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As the parent of a preemie, knowing how to swaddle your little one is vital. If you’re looking for info and data on the best swaddles for preemies, we’ve got it for you in today’s blog! Read on to find out which will keep your precious preemie warm, safe, and secure with the least amount of fuss.
By the way, if you’d rather jump straight to the Best Swaddles, skip to the end of today’s blog. (Do keep in mind, though, that you’ll miss some important stuff if you do. Just saying.)
What, Exactly, is a Swaddle?
If you’re brand new to parenting a tiny baby (let alone a more fragile preemie), you may not know what a swaddle is or what it does. For the uninitiated, if you’ve ever seen a baby that looked like a cute little human burrito, you’ve seen a baby that’s been swaddled.
Swaddling involves wrapping a newborn tightly (but not too tightly) in a special blanket called, you guessed it, a swaddle. When done correctly, the only part of their little body you should see is their tiny head.
It’s been estimated that upwards of 90% of American newborns, including preemies, are swaddled during the first few weeks and months of their life. However, it’s certainly not an “American thing,” as swaddling has been used for centuries by women the world over.
Why Are Babies Swaddled?
Swaddling is done when a baby, or preemie, is ready for sleepy-time. It’s believed that, when wrapped firmly in a swaddle, they will sleep better and wake fewer times. The reason why is that swaddling reduces the Moro reflex, aka the startle reflex.
The startle reflex happens in all babies, premature or not, and lasts anywhere from about 12 weeks to 6 months, give or take a few days. (There’s nothing exact about preemies!) When swaddled, a preemie’s movements are restricted, which, as we mentioned, reduces the Moro reflex. Thus, they can sleep longer and better without being startled awake by, for example, a sudden noise, lights, movement, etc.
Preemies Shouldn’t be Swaddled Right Away
Interestingly, doctors and nurses recommend that you don’t swaddle your preemie right away after birth, and at least for the first few days. The reason being is that swaddling has been shown to result in the delay of breastfeeding, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that eating is more important than sleeping.
This study from 2007, for example, showed that babies who were swaddled right away after birth had delays in recovering their initial weight loss, which isn’t good. (The same was true even if the preemie was fed formula.) The study’s conclusion noted that “…swaddling was shown to have a negative consequence to infant weight gain.”
Since one of the specific milestones for leaving the NICU is weight gain, swaddling could end up keeping your precious preemie in the NICU even longer.
Doctors and nurses instead urge new preemie parents to practice Kangaroo Care, aka skin-to-skin contact. That’s because Kangaroo Care promotes feeding success with both the breast and the bottle. (Read more about Kangaroo Care here** in our previous blog on this crucial preemie-care method.)
Question; Is Swaddling Safe?
The quick answer to this question is yes, swaddling is safe when done correctly. That being said, this review of several swaddling studies from 2016 in Pediatrics (the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) showed that the risk to a preemies health was “small but significant,” including an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, commonly referred to as SIDS.
Another possible health problem that swaddling can cause is hip dysplasia, seen when a preemie is swaddled too tightly around their hips and legs. That’s why it’s recommended that, when you swaddle your preemie, you make sure that their hips and legs can move freely. Many people use a swaddle sack for this very reason.
Here are a few tips to make sure you swaddle your preemie correctly and prevent any sort of health condition or risk:
- Never wrap your preemie too tightly in their swaddle.
- Don’t use too many layers to reduce the chance of your preemie overheating.
- Once your baby can roll over onto their stomach, it’s time to stop swaddling.
- Don’t wrap or bind their legs and hips too tightly so that their legs can move about freely.
How To Swaddle a Preemie
OK, here’s the thing; we could list all the steps it takes to swaddle your preemie, but we recommend asking the NICU nurses to instead show you, in person, how to do it. Reading about it is no substitute for seeing it in person and then doing it yourself while a nurse watches. Frankly, it’s relatively simple, and you’ll likely pick it up fast. Billions of moms and dads have done it already!
The Best Swaddles for Your Precious Preemie
Below are the best swaddles we’ve found based on several factors, including online reviews and other sources. Just FYI, they’re in no particular order.
We talked about the possibility of hip dysplasia from swaddling a baby’s hips and legs too tightly. This swaddle is specifically designed to prevent that. It’s also made of 100% cotton, which is always a good thing.
These swaddles are explicitly designed for preemies who weigh between 5 and 12 pounds and are up to 21 inches long. Even better, they have a zipper down the middle, so there’s no need for any real swaddling skill if you’re all thumbs.
The term “classic” here means no Velcro, so you need to be on-game with your swaddling. Other than that, they’re great and also can be used for other tasks such as a burping cloth.
This is more of a transition swaddle with actual arms and legs. It’s a great one for when your preemie no longer needs to be swaddled every time they sleep but still should be kept calm. By the way, they can’t roll over in it.
Another swaddle that’s super easy to use thanks to its zipper, this one has a bit of a cult following among preemie parents. (It’s trendy!)
Extremely versatile, this swaddle blanket is adjustable and has an open bottom for preventing hip dysplasia. It’s also got plenty of Velcro fasteners to help de-stress the swaddling process.
Swaddling has been around for centuries, a fantastic method of keeping preemies and newborns from being startled so that they get the rest they need. Yes, it needs to be done correctly, but risk-wise, it’s a safe and viable method. Your preemie will sleep better, gain weight faster, and you’ll get the rest you need too when they’re swaddled well. Plus, a swaddled baby is one of the cutest things you’ve ever seen!