Sleeping baby in a swaddle

Sleep sack vs swaddle: How to choose

Amy

By Amy Roach

Sleeping baby in a swaddle

One of the many mind-boggling decisions you’ll face as an expecting/new parent is whether to use a swaddle blanket or sleep sack to try to get baby to experience those precious hours of sleep. Whether you’re well-versed in the art of the swaddle or have never even heard the term, you’ll quickly come to rely on it once baby arrives.

Babies love the feeling of being snug and cozy, so swaddling—or securely wrapping them in fabric—does just that. It mimics the constricted environment they experienced in the womb and helps to prevent what’s known as the Moro, or startle, reflex. With arms and legs wrapped tightly and unable to startle, babies sleep much sounder. (That’s why you frequently see newborns all tucked into a swaddle blanket or sleep sack, looking like an adorable little burrito.)

Swaddle blankets have been the go-to for new parents for ages and ages, but recently sleep sacks have become a popular alternative. Hence today’s sleep sack vs. swaddle conundrum. The choice of whether to go swaddle blanket or sleep sack doesn’t have to be too hard. Here’s our take on what you need to know about both options and when it makes more sense to use one versus the other.

Sleep sack vs swaddle: the lowdown on swaddle blankets

  • Swaddle blankets are usually made of cotton muslin, sized slightly larger than a receiving blanket, and available in a wide range of patterns from nearly any baby clothing or accessories brand. 
  • There are a variety of ways to swaddle a baby—and it does take some practice, but it gets easier, we promise!  
  • Swaddle blankets are intended to keep babies warm and help them sleep better by preventing arms and legs from flailing due to the startle reflex.
  • Swaddle blankets are most commonly used between birth-3 months
  • Sleep sack vs swaddle: the lowdown on sleep sacks

    Sleep sacks are worn like an item of clothing, but are made of blanket-type material (cotton, fleece, flannel, or other breathable fabrics). They have arm holes for the arms and are fastened with a zipper. Many sleep sacks have zippers that work in both directions so you can easily access either the top or bottom of your baby. Essentially, sleep sacks are wearable blankets.

    Sleep sacks are intended to keep babies warm and help them sleep, without the potential suffocation or strangulation hazard of a loose blanket. Sleep sacks are most commonly used starting at age 8 weeks and up. Some sleep sacks go all the way up to sizes 3T or 4T, with footed pant legs for walking.

    Now that you know the difference between the two, let’s explore some of the common questions that go with the sleep sack vs. swaddle debate:

    • Can you use a swaddle blanket for a newborn? Yes, swaddle blankets are intended for use with newborns.
    • Can you use a sleep sack for a newborn? Yes, but many parents find the sleep sack to be too lose to please baby during the first few weeks. Because it has arm holes, it is easy for baby’s arms to flail, which may cause them to wake up.
    • When is the right time to stop using a swaddle blanket? Because of the potential for suffocation or strangulation from a blanket that has come loose, pediatricians recommend that babies stop using a swaddle blanket once they are old enough to roll over. That can occur as early as 8 weeks, and usually before baby is 6 months old. 
    • When is the right time to start using a sleep sack? Many parents find sleep sacks work best once baby is old enough to be less bothered by the Moro, or startle reflex, which is usually around 8 weeks.
    • Which is better for my baby—swaddle blanket or sleep sack? There really is no right answer here. Choosing between swaddle blanket or sleep sack is mostly about your personal preference and what seems to work best for your baby. Just remember that once your little one is old enough to roll over, swaddle blankets are no longer recommended.
    • What are the advantages of a swaddle blanket over a sleep sack? From day one, you can use swaddle blankets to combat the startle reflex and get a good night’s sleep. By contrast, during those first few weeks, the open arms of a sleep sack may not do as good of a job in making baby feel snug and secure enough to stay asleep.
    • What are the advantages of a sleep sack over a swaddle blanket? Once baby is old enough to roll over, it becomes safer for them to sleep in a sleep sack vs a swaddle blanket. Also, many parents find the zipper closure much easier to handle (especially in the middle of the night!) than the intricate folds of the swaddle maneuver. In addition, sleep sacks come in a variety of fabric weights, meaning you can keep baby warm and cozy in winter with a heavy sleep sack, and cool as a cucumber in a lightweight sleep sack for summer.
    Amy

    Written by:

    Amy Roach

    New York-based journalist-turned-business storyteller Amy Roach is a veteran writer and editor who has contributed to many lifestyle, family, business, trade, and educational publications. Currently, she runs her own boutique writing firm, providing content, copywriting, and communications services to a wide range of businesses. When not playing with words, she's playing with her two children, Natalie and Owen. Mom duty takes her from the soccer, football, and basketball sidelines to art shows, science fairs, and band concerts. Despite the occasional teenage drama and arguments over too much screen time, she still counts parenting as her most-rewarding gig.