If you gave birth in a hospital setting, you've probably experienced the miracle that is a nurse swaddling your newborn. You've most likely been unable to recreate the perfection of that swaddle ever again, despite memorizing the nurse's every move. In fact, by the time you got home and tried it out a few times on your own, your baby likely grew out of the standard-issue hospital blanket. So, what kind of blanket should you use to swaddle your baby in real life? When you're officially on your own and that standard hospital blanket just isn't cutting it anymore, you need answers.
Baby Center defines the practice of swaddling as more than just a baby-soothing technique, saying, "Swaddling is the art of snugly wrapping a baby in a blanket for warmth and security." Indeed, depending on the type of swaddle you are using, it can feel more like origami but with the added bonus of a squirming small human stuck inside your masterpiece. Swaddling is one of many tools that new parents use to help calm often fussy infants. As Baby Center notes, swaddling can help mimic the feeling of being in the womb, it can reduce Baby's startle reflex because it keeps their arms securely at their sides, and it can help keep them from being overstimulated.
There are basically two types of swaddle blankets to choose from. One is the old school, fold-it-and-wrap-it-and-tuck-it-yourself swaddle blanket. With this type of swaddle blanket, Parent Guide recommends a blanket that is 44 x 44 inches for newborns and one that is 47 x 47 inches for larger babies. For a primer on how to swaddle a baby with a blanket, you can read full instructions at HealthyChildren.org (or follow instructions from your pediatrician).
One very important update as to how doctors are recommending parents go about swaddling, if they so choose, is with regards to preventing hip dysplasia. A somewhat recent study published in the American Academy of Pediatric's (AAP) News & Journals discusses how physicians are now promoting "hip-healthy swaddling that allows for freedom of hip motion" for parents who choose to swaddle their infants. This is especially important news to consider when swaddling with a blanket, because the blanket swaddle gives a caregiver more freedom to choose the tightness of the swaddle itself.
Which brings us to the slightly more foolproof, pre-folded swaddle that often has velcro tabs and sometimes even a zipper. This type of swaddle blanket is one that you can more easily wrap or place your baby in without too much of a struggle, and often (but not always) has more wiggle space built into the hips and legs so you can worry less about your baby's hips being restricted.
When choosing a swaddle blanket it's also vital to stop and think about the temperature of the room and the season, so as to prevent your baby from getting too hot. The AAP's Safe Sleep Recommendations warns that swaddling can lead to overheating. Some signs to look out for in your baby, as noted by the AAP, include sweating, damp hair, flushed cheeks, and hear rash. Generally, you'll want to choose a blanket with a breathable fabric, such as cotton, muslin, or bamboo, as Parent Guide suggests.
Sadly, there is no magic swaddle blanket that is perfect for every baby. Some babies are averse to swaddling in general, Houdini-ing their way out of even the tightest arm-swaddles. For those of you dealing with a non-swaddle-loving babe, take heart: Pediatricians recommend giving up the swaddle by about 2 months of age anyway. Dr. Rachel Moon, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP) and chair of the task force that authored the AAP’s safe sleep recommendations, says, “I would stop swaddling by age 2 months, before the baby intentionally starts to try to roll.” Moon also adds that, “If babies are swaddled, they should be placed only on their back and monitored so they don’t accidentally roll over.”
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the seemingly endless choices of swaddle blankets that are on the market these days. In the end, go with what you can do most easily with your eyes closed. After all, you'll likely be doing plenty of swaddling in the middle of the night.