Let’s Talk About Sleep Sacks

I decided a while back that, since I’m doing the baby thing for a second time, it might just be that I have some advice – at least in terms of baby gear – that might help some moms out as they are thinking about what they need or want for their littles.

Since I am once again in the throes of sleep training (and it’s not going particularly well), I thought I’d start off by sharing some suggestions for sleepsacks and swaddling.

Sugarpie is long out of the swaddle, and there are many schools of thought on the swaddle (to swaddle, not to swaddle) and on sleepsacks in general. But here are some items we gave a go (and how it went).

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The Point of Swaddles and Sleepsacks

Sleepsacks come in all styles, prints, and fabrics, and every mom has her favorites. The general purpose of them is to provide a layer of warmth for baby without having to resort to loose blankets in the crib, which can be a major risk factor for SIDS. Toddlers benefit from sleepsacks because they can’t be kicked off, which makes it a little easier when trying to keep your kiddo warm at night, especially in the winter.

As far as swaddling goes, the idea is that a snug swaddle helps supress baby’s Moro reflex (that “jerky” thing babies do in their sleep), also known as the startle reflex. This reflex is something baby will grow out of by 4 to 6 months of age, but while it’s present can be a cause for premature waking from a nap or at night. Swaddling technique is tied to the swaddling product, and while some baby’s do fine without being swaddled, most need some sort of swaddling for at least the first couple months of life.

Incidentally, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends to stop swaddling at 8 weeks of age, if baby is showing signs of rolling from back to belly, OR if baby CAN roll over, as this is a major safety risk in a swaddle. Every baby is different; our pediatrician gave us the thumbs up to keep swaddling Sugarpie when we went to our 4 months well child check. Her startle reflex was still super strong at that point, she still slept in our room and I was hypersensitive to her every move and sound, and she wasn’t rolling yet. (I have since decided that, like her father, she is just a restless sleeper.)

Swaddling and Swaddlesacks

If you are in the swaddle-baby camp, there are a lot of options out there. Many people like going with standard swaddle blankets, which are usually made from muslin or some other type of breathable material that has some give to it. It’s also helpful to have a swaddle blanket that’s on the larger size, as it gives you the ability to swaddle more securely and longer for larger babies.

There are many different ways to swaddle using a blanket, but the key is to make sure that the swaddle is snug, the fabric is well away from baby’s face, and that baby can’t break out. (Some babies break out but still need to have that swaddled feeling – if they’re breaking out of a traditional swaddle blanket, you may need to consider a different product.)

So what are Your Options?

There are a bunch of different brands out there that offer a swaddle sack, which is a sleepsack that has attached “wings” of some sort that easily swaddle with velcro. They’re pretty foolproof. I have personally been a fan of the Halo sacks since Babycakes was a newborn. They come in different fabrics, from cotton to microfleece. I also liked that when you ARE ready to transition baby, you can do so with these sacks by leaving the arms out and swaddling around the chest, so baby still has that snuggly feeling. While the swaddle sacks only come in newborn and small sizes, the line of Halo sacks goes all the way up to size 5t “Big Kids”. So if you like them, you can use them for a long time.

But Sugarpie was a crap sleeper, and I was desperate to figure out how to help her get some sleep. Early on, I tried out this all-in-one style sack from SwaddleDesigns, that gave us the option of arms in or arms out but up. It was a reaaaally nice sleepsack, but it only comes in size 0-3 months. So unless you have a super small baby, you’ll size out of this pretty quick, like we did.








Another option for babies who like to sleep with arms up so they can self-soothe, but still need some resistance, is the Love to Dream SwaddleUp sack. This particular brand even offers a style where you can remove the “wings” to help baby transition to a regular sleepsack. For us, unfortunately, Sugarpie didn’t like to have her arms restricted in the “touchdown” position, so we passed this particular product on to friends.

One product that seemed like an odd option, but ended up being the key to getting Sugarpie out of the swaddle once and for all, is the Zipadee Zip. It’s this sort of weird starfish-shaped design, with hands in. It allows for very free movement, a great thing if your baby is rolling or mobile in any other way as it provides the free range of motion necessary to make it safe. But because of its design, it provides “edges”, if you will, so the baby still feels secure. If your baby is on the smaller side, Sleeping Baby (the company) also sells a Snuggle Strap, which is basically a velcro belt that goes under baby’s arms to cinch the fabric of the Zipadee Zip to give more resistance.

The Zipadee Zip comes in several fabric options, from a light polyester summer weight to microfleece for winter. I started off with the summer weight Zippy and the Snuggle Strap, but ended up liking the regular cotton sack better. As Sugarpie grew, even without the Snuggle Strap she was nice and secure and snuggly. The fact that her hands were covered were bonus points, because she couldn’t scratch her face. Plus she liked to suck on the ends of the hand points. My only beef with the Zipadee Zip is that, unlike most sleepsacks, the zipper is not two directional, so middle of the night diaper changes can be tricky.

The Nested Bean Zen line of products offers a weighted sack option that safely provides a little extra comfort (so the company professes) to your baby. In addition to standard style sacks, Nested Bean also offers a swaddle sack, onesies, and jammies with their patented weighted “chick” design.

I guess they kind of work like weighted blankets would for adults. We tried out the Zen Sack, but did not get the “miracle” of 8+ hours of sleep within a week like the ads promised. In fact, the first time we tried sleeping Sugarpie in the Zen sack, she kind of hated it. (Maybe if we had used the swaddle sack initially, I don’t know.) Eventually, I figured out that layering the Zen sack over the Zipadee Zip worked well at night (both in terms of layers and security). And then the Zen sack just turned into a really nice sleepsack. The fabric is a soft cotton that washes well, and the zipper goes around the seam, rather than up the front of the body. We’ve grown out of the size we have, but I will not be buying another.

If you are looking for a transitional swaddle product, there are others besides the Zipadee Zip, SwaddleUp, and Zen Sack that many parents love. The Merlin Magic Sleep Suit, besides making your baby look like the State Puff Marshmallow Man, is an option that supresses the startle reflex but allows baby access to their hands for self-soothing. But once baby is rolling, you have to ditch the Merlin. (We tried this for Babycakes, to no avail. Plus she sized out of it really fast.) Other families love the Woombie line of products.

Once your baby is out of the swaddle completely, there are a lot of regular sleepsack options out there. As I said earlier, we are fans of the Halo line of products, but there are options out there from just about every baby sleepwear company you can think of, at a price point for just about everyone. Sometimes you have to see what your baby likes, or you can just decide on a brand and stick with it.

Now as for actual baby sleep, that’s a whole different post…

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