Yes, I said it. Some babies scream louder after you swaddle them, and parents assume that this means that they are horrified of being restricted. This is usually far from the truth, but you have to know a little bit about newborn neurology to understand why this is likely not to be a case of protesting imprisonment and more a request for more layers of calming.
For 9 months, a newborn has been living in a tighter and tighter space. Baby bumps get bigger, but the uterus can only expand so far. At the end of pregnancy, babies are a snug fit. Really snug. They aren’t uncomfortable, and in fact, swaddling is replicating the whole-body firm hug that they know so well. It is diminishing the shock of the Moro (startle) reflex that scares them and makes them cry more. It keeps them at a consistent temperature, just like the womb.
So why do some of them scream more right after you swaddle them? Well, some babies are sensitive little souls, the kind that cry with new noises, too much talking, or even when their digestion “toots” a little or they get very hungry. They can go straight from happy to upset after too much activity, too much socializing, or too much interaction. By the end of the day, they are at the end of their ability to handle life. This can be partly temperament, their unique way of interacting with the world. It can also be that their nervous system is still very immature, and they are taking a while to develop self-calming. That is not a medical problem. Every baby is new at this life-after-womb thing. Some babies just need a little more time living like they did for 9 months, cozy and comforted.
These babies need swaddling more than some others, but they find anything new to be a challenge. Give them a chance to get used to it, and make sure that you are doing a good swaddle. Check how toasty they are, by making sure that they are not sweating behind their neck or ears (if so, lighten up on layers and swaddle in light cotton). They probably also need more than swaddling to pull it together. If you haven’t read Happiest Baby on the Block or seen the DVD, you might not be aware that swaddling alone is not going to finish the job for sensitive kids. Sucking, shushing, side or stomach positioning (for calming only) and swinging may all be needed to calm these babies down.
So for all those parents who think that their baby is the one that hates swaddling, I encourage you to make sure that your technique is solid, your blanket or swaddle garment fits correctly, and that you layer on the love moves with more than a swaddle to calm your little one!