We have mostly heard good things about swaddling from our friends and family. We have some friends who swaddle in a big way and have babies that are sleeping through the night very early, which certainly sounds like a blessing. However, because I’m obsessive and try not to take anything for granted, I wanted to do some reading on it. We’re big on Dr. Sears (advocate of attachment parenting, which really appeals to us) and so I wanted to see what he had to say, and my wife sent me an article from Mothering.com that I really enjoyed as well.
Quick definition of swaddling for anyone out there who isn’t familiar. Swaddling is essentially wrapping the baby up in a blanket (or specially-designed bit of fabric) such that his movement is somewhat restricted. Different people advocate swaddling different ways, some advocating a tighter wrap than others, some suggesting that the legs be kept relatively free, some suggesting that the arms be swaddled up over the cheast and others saying that the arms should be straight at the sides. There’s a lot of variety here, so understand that some of what I’m saying about swaddling may not refer specifically to the type of swaddling that you’re doing.
So here’s the article I mentioned, in case you want to read it. I’ll do my best to summarize, too: The Question of Routine Swaddling
In here, they’re specifically talking about routine swaddling, and specifically talking about very tight, restrictive swaddling. So before you jump on me and tell me I’m evil, or think that I’m jumping on you and telling you that you’re evil, keep that in mind. I’m not trying to tell anyone they’re evil. I’m just presenting what we’ve found on the topic so others can read and make their own decisions. I worry about this because people be defensive about babies. If I say “We’re not going to swaddle,” it seems like folks think that I’m saying “You are a bad parent and a bad person and I want you to catch fire if you do different things than I do.” I’m not saying that. Everyone has to make their own decisions based on the information they have. So don’t get butt-hurt about anything I write on the blog, please. And for the love of all that is golden brown and delicious, read the article before you jump down my throat on this. I’m just muddling through to the best of my ability. And maybe I’ll change my mind after reading another article or after actually trying this stuff on a real-life human infant. And if I do, you will all be the first to know, collectively.
Okay, now to the article. Essentially, the goal of swaddling is to calm the baby, keep him comfortable and feeling safe, and to keep him from crying or waking himself up at night by startling. Those are all good goals, for sure. At least they seem like good goals.
Keeping the baby comfortable is great, but preventing him from crying may not be awesome. In my not-so-vast experience (reading, taking classes, watching instructional DVDs, but never actually caring for an infant) babies cry for a reason. They’re short on communication skills, and crying is kind of their go-to. So if they need to tell you something, it’s probably going to be by crying, at least eventually. And they’re telling you things because they need you, not because they’re being jerks. So preventing them from crying could be preventing them from telling you that they need something. Especially food through the night. That can be why people who swaddle their babies can have a harder time breastfeeding or getting their babies to put on weight. So that’s one thing that can be bad about swaddling, but I think it’s a big one. You also have issues with hip dysplasia, temperature regulation, and the inability to get into some very normal baby wiggles. Read the article, follow the links to references in there, draw your own conclusions. But I’m thinking that we’re going to do some co-sleeping, probably with a lot of skin-to-skin during the day. That gets baby everything he needs, with the only downside being monumental inconvenience for the two of us. Which honestly, we signed up for when we got pregnant.
One of the most powerful things in the article is something I try very hard to keep in mind. It’s the very last paragraph, and I’ll quote it here:
Franz offers parents a simple way to sort out conflicting advice. “See which basket the advice fits into: the good-for-the-parent basket or the good-for-the-baby basket,” she suggests. “Remember: You’re not managing an inconvenience; you’re raising a human being.”
It’s not always going to be easy. In fact, it’s probably going to be the hardest thing we’ll ever have to do. But doing it the way that is best for the baby just makes sense. We’re grown-ass adults. We’ll survive the lack of sleep, the frustration, the spit-up, the diaper explosions and all the rest. But if getting yelled at a little more or getting a little less sleep means that our son grows up with a bit better chance of being happy, healthy and well-adjusted, it will absolutely be worth it. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to figure out which advice to follow, though. Some advice is touted as being good for the baby, but the majority of the benefit is really for the parents, even though that part is minimized. It’s like anything else, I guess. You have to look at it with a critical eye, try to ferret out the truth as best you can and then do what you think is best for your situation. Good people can come to different conclusions based on the same data, based on their own reasoning, experiences, or values. And that’s fine.
Okay, enough wibbly-wobbly from me. More on swaddling.
Dr. Sears says not to swaddle more than a few hours every other day and never overnight, according to my wife (she has all the books at home). He mentions the hip dysplasia issue, but also says that swaddling your baby inhibits the possibility of skin-to-skin contact, and can damage your bonding. It’s essentially training you to ignore your baby and teaching your baby that he’s pretty much on his own. So that’s his take on it, and I think it makes sense. If you’re coming at it from an attachment parenting type of perspective, then it really doesn’t make sense to swaddle overnight or swaddle regularly during the day. Again, it won’t be the easiest thing, but it sounds like it will be best for everyone. Often, the best thing to do is also the hardest, so this isn’t terribly surprising.
I’m going to talk about dogs here, because that’s the closest thing I have to experience with raising a child. You may think I’m crazy, but whatever. I love my dog like crazy, I don’t swat her, and I rarely even raise my voice to her. We don’t lock her in a crate or outside when she misbehaves, we try to deal with her in a way that works for all of us (there are exceptions to these statements, but they’re very rare). This may sound like a weird way to raise a dog, but it’s the one that makes the most sense to me. After doing a buttload of research on dog behavior and training, I determined that a positive-reinforcement method made the most sense for my philosophy and personality. We haven’t been perfect with our dog, but we try very hard to do our best. She’s not perfect either, but we love her like crazy and we all get along the best we can with our imperfect selves.
How does that relate? Because I read a book on dog body language called “Calming Signals” after hearing about it from Emily Larlham on youtube. Emily is like my dog training hero. She got me interested in clicker training, and really helped shape my understanding of how training can and should work. Anyway, reading this book (and others, and watching Emily’s videos, and others) helped me feel like I understand what my dog is trying to tell me. She’s communicating to me in a language that I can learn a bit of, just as she can learn some of mine. And I owe it to her as a member of my family to do my best to try to communicate with her, and to respond to what she’s trying to communicate to me. Does that make sense? I’m probably belaboring this point, but here’s the big thing: My newborn is more like my dog than he is like me, in terms of communication capability. It’s up to me, as the human adult in this relationship, to learn as much as I possibly can about understanding my baby’s communication, and to really take to heart the fact that all of my interactions with my son are communicating something to him. He’s going to give me signals that may just look like baby wiggles, but they mean something. I need to watch him and try to help him out before he gets to the point where he’s so frustrated or hungry that he’s yelling at me because I’ve ignored all his other signals for the past 20 minutes. If he’s not crying, but his fists are balled up and his forehead is wrinkled, he’s not feeling calm and safe. If he’s making sucking motions and trying to put his hands in his mouth, he’s probably hungry. if he’s yawning and rubbing his eyes, he’s probably sleepy. If I swaddle my baby, I’m essentially rendering him mute. He’s trying to tell me things, and I’ve made it so he can’t. That’s not cool. So we’re going to try to take all of this and turn it into a cohesive parenting style. Mostly keeping our baby close to us, paying attention to his cues, trying to meet his needs when he expresses them, etc. Will we be perfect? Certainly not. But we’ll do the best we can for the little guy and hope that’s good enough.
Okay, that’s more than enough from me for now. I’m sure you will have questions that I’m not qualified to answer, but I’ll do my best. We’re still early on in this particular line of research, so I’ll keep you posted if I find anything else that’s interesting. Thanks for reading!