Thursday, December 31, 2009

Scrutiny on Swaddling

If you read any book about babies and sleep, they almost always recommend swaddling to help calm a fussy (or screaming) baby and help baby sleep longer. However, the overwhelming majority of people I talk to say, "Oh my baby HATED to be swaddled so we stopped trying". I was really confused when I heard people say this. At first it was just one or two, so I figured they must be right and their baby really did hate to be swaddled. Then, every other parent I talked to started to say the same thing! I started to wonder what the common denominatorcould be in this scenario. Surely it wouldn't be recommended so much if it didn't work.

So, I watched "Happiest Baby On the Block" again. If you're not familiar with this DVD (it started out as a book), I strongly suggest borrowing it from your local library, or even buying it if you have an
infant under 3 months of age or if you're expecting.

The techniques in this DVD are called the Five S's. They are:
  • Swaddling (this ALWAYS comes first!)
  • Side/Stomach
  • Shushing
  • Swinging (or more like jiggling)
  • Sucking

Image from People Magazine. Click here to read article.

When describing how to swaddle, Dr. Karp (author of Happiest Baby On the Block) makes it clear that swaddling is simply the first step to soothing a crying baby. It will NOT calm a baby down by itself, and it's not meant to stand alone as a soothing technique. I think this is the biggest misconception about swaddling. Many parents think that their baby should love to be swaddled and instantly calm down after they are swaddled. You may be surprised to find out that this is not the case. He also states that many babies will struggle with you and even scream louder when you are swaddling them. This is normal, and it should not deter you from swaddling because it's simply the first step in your soothing routine. Swaddling should always come first before you try any other technique. Why? First of all, it keeps your baby's arms down and out of their face. This means they won't randomly wake themselves up, as babies do sometimes when they flail around in their sleep. This also makes it much easier to hold and move around with your baby.

For swaddling to work as intended, you must wrap your baby very tight so their arms don't come loose. Don't worry if it's too tight (unless they start to turn blue!), your baby has been used to being in tight quarters for the previous 9 months. Once they're swaddled, then you can start trying soothing techniques such as turning baby on their side or stomach. This works because babies have a falling reflex (a.k.a the startle reflex or Moro reflex) and they don't like to be on their back*. Next, a good technique to add is shushing. There are a few options for this. First you can just try doing a loud "shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" right next to baby's ear. Do this as loud as baby is crying so that they can hear you. When they start to calm down you can decrease the volume, and you can stop when they stop crying altogether. Another option is to use a hair dryer or the vacuum cleaner. Have it close enough that they can hear it. You can also make recordings of these sounds to put in their crib at night, or just use a radio turned in between stations so it just plays white noise (this would probably be best for nighttime).

In my personal experience, I've done swaddling, side, shush, and jiggling all at the same time and it works like a charm. You'd be amazed how quickly your baby stops crying when you get the right combination of these techniques going. This is referred to as the "calming reflex" (babies are born with a lot of reflexes-it's designed for basic survival). Once you get the right technique down, your baby will stop crying in an instant, like a reflex. It's amazing to witness, and it feels GREAT when you are the one to stop your baby's "colicky" screaming.

Basically what all of these techniques are designed to do is recreate the atmosphere of the womb they are so used to. The swaddling and the side/stomach puts them in a tight position as they were in the womb. The shushing is the constant white noise they would hear in the womb as momma went about her day. The swinging or jiggling recreates the constant movement they would feel as mom walked around the house, up and down the stairs, etc.

Baby humans are very immature when they are born (which is why you shouldn't be so concerned about delivering after your "due date", but that's another post for another day), unlike baby animals. Baby horses can walk and run on their first day of life, because it's necessary for their survival. Baby humans need big brains for survival, and it takes months and months for them to gain control of their muscles to gain physical independence. This is why babies need us to go through all of these steps to help soothe them in their first 3 months of life. Eventually you won't need to do all of these things, and they'll learn to soothe themselves. In the meantime, feel free to keep baby swaddled all through the night to help them sleep longer, and keep a radio in their room (if you don't co-sleep) for white noise; white noise tends to be much more helpful than music and recordings of heartbeats in the first few months of life.

All of that to say...your baby does not hate to be swaddled. They just need you to do more than just swaddle them. Swaddle, turn them on their side or stomach, shush, and jiggle (and, if you want, give them your finger or pacifier to suck on). It helps immensely to see these techniques demonstrated for you. So, to learn more about how these techniques can save you from the frustration and desperation a screaming baby can put you through, check out the DVD from your local library or movie store. TRUST ME, it will save. your. sanity.

*It is recommended that your baby always sleep on their back during the night to help prevent SIDS. Always supervise baby when they are on their side or stomach during the day.

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