There are three good reasons why the parent of a newborn baby with Down syndrome should choose to swaddle:
- Nothing is cuter than a baby burrito. A naked baby is a close contender, but Hope came to us in December, so keeping her warm was a sport. This was especially true on her one-month birthday when a snowstorm knocked out our heat.
- Swaddling introduces an association with sleep that can lead to healthy sleeping habits. We found that Hope was sleeping through the night very early on (we had to wake her for feedings), having been swaddled for nighttime sleep from day 1. Of course the sleeping could very well have had nothing to do with swaddling and everything to do with her pure exhaustion and heart failure prior to surgery. I guess that one will forever remain a mystery…
- When wrapped correctly, arms and legs remain in midline, arching is prohibited, and baby sleeps safely on his or her back. Although Hope frequently enjoyed middle-of-the-night dance parties while she was growing in my belly, her movements rarely involved rotating from side to side and never involved flipping from head to toe. Therefore, she was born via c-section, she arched in one direction, and her head was flatter on one side than on the other, which needed to be corrected naturally before the posterior fontanelle (the soft spot on the back of the head) closed.
Okay, you figured it out: most of these reasons have nothing to do with Down syndrome and everything to do with the preciousness of a new life. It’s really the points listed in #3 that are worth focusing on.
The keyword in all of this is “midline.” If you received a prenatal diagnosis, are getting to know your baby already, or have a friend or family member welcoming a child with Down syndrome into the world, “midline” will be referenced frequently. This starts with, “Does the infant bring her arms and legs to midline?”, which develops into, “Does the child reach across midline?” The latter is critical for cognitive development, and the steps toward the crossing-midline milestone begin with the newborn baby.
If there’s one major criticism of swaddling, it’s the fear that a child won’t be able to sleep unswaddled, either that the behavior has to be unlearned or the baby breaks from the swaddle during sleep and wakens his- or herself during the process. In our experience, there are two simple solutions to consider:
- Don’t use a traditional swaddle blanket. The hospital receiving blanket is incredibly symbolic after birth, like a medal or award you get to take home with your trophy (i.e., your baby). But we found the blanket was only so good for so long before Hope’s teeny little body wiggled free. Solution: Velcro. And nothing is better than the Halo brand swaddle blankets.
- Weaning will be required when the time is right. We spent less than a month weaning Hope from the tight Velcro swaddle to a simple sleep sack (also Halo brand, also awesome). We did this when she was 5-6 months old, which is when she was beginning rolling but hadn’t yet mastered rolling from her belly to her back. We felt it was too dangerous to keep her burritoed, and without any fuss or nighttime interruptions, she ended up being just fine in her sleep sack, a safe alternative to a blanket.
Don’t be concerned over having to “correct” your baby’s association between sleeping and swaddling. As a mother, not a health care provider, I never saw swaddling as a dependency, nor have I viewed any of Hope’s infant preferences as such, including diapering, napping at the grocery store, or consuming the majority of her nutrition via bottle. I’m certain she will grow out of all of it.
And for your own amusement, there is the mother of all swaddles, which was safe only because Hope was being monitored 24/7: the swaddle-baby’s-binkie-into-mouth-so-mom-and-dad-could-get-some-rest-on-their-shared-narrow-couch-in-the-PCICU swaddle.