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Swaddling is a common practice that involves wrapping a baby snugly in a blanket for warmth and security. Swaddling is a wonderful way to soothe babies, physically reminding them of the warmth and security of the womb. However, when it comes to swaddling a preemie, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. Babies born before 37 weeks gestation can certainly benefit from swaddling just like their full term peers. Read on for preemie swaddling tips and tricks.
Benefits of Swaddling
Swaddling can provide several benefits for preemies, such as:
- Mimicking the Womb: Swaddling can mimic the warm and snug environment of the womb, providing a sense of safety and familiarity for the baby who’s otherwise been introduced to a loud, bright world a bit earlier than expected.
- Calming Reflex: Babies are born with a startle reflex, also known as the Moro reflex. This is an evolutionary trait that helps babies react quickly when they feel like they’re falling. However, it can be very disruptive. Swaddling with arms in prevents babies from startling during sleep.
- Temperature regulation: Did you know that babies can lose temperature nearly four times faster than an adult? Body temperature regulation is particularly important for premature and low birth weight babies, who may lack brown fat, an important adipose tissue that is used to generate heat. Swaddling can help babies to maintain their body temperature, saving precious energy for growth.
- Safety: Swaddling helps to keep newborns on their backs during sleep, which is the safest position for infant sleep.
Precautions for Swaddling Preemies
While swaddling can be beneficial for newborns, it’s essential to take certain precautions when swaddling premature babies.
- Hip Development: Make sure to leave the leg area fairly loose to avoid potential issues with hip development. You want to avoid swaddling your baby’s hips and legs so tightly that they’re locked into position. A nice snug swaddle over the arms and chest is good, but your baby should have full range of motion of their hips and legs.
- Temperature Regulation: Pay attention to the baby’s temperature and ensure they are not under or overheating. A thermometer under the armpit is a useful place to check your baby’s temperature while swaddled. It can also be helpful to test the skin at the nape of the neck to see if your baby feels too warm or cold.
- Proper Technique: Use proper swaddling techniques to ensure your baby is safe and comfortable. The swaddle blanket should be secure and away from their airways. Loose blankets are dangerous in infant sleep spaces.
Preemie Swaddling Technique
When swaddling a preemie, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. Remember that premature babies aren’t as ready to communicate their basic needs as full term newborns. For example, preemies may favor sleep in order to preserve calories, even when they’re hungry, while a full term newborn may wake and fuss when hungry.
When swaddling a preemie, we want to ensure they’re safe and comfortable while also giving them the chance to learn to communicate their needs. To do so, it’s helpful to swaddle your preemie with their hands closer to their face than you might with a full term newborn. When preemies can move their hands close to their faces, they can initiate the rooting reflex, communicating that they’re hungry. A preemie who is swaddled with their hands at their belly might sleep too deeply and miss communicating their hunger needs.
Swaddling a preemie with hands near the midline, under their chins also mimics the position that many babies take in the womb. Swaddling this way allows your preemie to be comforted while also giving them the chance to show us when they’re hungry.
As your baby gains weight and reaches a full term gestational age (37+ weeks), you can begin to swaddle their arms lower to help them continue to enjoy the benefits of swaddling. By this age, many babies can too easily break out of a swaddle when their hands are high up, so saving this technique for preemies and low birth weight babies is usually a good bet.
Is swaddling safe for preemies?
Swaddling can be a safe and helpful practice for preemies, providing them with the comfort and security they need to thrive. However, it’s crucial to be mindful of the baby’s development and safety when swaddling. Swaddling a preemie with their hands under their chins, so they can move their hands closer to their mouths to communicate hunger, is helpful to avoid missed opportunities to communicate hunger.
It’s important to note that while swaddling a preemie can have many benefits, it’s important to do so safely. Swaddle your preemie snugly to avoid loose blankets, but avoid wrapping their hips and legs too tightly. Monitor your baby’s body temperature and adjust the room temperature, their clothing, or swaddle blanket thickness as needed to help them maintain a healthy body temperature. With these practices in mind, you can swaddle your preemie safely and comfortably throughout the newborn phase.