Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Great Swaddling Debate

I swaddle my kids. Well, I never swaddled Lee, but I swaddled Ike until he was at least 9 months old (longer than the standard recommended 6 months because he really enjoyed it) and I swaddle my new baby, Anneliese. I posted a picture of my little Anneliese on Facebook and got a concerned friend sending me an article about why it may be a good idea to reconsider swaddling her, as swaddling can be problematic.

I looked at the source of this article, Mothering.com, and I have to say I was quite surprised to find it there, as Mothering.com is a green, natural parenting, attachment parenting site, and I usually agree with most of what I read there, as it generally goes hand in hand with my views on how to live a healthy, happy lifestyle.

For the most part, I try to live a "traditional living" way of life, a way of life as similar to how people used to live as feasible in our present situation. I think modern society has gotten a lot wrong, and for the most part, that people in the past had a lot of wisdom in the way they were living, much wisdom that has been forgotten by today's society. Even in some situations where research "proves" how those things people have been doing for millenia are bad for you or dangerous or unhealthy, I tend to be skeptical... And I understand that there are people who'll strongly disagree with me on that note, even some of you who read my blog... but at the same time, that's how I feel, with just a few exceptions. (Like modern medical care for life threatening situations, for example.)

The "traditional living" that I do includes:
Traditional style cooking, using natural fats, fermented foods, non processed ingredients, and avoiding man made "pseudo-foods".
Co-sleeping.
Foraging.
Self sufficiency as much as possible.
Food preservation.
Cloth diapering and using cloth menstrual pads.
Breastfeeding (semi extended- past a year old).
Baby wearing...
...and much else.

Swaddling... well, that seems to fit the bill.

Swaddling has been done by people around the globe for at least thousands of years. There's proof that Jesus was swaddled, which means that at least for 2000 years people have been swaddling their babies.

And then modern studies are coming out saying that swaddling is bad for your baby.

Somehow, I don't buy it...

Lets see, what exactly were the problems written about swaddling in the aforementioned article?

Well, first off, lets mention why swaddle.

I swaddle, because I don't let my kids cry. Meaning, on a rare occasion, if I'm in the bathroom or shower when my kids wake up, I might let them cry until I finish what I'm doing, but other than that? If my kid is crying, I go to him/her, and comfort or hold the kid, let the kid know that he or she matters to me. I'm not the type that'll let my kid cry because I'm busy, to teach my kid to "self soothe", "because crying is good for their lungs", or because I think it helps a kid "not be spoiled".
No, I don't think it's good to leave a kid and let him cry if there's any way to help it.
At the same time, my life doesn't revolve around my baby. I don't have maids to take care of my other children, cook food for my family, and clean the house, and do my writing. I have things I need to do, and if I was constantly holding my babies in my arms to keep them happy and calm, I would never get anything done.
Perhaps other people have babies that often are content to be put down for decent lengths of time, but my kids were never like that. They were high needs babies, constantly wanting to be held, lest they shriek their heads off. And of course, I didn't let them do that. I held them. I wore them. And I swaddled them.
Because when swaddled, my babies were content to be put down.
No, I didn't swaddle them all the time. In fact, during most of their waking hours, I was holding them, but when swaddling really saved my sanity was during their naps. When they were unswaddled, they'd nap maximum 45 minutes to an hour at a time. When swaddled, they'd sometimes sleep for 2 or 3 hour stretches, perhaps more. And when they slept, I got things done that needed to be done.

So, babies are happy and contented while swaddled, and they sleep better. What exactly is the problem with swaddling according to the article?

1) Swaddling ignores the reason the baby is crying and just tries to shut them up.
I found this reason to be one of the silliest of all. My kids would cry when swaddled if they were hungry, hot,  tired, overwhelmed, had a dirty diaper, had a burp, etc... Swaddling isn't a "mute button". What swaddling does is address the reason the baby is crying if the baby is crying because he wants to be touched, etc... For 9 months, babies are cocooned in the mother's uterus in fetal position. To go suddenly from that to being free and open is actually a big adjustment for the babe and some kids don't like it. They like the feeling of being wrapped up in something, whether it's mom's arm, a blanket, or a baby carrier. Swaddling doesn't shut a kid up if he's crying for any reason aside from this desire to be wrapped up tightly, and it does a good job of addressing the need if the kid doesn't like the feeling of being loose, free, and open.

2) Swaddling separates a babe from it's mother, essentially telling the baby that no one cares about its needs.
Again, this is a bogus concern, in my opinion. Firstly, because it does address the baby's needs, and secondly, because I don't know anyone who swaddles their baby and then leaves them far away. When I would swaddle my kid, I'd swaddle them a few feet away from me, so I'd be able to get things done, have my hands free, but still be there to talk to my baby and not ignore it.

3) The baby isn't comforted, it's just "shut down", with the same furrowed brow and fisted hands as when the baby is crying, just quiet.
Since reading this article, I've been paying attention to my baby's movements and facial expressions. She sometimes makes her hands into a fist and has furrowed brows when awake, unswaddled, and content. She makes her hands in a fist and furrows her eyebrows when asleep in a baby carrier. She sometimes makes her hands in a fist and furrows her eyebrows when asleep, unswaddled in the crib. And she sometimes makes her hands in a fist and furrows her eyebrows when swaddled, asleep.
What does it mean?
That newborns furrow their eyebrows and make fists in all sorts of circumstances, and it doesn't mean they're upset but "shut down" because they're swaddled. These fisted hands and furrowed eyebrows mean nothing specific.

