Newborn babies spend most of their time feeding and sleeping and are usually wrapped up or swaddled in a baby blanket, but this is different to sleeping with a loose blanket covering them. Because our core body temperature drops when we sleep, covering ourselves with blankets or duvets is essential to creating optimal sleep temperature for baby.
Swaddling with a baby blanket
Babies are a little different to grown-ups as they lose most of their body heat through their heads, and this will explain why babies are always seen wearing warm knitted caps. Being swaddled resembles being warm and snug in mom's womb, and this puts babies at ease, allowing them to enjoy a few hours of quality sleep. But because their motor skills have not yet developed, babies are unable to coordinate any of their limb movements; however, they are able to trash their arms around and kick their legs.
Swaddling keeps the baby's arms and legs in a secure, comfortable position so they cannot accidentally pull the blanket over their face, which may lead to suffocation. Babies are normally swaddled for the first few months of life, but as they grow and develop, they will begin resisting being swaddled.
Loose coverings like sheets or blankets over a baby's body may accidentally be drawn over their face and may cause them to have difficulty breathing. Swaddling keeps the baby's arms and legs in a secure, comfortable position, reducing the risk of suffocation.
Breathing and motor skills
Babies have the basic breathing technique mastered from their first breath, but if wind is blown into their face, they will stop breathing for a split second as they try and relate to this new sensation. If a baby's breathing is disrupted in any way, it can have serious consequences as they lack the motor skills to either move their head away or push the obstruction away from their mouth and nose.
The risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is greatly increased from the time your baby is not swaddled to about one year old. It is during this time that your baby is developing its basic motor skills.
Once your baby can move their body and coordinate their hand, arm, and leg movements which is usually younger than a year old, they still need to understand and learn about the dangers of obstructions to their breathing which does take some time. Not all babies develop at the same pace, and at times parents need to promote motor skill development in their children.
Keeping your baby warm
So, if you can no longer swaddle your baby and using blankets is considered too dangerous in their first year, what do you do? Keeping your little one warm is essential for quality sleep, and their cot should have absolutely nothing in it except a breathable baby mattress and a fitted sheet.
It may sound uncaring, but the safest sleep environment for your baby is a bare cot only fitted with a mattress and fitted sheet. Any other items like loose linen, plush toys, bumpers, pillows, positioners, or wedges can be a potential risk to your baby. If you are concerned about SIDS, as any parent would be, then it's best to have a discussion with your paediatrician before you invest in any products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS as much of what is advertised has not been medically proved as fact.
Their sleep environment must not present any breathing hazards, and it's for this reason that co-sleeping with your baby in the same bed is a definite no-no.
As a caring and concerned mother, you will have your little one sleep in your room for the first year. You should try and regulate the heat in your room to a cool but comfortable setting, and you must also dress your baby correctly for sleep. Ideally, you should dress your baby in one more layer of clothing than you sleep in. Your baby's sleep clothes should be loose but not so that the clothing can shift and cover their face when they sleep.
During winter months or in cold climates, you may have to dress your baby in more layers of clothing or use a baby sleeping sack. In summer months or hot climates, a vest and diaper may be enough, but a thin cotton onesie will work just as well.
You must keep an eye on your little ones to ensure they are warm enough, but it's important that they do not overheat, which is another risk factor for SIDS. You can tell if your baby is getting too hot by noticing that their hair or the back of their neck is damp from sweat and there might be flushed cheeks and rapid breathing. You may even pick up that your little one has developed a heat rash. To remedy overheating, simply remove a layer of clothing but be sure that your baby is not ill and has a fever. Confirm their temperature on the spot and also once your little one has cooled down a little.
Introducing blankets to your little one
At about one year old, you can consider allowing your little one to sleep with a blanket. Here again, a concerned mother will look at the size of the blanket, its thickness and fabric type, as well as the edging of the blanket. These factors are all important as they have to do with the general wellbeing of your little one.
A large blanket can cause suffocation, so the size should be just big enough to cover your little one as a smaller blanket is less likely to be a breathing hazard. A good fabric choice for your first baby sleep blanket would be muslin. Babies can breathe through fabric like muslin, but thick quilted blankets do pose a breathing risk. The edge of the blanket shouldn't have any long tassels or ribbons attached as these present a choking hazard.
As far as weighted blankets are concerned, they are not recommended for infants but are fine for older children and adults with sensory problems. Weighted blankets should be prescribed by a medical doctor.
Not every baby will be ready to sleep under a blanket at twelve months old. Some babies are very active when they sleep and will roll, toss, and turn while asleep. In cases like this, the baby sleep blanket will hardly be able to keep an active baby covered and warm, so it's best to wait a little longer before you try the blanket again.
When your little one is ready to sleep under a blanket, be sure to have it covering them no higher than chest level and ensure, it is tucked in around the cot mattress. Your little one will still be able to turn when they sleep but will not be able to pull the blanket over their head.
Mothers know best; after all, you are the one making sure that your little one has a peaceful, comfortable sleep during the day and at night. You will ultimately be the one to decide on when it's best to begin using a sleeping blanket for your baby. You may want to try a test run during a daytime nap so you can observe how your little one sleeps with a blanket. If you're happy, then using the blanket at night should be fine as well. At least you will have peace of mind and not have a sleepless night worrying about your bundle of joy sleeping under a blanket.
A word about SIDS
SIDS, as the name suggests, is the sudden death of an infant while asleep, but medical professionals have not been able to pinpoint the actual cause. However, many experts believe it stems from an "immature arousal centre" that prevents infants from waking up when they have problems breathing normally.
The reasons why babies will not be able to breathe normally are numerous, so the condition cannot be linked to a specific cause. Having said this, it is good practice to eliminate anything that will be a risk to your baby's breathing. The older babies get and the more they develop, the less the risk of SIDS becomes.
Babies and blankets
Baby blankets are a common gift at baby showers and at the birth of your little one. Soon after your baby is born, a thin baby blanket is used to wrap your little one up.
Your baby will relate to a blanket as a form of comfort, and rightly so. How many toddlers do you know that have a favourite "blankie"? A lot, I can imagine. Blankets keep us warm and feeling secure, so even if your little one may not sleep under a blanket for the first year or so, it comes back to day one, where the warmth and comfort of mom's womb were replaced with a soft blanket.
A blanket is basically a covering that is used to stay warm, and in a baby's first year of life, they are dressed warmly for sleep. The fabric used to make their warm sleep clothing is also used to make blankets, so the coverage differs in design and fit, but the fabric and purpose remain the same.
The relationship we have with blankets lasts our whole lives, and each of us secretly has a favorite blanket that we have fond memories about. We match blankets to our needs, and because people are so different from each other, the variety of blankets has grown to cater for every need.