Swaddling Baby Twins for a Better Sleep

When multiples have trouble sleeping, their parents do, too. And the effects of sleep deprivation can be extremely acute on one’s mental and physical health. Also, if twins are premature, their precious energy needs to be conserved for growing, not for trying to sleep or stay warm. So, how can parents of multiples help their babies sleep better?

Many parents of twins have found relief for their restless babies through swaddling. In fact, the practice of swaddling—wrapping a baby’s body snugly in a blanket to sleep—is not a new concept. It has been around for centuries! Many Native Americans traditionally swaddled their babies. Remember the etching of Sacajawea on the U.S. dollar coin with her baby bundled snugly on her back?

According to Dr. Harvey Karp in his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, “For tens of thousands of years, mothers living in cool climates have swaddled their babies. . . . History has recorded that Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Jesus were all swaddled as babies. . . . And now, our nation has also rediscovered that babies like being wrapped as snug as a bug in a rug.”

When done correctly, experts say, swaddling makes a baby happier because the infant feels as if it is still held tightly in the womb. Once an infant’s limbs are free from the confines of the uterus, babies are often afflicted with the startle reflex—their arms and legs pop up and jerk spasmodically when the infant is placed on its back. Experts believe this is because the infant intuitively thinks it’s falling.

Naturally, this jerking usually wakes the infant. Because parents have been advised in recent years to place infants on their backs to reduce the risk of death from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) when sleeping, swaddling has become even more popular to help ensure better sleep.

Swaddling also makes a baby feel as if it’s being cuddled, just as if the child is resting in its mother’s arms. Studies have shown that being touched is essential to babies’ normal development.

Swaddling may also act as a signal to some babies that it’s bedtime. As soon as the swaddling blanket is put on, their eyes droop and they begin to fall asleep.

Researchers at University Children’s Hospital, in Brussels, Belgium, concluded that, “[W]hen infants between six and 16 weeks of age sleep swaddled and supine, they sleep longer, spend more time in NREM sleep, and awake less spontaneously than when not swaddled” (Influence of Swaddling on Sleep and Arousal Characteristics of Healthy Infants, Pediatrics, May 2005).

If the benefits are so numerous, why don’t more parents swaddle their babies? The truth is, it’s tough to learn how to swaddle a baby properly using a standard blanket. The blanket must be tight enough to stay fastened and make the baby feel secure, and yet loose enough so that the infant doesn’t become overheated. Once a baby starts moving around, he often kicks off his blanket, and a loose blanket in the crib can increase the risk of SIDS.

Thankfully, a wide variety of specially made swaddling blankets designed to overcome the limitations of traditional swaddling are now available. These blankets may be shaped to fit a baby’s body, long enough to wrap around his body, and might have some sort of fasteners to prevent an infant from pulling the swaddle loose.

Many parents give up swaddling quickly because their babies don’t seem to like it. But it doesn’t take long before most babies realize they love it, parents have reported. Some babies never grow accustomed to swaddling, but the vast majority sleep better as a result of being swaddled. If your babies resist swaddling at first, Dr. Karp advises, “Be patient. You may have to practice a few times before [the baby] gets used to it. Try swaddling when she’s already sleepy and in her most receptive frame of mind.”

There are many swaddling blankets on the market, so do your research before purchasing to make sure you find one that fits your needs. Some companies will offer a discount when ordering more than one blanket, which can be especially helpful for parents of multiples. Swaddling blankets for “preemies” are also available.

If you’d like more information about swaddling and the swaddling blankets currently on the market, check out my article, “Snug as a Bug in a Rug: Do Twins Sleep Better When Swaddled?” in the Jan./Feb. 2007 issue of TWINS Magazine. If you’re not a subscriber, check your bookstore for a copy of TWINS, or visit www.twinsmagazine.com to request a copy or subscription.

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About Susan Heim

Susan M. Heim is an author and editor, specializing in multiples, parenting, women’s and Christian issues. Her books include "Boosting Your Baby's Brain Power"; "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More"; "It’s Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence"; "Twice the Love: Stories of Inspiration for Families with Twins, Multiples and Singletons"; and, "Oh, Baby! 7 Ways a Baby Will Change Your Life the First Year." Upcoming books include "Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family," "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women," and "Moms of Multiples' Devotions to Go." Susan's articles and essays have appeared in many books, magazines and Web sites. She is a member of the National Association of Women Writers and the Southeastern Writers Association, and has a degree in Business Administration from Michigan State University. Susan lives with her husband and four sons (two teenagers and twin grade-schoolers) in Florida.