4) Swaddled babies nurse less, and lose more weight at first than unswaddled babies, because they're missing feedings.
My babies have not had any issues gaining weight, despite being swaddled, and I never had any issue with milk production. Maybe this is connected to my oversupply, or maybe it's connected to the fact that even a swaddled baby wakes up when hungry!
Sometimes babies are cranky, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're hungry, but its convenient to just pop them on the breast and assume that solves the issue, when it's very possible that the reason the kid is crying is completely unrelated to hunger. Nursing the baby whenever he's cranky is no different than sticking a pacifier in your kid's mouth when he's cranky; it's best to try to figure out why the kid is crying and not just stick the breast in the mouth to shut him up. If swaddling makes a kid less cranky because he likes the feeling of tightness around his body, and you give him what he wants instead of nursing to comfort the baby, the kid isn't "missing a feeding", he's just not nursing when he isn't hungry. Because, as I said, even a swaddled kid will let you know when he's hungry.
If your child is losing weight or is failure to thrive or if you have a problem with milk production, maybe you shouldn't swaddle, who knows, but this has never been my issue.

5) Swaddled kids can overheat easily or be too cold. 
This is something to note. If your place is too warm, make sure to count the swaddling blanket as one or two layers of clothing and keep that in mind when dressing your baby. Use a light sheet to swaddle the baby in the summer, and use a warm blanket in the winter to swaddle. Check your baby's temperature regularly when swaddled to make sure he's not overheating or isn't too cold, and adjust clothes and heat as necessary.

6) Skin to skin contact is important.
Unless you hold your baby 24 hours a day, including during all his/her naps, your baby will be down at times, and not having skin to skin contact. Whether your kid is swaddled or not when not being held doesn't affect the amount of skin to skin contact the kid is getting...

7) Swaddling stops kids from flexing and extending arms and legs and wiggling fingers, which helps with muscular and neural development. 
Possibly. This may be a good point, but I'll address it a little further down. Just don't keep your kid swaddled all the time and they'll have plenty of time to flex, extend, and wiggle all the extremities.

What is a better alternative to swaddling, according to this Mothering.com article?
Wear your baby instead!

While I'm a big proponent of baby wearing- I spent nearly 90 dollars (!) on a good baby carrier this time, I think an article saying swaddling is bad but baby wearing is good is kind of silly, because many of the issues brought up with swaddling apply just as much to baby wearing.

  • Both while swaddled and while worn, babies can't flex and extend their arms and legs and wiggle their fingers. 
  • While wearing your baby, your kid can definitely overheat if you're not careful.
  • Babies certainly sleep more and nurse less when being worn, just as while they're swaddled. In fact, I've found my kids sleep for longer lengths of time and go for longer periods of time between feedings when worn than when swaddled.
For an article to say baby wearing is good, swaddling is bad... it just seems a bit hypocritical. Both are traditional methods of calming babies, used for thousands of years at least, and both have similar issues with them, and similar benefits.

For me? I'll go with what my ancestors did, even if "the current books" say otherwise. Because I follow a traditional lifestyle, and I think that what was done nearly always had a lot of wisdom to it, even if we don't always understand everything about it today.

Signed,
Attentive mother, attachment parenting mother, baby wearer, swaddling mom.
And totally ok with my decision, even if "the books" say what I'm doing is bad.

For those of you who follow a traditional living type of lifestyle, how do you feel about swaddling? If you're against swaddling, how does that jive the with the rest of your traditional lifestyle, mimicking how our ancestors lived?
Do you swaddle? Why or why not? 

If you baby wear but don't swaddle, why do you think swaddling is worse than baby wearing, especially as many of the concerns regarding swaddling apply just as much to baby wearing?
Do you let your kids cry if you need to get things done, or will you stop doing what you're doing to make your baby happy?

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4 comments:

  1. I tried to swaddle my first, but her arms would always pop out like a little Houdini! With the second, I didn't even both, she would just nap on me while I ran around with the older one, and found that it was just easier to do EVERYTHING together, cook, clean, shower, toilet, etc... rather than try and keep that second baby asleep. And when the older one needed a nap too, we would all just crash together. I found that wearing them in the wrap or sling was like swaddling. I have also read the anti-swaddling stuff, especially the AP point of view, saying that a baby who is swaddled is sort of being ignored... well... it's really hard to judge any mother in the society that we live in... we're mostly all living in isolated houses with very little or no help from anyone... so if a little bit of swaddling helps you keep your sanity, so long as you're responding to their needs (which of course you are), I don't think is such a huge deal?

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  2. Swaddling saved my sanity with my youngest. I swaddled her to get her to settle down to sleep for the first 6 months. If it wasn't for swaddling and occasional co-sleeping I'd not have slept hardly at all for that first 6 months. Babies startle easily, and as you said, they're used to being all bundled up in the womb. Swaddling helps keep those jerky movements from startling themselves awake and provides that comfort of feeling like they're back in the womb. I think most of those concerns are rather unfounded.

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  3. How do you stop swaddling? And when? I have a similar parenting style, and my almost 8 mo old doesn't sleep unless swaddled with a pacifier. How do I transition off both?

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  4. How do I transition off swaddling? Or should I? My LO can't sleep (unless exhausted or in the car) without being swaddle and a pacifier. She's 8 mo and my mom is giving me crap so I'm wondering if it's time. Thoughts? And ways to transition off pacifier too? She only gets it during naps and bedtime.

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