having read a bit further into the study it reveals that this risk was particularly in babies that were swaddled and placed to sleep on their front or side. The conclusion of the study was this:
Current advice to avoid front or side positions for sleep especially applies to infants who are swaddled.
As the conclusion states not placing your baby on their front or side is already the current advice anyway and just about every parent knows this. However, very often babies actually prefer sleeping better on their side of front because they really find laying on their back uncomfortable. This puts the parents in a difficult situation as the side or front position maybe the only way their baby (and them) can get some sleep.
Last year there was also another scare about swaddling causing babies to over heat and also be a cause of hip problems. Both seem to make sense, firstly you are wrapping your baby so if wrapped in a hot room they could get over heat, particularly if a warm blanket is used and secondly if wrapped too tight their hips could be affected. Common sense would seem to play a roll in this by avoiding swaddling too tight and making sure the babies temperature under the swaddling is suitable.
But I want to offer you here is some advice so you hopefully don’t even need to swaddle your baby in the first place. If a mother tells me they need to swaddle their baby to help them sleep it gives me a big clue as to how to help the baby. This is because the main reason parents tell me they swaddle their baby is because they are jumpy in their sleep and the nervousness or jumpiness wakes them up. The bottom line of this is that their baby is not sleeping well and therefore the parents aren’t sleeping well. By swaddling the baby their arms and legs are redistricted so less jumpy movements and better sleep for baby and parents.
The official explanation is that the swaddling makes the baby feel like it is back inside the womb, which I’m sure is somewhat true but I see that it is more to calm this “jumpiness”.
When hearing that a baby needs to be swaddled to get them to sleep my aim will then be to treat the baby with cranial osteopathy so the baby isn’t jumpy but instead is relaxed and calm and sleeps well without needing to be swaddled in the first place.
Also I can refine the treatment even further to this newest study about babies needing to lay on their side or front. Parents know that this isn’t the recommended way to put their baby down to sleep but they are doing it because it is the only way to get their baby to sleep peacefully and in turn they can get some sleep too.
I have found that there are particular patterns to the delivery of a baby which influences all of these factors, making them jumpy and preferring to lay on their side or front. Let’s look at each in turn.
A jumpy, irritated baby.
A baby that is jumpy and irritable has usually had a more traumatic and stressful delivery than was hoped my the mum. They may have had some stress and had to be helped out with forceps or ventouse. What is happening is that the stress or trauma from the delivery has left their nervous system in an alert state. Basically making them nervy and jumpy.
Planned C-section babies are particularly jumpy and nervy as they have often had a very surprising delivery into the world. They may have even been asleep inside mum and then are pulled out into the big wide world. I think you’ll agree that might have been a bit of a shock to their delicate system!
I liken this situation to an adult drinking five expresso coffee’s before bed. You know it’s night time, you know you are tired, you partner is telling you to sleep, but you just can’t, the coffee has you buzzing, nervous and on edge. If you were a baby someone might decided you should be swaddled right now! But that isn’t turning off the actual switch, it’s not getting to the core of the problem. This is what cranial osteopathy can do, actually turn the baby’s “nervy” switch off by calming them down.
Babies that prefer laying on their front or side
Babies that prefer to lay on their front or their side often have a particular birth type too. What they are doing is laying in a position that is more comfortable to them. Or, on the other hand they don’t like laying on their back.
A baby that likes to lay on their side has usually been born by a C-section, more often a planned C-section or their delivery was really fast. Fast deliveries being more common in mums having their second, third, fourth or more baby. The reason being is that the baby is tightly packed and curled up inside you and in a delivery through the vaginal canal will be stretched out. If they are taken out by C-section then they don’t get stretched out and “ping” back into a curled up, foetal shape again once taken out. If you put them on their back their legs come up, drop to the side and then they lay on their side in a ball again. If the delivery was through the birth canal but very fast a similar pattern can still occur.
Babies that like to lay on their front have almost the opposite delivery. It is usually long and they may have got stuck, maybe contractions on their head as they “bungy” in and out with each contraction. They could have been a back to back presentation. These babies have an “extension pattern” to them. This means they like putting their head backwards, they would be stiff in your arms and perhaps throw themselves backwards when upset. Laying them on their front puts them into the position of ease.
What cranial osteopathy does for these babies is simply help them relax, help their spine be comfortable and straight and aligned with little tension. And it does it in the most amazingly gentle way. This then allows the baby to sleep on their side, front or back happily and relaxed without being jumpy and needing to be swaddled. Considering the recommendation is to lay your baby on it’s back then this is a welcome position to achieve for parents and on top of that you will also have a more happy, sleeping baby too.