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Sleep sack vs. swaddle: What’s the safest option?

It’s important for everyone in a home with a new baby to get their beauty sleep. Or at least try to. Parents throw their favorite blanket on for a quick nap before the next feeding. But tiny babies can’t sleep safely with a loose blanket in their crib. So, what do they sleep with to keep them safe and warm?

The two main options are either a swaddle or a sleep sack. So, what is a sleep sack and what is a swaddle? They’re both wearable blankets that stay on without going over the face like a loose blanket could. Which is safest for your baby? We’ll look at sleep sack vs. swaddle pros and cons so you can choose the safest choice for your tiny tot.

Swaddled sleeping baby in a bed
Shokhina/ Shutterstock

Swaddles

Best for newborns and babies who can’t roll over yet

A swaddle is the first way babies are wrapped up right from their first minutes after being born. Every baby gets that same blanket for their first swaddle, and it’s always adorable. A swaddle can be a blanket wrapped tightly to form a baby burrito or a cloth product specifically made with Velcro or another adhesive to swaddle the baby.

Why a swaddle?

Swaddles make an infant feel safe and sleep better. Because newborns are used to feeling pressure inside the womb, they get stressed outside of the womb without that surrounding comfort. A swaddle gives them the feeling of being held.

Swaddles also prevent babies from startling themselves with the Moro reflex, which is an involuntary response to not having that cushioning around them. This startle reflex usually disappears around three to six months of age. A swaddle keeps a baby’s arms and legs secure to prevent them from flailing and waking themselves up.

When to use a swaddle

Swaddles are safe for infants until they can roll over. Once they gain this skill, even doing it just once, there is a risk of them rolling over in the swaddle and landing face-down. With their arms restricted, they wouldn’t be able to move out of that position and could suffocate. But for newborns that are unable to roll, swaddles are an excellent sleeping option.

Sleep sacks

Best for babies who aren’t coordinated enough for a blanket

A sleep sack is a wearable blanket for babies. They are a sack of fabric with three holes – one for the head and two for the arms. The body and legs of the baby stay inside a loose pouch and there is usually a zipper to get the baby in and out. Getting the correct size is key to make sure it doesn’t slip off become a choking hazard for your little one.

Why a sleep sack?

Sleep sacks are often used as a transitional product when a baby outgrows swaddles but isn’t yet ready to use a blanket. Since it isn’t safe for a baby to have loose fabrics or items in the crib with them until they have greater control of their bodies, a sleep sack allows a baby to still feel warm and be covered.

When to use a sleep sack

Sleep sacks are best for after a baby outgrows a swaddle. They are safe at any age (including newborns) as long as they are the correct size. If a sleep sack is too big, it could slip over the face. They can be even used for toddlers.

A swaddled baby supported by a pillow.

Sleep sacks vs. swaddles: Which is safer?

Both swaddles and sleep sacks are safe to use for the right age and development

A swaddle is safe for the few months after birth until a baby can roll over. Once your little one can roll, it’s time to let the swaddle go. It’s important that a swaddle is tight enough to not come loose, fall off, and become a suffocation hazard. Buying a swaddle with Velcro or another mechanism for securing it is a good investment to keep it place properly.

“Swaddling is really an art form,” says neonatologist, Dr. Michael Goodstein. “And if a parent hasn’t been taught how to do it, their baby can get out of the swaddle. This leaves a loose blanket in the crib, which is a big risk factor for sleep-related deaths.” Buying a swaddle that isn’t a blanket helps this issue.

Sleep sacks are better for those babies that like a little bit of comfort, but don’t want to be too snug. Your little one’s legs will be a restricted inside the sack, but their arms can still move about. If your baby is a roller, sleep sacks are safer as their arms are free to protect their face. You can keep your little one in a sleep sack all the way until toddlerhood if they like it.

For the safe sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which say both swaddles and sleep sacks are safe when used correctly, visit their website.

The great debate of swaddle vs. sleep sack can now be put to rest, along with your little one. Every precious bundle is different though. One babe may love being swaddled like a burrito while another one can’t stand it. Your first baby might love being tossed in a sleep sack like a baby kangaroo and your second kiddo just wants their limbs free. So, grab one of each and adjust accordingly to however gets your mini to sleep the best.

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