Everything you need for baby and nothing you don't
Bottom Line: As a minimalist who does laundry frequently, you won’t need more than four of all of the swaddling options.
(I know laundry doesn’t sound fun, but you will only need these infant-stage items for a few months, so buying in bulk is not the way to spend baby dollars, even if it seems easier in the short run. If you’re urban and have to go out to do your laundry, even better: hey, baby outing!!)
Swaddling is back. First there was Jesus, now there’s your baby. Not bad company. Well, except for the outsized expectations.
I won’t bore you with too much why and wherefore: I will assume your OB or pediatrician or childbirth class instructor or every book you’ve read about infant care has already convinced you swaddling is the way to go. (My head tells me it’s a good idea – babies are all tight and squished and secure in the womb, so it makes sense the same environment would help them snuggle down and sleep out in the world. On the other hand, my claustrophobia freaks me out at the very idea of being all wrapped up in multiple layers of blankety stuff at night. Right: this isn’t about me. Sorry.)
There are a number of products on the market purporting to be the best swaddling solution out there, and every mom you know will recommend (or even give you, even though you didn’t register for it), the one that they like. The reality of it is that there is no best: there’s what works for your child.
Unfortunately, this means I’d recommend that you buy or register for a couple of different ones and see how it goes before you invest in the three or four you’ll need. Or – better yet – email your friends and see if you can borrow a selection. Then go deep on the one that works.
Tip: don’t be too put off by Junior being upset briefly at being swaddled. The experts say that that initial resistance (like, 5-10 minutes of faffing around) is just babies doing some boundary testing to make sure they are actually cozy and secure.
A blanket. The original swaddler. Your hospital/birthing center will probably hook you up with some generously-sized lightweight flannel blankets for swaddling. These work fine, especially if the blanket is big and you have tight swaddling skills. (If you have no swaddling skills, ask your nicest nurse while you’re in the hospital, or your doula, or tap YouTube for help. There are a number of different ways to do it, so don’t get discouraged if one of them doesn’t seem to work – just try the next one.)
In the early days or weeks, your infant will probably stay relatively still and won’t be able to break even a poorly done blanket swaddle. As time progresses though, you may find you have a fighter on your hands who can Houdini out of even your best folding job. In my experience, when you hit this stage, flannel blankets don’t have enough give to keep Junior in. I ended up preferring a heavier, jersey blanket which was both softer and a little stretchier, so when Astrid kicked, the blanket just stretched a bit rather rather than the swaddle coming completely undone.
For my recommendations on which blankets work best for swaddling, check out my overall blanket write-up. (If you buy all the different blankets a lot of books and sites suggest, you’ll end up better stocked than Target.)
The rest of the swaddling “blanket” market are pre-made swaddles: instead of relying on your strength and origami skills, these secure closed with Velcro, zippers or, in the case of the Miracle Blanket, more origami.
The Miracle Blanket. A friend gave us one at my shower. It looked complicated: there was an instruction sheet included. I put it at the back of Astrid’s drawer because a.) as a policy, I do not read instructions (this has not served me well and I have not learned from experience. Do NOT get me started on Ikea.) B.) I also received a stack of Velcro swaddlers that looked really easy to use.
This was my mistake. When it became clear that Astrid was not going to be an easy sleeper and she had an ant-like size-to-strength ratio and was therefore able to break out of all the other swaddlers, our postpartum doula asked if I had a Miracle Blanket. I pulled it out and lo and behold, our solution had been in my drawer all along. So yeah, for me, the Miracle Blanket is the product I try to push on other moms.
It has separate little inner blanket flaps to secure the arms (which allows you to free up one arm later when Myrtle wants to access her thumb to suck) and a wrap-around scheme that looks complicated but takes doing it twice to master. In my opinion, it allows you to swaddle the baby tighter than the other one-size-fits-all solutions (see below). That said, this may only come into play for you if your little one is like Astrid and is awakened by too much ability to move in her swaddle. Or that ant strength thing.
Velcro Swaddles, like Kiddopotamus or Summer Infant SwaddleMe. These come in fleece or cotton (pick based on your climate and season) and are self-explanatory and the cheapest option, even less expensive than some straight-up blankets. Instead of wrapping the baby, you just insert his little legs and butt into the pouch at the bottom and secure the upper part with Velcro over his front (arms up or down). They’re super easy to put back on after a late-night diaper change since you can (theoretically) leave Baby’s upper body swaddled while doing the change.
The down side is that you can’t tighten up that bottom part, so Baby has room to kick inside the pouch even if you bought the smallest size she can fit into on the top. This may not be an issue for all babies, but it will be for some: the point of the swaddle is to restrict the baby’s reflexive arm and leg movement during sleep which can wake her up and the Kiddopotamus didn’t do that well enough for us. (Babies have almost zero motor control at birth, hence the hitting themselves in the face, kicking involuntarily, etc.)
The Woombie or the Summer Infant SwaddlePod. These are the newest of the swaddle products and the weirdest looking: it’s a cocoon of stretchy fabric that zips up the front. When you first wrestle Junior into it, it doesn’t look like he’ll fit, it’s that stretchy. It relies on the fabric’s own properties – rather than folding or Velcro-ing – to restrict movement. It’s bizarre watching a baby in it because you can see her every move. It’s like a hamster in bike shorts. Or an alien.
I tried one on Astrid and she was having none of it, again because it was too stretchy and didn’t restrict her enough, but our nanny’s other family’s baby was content in it and it is definitely the easiest one on the market. There’s a zipper. That’s it. Done.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few other alternatives: do leave a comment if there’s one that you love that I didn’t mention – or why you love the one you do!
Also, if you want to get ahead of the curve, check out When To Stop Swaddling at Minimalist Mama.