The burrito wrap. The pod. The straitjacket. However it’s known, the swaddle blanket — whether one especially designed for that purpose or a plain receiving blanket — is considered a must-have baby gear item for new parents.
Since the federal government started urging parents in 1992 to put their babies on their backs to sleep as a defense against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, swaddling has gained in popularity. That’s because newborns tend to startle themselves in their sleep, flailing their arms and waking themselves up. Swaddling keeps those little limbs glued to their sides and, hopefully, gives mom and dad a little more shut-eye. Also, current sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics are to avoid loose bedding in the crib to prevent suffocation, so a snug swaddle blanket fits the bill.
Carol Ryan, clinical manager of perinatal education and lactation services at Georgetown University Hospital, says that swaddling helps re-create the tightly snuggled uterine environment for babies. However, they should be able to move their arms a bit and kick their legs, she says.
Ryan chuckled a little at the idea of spending extra money on special swaddling blankets with snaps, Velcro or zippers.
“It’s just something to spend money on that’s not necessary because parents can take wonderful receiving blankets and gently swaddle their babies,” Ryan says.
Parents should choose receiving blankets that are flame-retardant and soft, she says. Wash them before wear to prevent chemical residue from coming into contact with his or her brand-new skin. Here are some options — both specialty swaddling blankets and plain receiving blankets — to consider:
Summer Infant SwaddlePod ($15.99 for one). Pregnant mamas, put down the registry scanner gun and skip the SwaddlePod. The small/medium size only fits babies 7-12 pounds, so my daughter outgrew it in nine weeks. It contains 93 percent cotton and 7 percent Spandex, which always seemed too stretchy to give my baby that really tight, contained feeling. The SwaddlePod does win for simplicity, though: All parents need to do is zip the baby in, a huge benefit at 2 a.m.
Summer Infant SwaddleMe ($10.99 for one). This one has wings! The SwaddleMe has a complicated-looking system of Velcro flaps and wings to keep your baby snug. It feels a little like strapping your newborn into a straitjacket, but it’s so darn effective at keeping little arms down. My baby seemed soothed by its womblike hug. A drawback to the SwaddleMe is that babies outgrow them quickly and they don’t really have any other purpose, except maybe as a burp cloth (but with three scratchy Velcro patches, probably not even that.)
Carter’s Wrap Me Up receiving blankets ($14.75-$20 for 4)
These super soft flannel blankets are big enough, at 30 by 40 inches, to give a snug swaddle that doesn’t come undone. One downside is that the cute prints (the monkeys were the favorite in our house) fade quickly after multiple washings. Our baby is 11 months old and no longer needs to be swaddled, but we still use these as changing pads daily.
Aden + Anais muslin swaddle blankets ($49.95 for 4). This is the swaddle blanket that all the rich ladies carry, made of soft, breathable muslin. They’re stupendously expensive for receiving blankets, but they can’t be beat for versatility due to their size, quality and lightness. Just within the baby’s first year of life, an aden + anais blanket can be used for a swaddle, a nursing cover, a burp cloth, a changing pad, sun protection in the stroller, a play mat, and probably more. Of course, they also come in cute prints.
What’s your favorite swaddling blanket? Tell us in the comments.
Rachel Saslow is a former editorial aide for The Washington Post’s Health & Science section. She is now a freelance writer who lives in the District with her husband and 11-month-old daughter.