With regards to Safe Sleeping and the swaddling debate please let me explain the reasons why swaddling is not recommended for when babies are sleeping.  I will list them to make it easier.

1.  Swaddling inhibits all of babies natural reflexes.  (Think animals that are able to get up and run away as soon as they are born).  Our babies have natural reflexes that enable them to crawl from mums abdomen to mums chest within the first hour after birth in order to do skin to skin contact which helps baby and mum to bond.  It is called the Moro reflex.  Baby has been practicing this reflex for a long time before it is born and continues to use this protective reflex well after it is born.  Here is a list of ways that a baby uses their Moro reflex.

2. Startling – This is the arousal part of the reflex that will help baby to reset their heart rate, respiration (breathing) and temperature within the first 6 months.  Swaddling inhibits the startle (arousal) reflex and therefore babies will get into a deeper sleep and wake less often.  (Just as you sometimes jolt just as you are falling off to sleep – this means you have dropped your heart rate so low that your body naturally jolts back into a rhythm).

3. Using the blood vessels in their hands to cool down if they are too hot.  Just as we move our arms up from under the blankets if we are too hot during the night, babies use their hands and head to help regulate their temperature in the first 6 months and beyond.  A swaddled baby or baby in an ‘arms up’ swaddle (Love to Dream or Angle Suit) are unable to do this.

4. If baby gets in to an unfortunate position such as a blanket or pillow over their head, and their body becomes low on oxygen, within 20seconds a baby will use the Moro reflex to push out of danger.  A swaddled (or arms up swaddle) baby cannot do this.

5. When we look at scans you will notice that baby’s hands are always up by their head.  This is a protective reflex that makes baby feel safe – think about when you get a fright…… your hands automatically protect your face.  A swaddled baby is therefore left in a vulnerable position if they cannot get their hands to their face.  This is what ultimately shuts a swaddled baby down emotionally… and hence go to sleep!

6. The ‘hands to mouth’ part of the Moro reflex is a feeding reflex that baby has been practicing for months in-utero.  Every time baby brings their hands to their mouth it strengthens up the suckling reflex.  Therefore a baby that is swaddled for a large portion of a 24 hour period is unable to practice this natural feeding mechanism.

7. Unfortunately with this generation (as done in the 70-80’s) we have busy lifestyles and expect a baby to fit in to an adult sleep cycle. A common question asked to new parents by older generations is ‘Do you have a good baby”…..meaning does it sleep through the night yet?   Parents these days want a good night’s sleep.  What we need to understand and accept is that a new baby that wakes every hour or two to feed IS a normal baby.  

8. Human breast milk has very low levels of protein in comparison to other animals.  Here is an example…

Fox’s have 12% protein per fluid ounce in their milk which is high…  They feed their babies once every 12 hours which enables mum to go off and hunt knowing that their babies are in a ‘food coma’ so to speak, and unlikely to wake and go off exploring.

Cats have 4% protein per fluid ounce and only feed their babies once every 4 hours…  to enable mum to go and hunt.

In comparison humans only have 1% protein (actually closer to .9) per fluid ounce and therefore human babies ARE expected to wake every hour or two in the early weeks (feed for one hour, sleep for one hour, feed for one hour….).  This continuous pattern wakes baby  which helps to reset their heart rate, breathing and temperature.  Therefore if human babies were supposed to sleep for longer periods of time our milk would have more protein in it.  (Formula has more protein and therefore babies sleep deeper and longer!)

9. Swaddling a baby inhibits baby from telling you they are hungry, because they cannot get their hands to their mouth (second sign of hunger) and therefore stay asleep longer. 

As a family we need to support regular feeding and promote it as normal.  When educating families (and health professionals) I always state that a baby does NOT have a ‘day and a night’!  A new baby has ‘I am awake because I am hungry or I am asleep because I am full!’   It is therefore important to support the breastfeeding mum so that she can sleep when baby sleeps and eat when baby feeds and to not expect to continue an adult sleep cycle once baby is born. 

Swaddling is a very NZ thing to do.  Europe has not been teaching swaddling in midwifery colleges for about 15 years.  Here the only reason it is so ‘trendy’ is because of the power of marketing and the culture of the new millennium parents that want to be able to do everything……  work, socialize, gym, have a baby and get sleep.  We seem to have lost focus on the fundamentals of the new born and parenting dyad, and are instead trying to fit baby into a busy adult lifestyle.  Retailers don’t help by continuing to market ‘convenient’ products like swaddles or capsule car seats that means you can transfer a sleeping baby straight to a pram without waking them…  This of course a big danger – There have already had 3 babies pass away in the last 12 months from sleeping in car seats when being used as a pram or bed.  Retailers also market products to cover the capsules or prams to keep the sun off baby…. Covering a pram in warm weather – even with a light muslin cloth – turns the capsule or pram into an oven. 

There are no laws about how you sleep your baby.  We as professionals can only recommend the best safe practice based on the research and statistics of SUDI and the benefits of natural developmental milestones. Unfortunately there are even some professionals that are behind in their safe sleep education which confuses new parents who put their trust in the medical profession. Hopefully this article will help you to make your own informed decisions.

Safe sleep everyone……..

Michele Neild