She Says… My Little Houdini

In the hospital when Owen was first given to me, he was wrapped up like a little burrito. The nurses were able to wrap him up into a little bundle with his arms and legs tucked up so tightly that he looked like he was a little bowling ball instead of a baby.

They taught us how to swaddle him like this, and he seemed to love it when he slept. His arms and legs never stopped moving when he was awake (and often seemed out of his own control), and swaddling immediately calmed his body so he could sleep. After reading Dr. Karp’s book “The Happiest Baby on the Block”, I was convinced that swaddling is the key to getting your baby to sleep soundly.

Only one problem. We seem to have a little Houdini on our hands.

He LOVES to have his hands up by his face, and now when I swaddle him, he fusses and fights and struggles until his little hand is sticking out the top of the swaddle against his face. He kicks his legs so hard that the swaddle slowly unwraps leaving his limbs exposed and a loose blanket around his ankles. I’ve tried every swaddle I can think of. I used the burrito wrap that the nurses at the hospital did, I tried Dr. Karp’s swaddling that he describes in his book, and I have purchased several different swaddles from Babies R Us in an effort to find one that my little Houdini can’t get out of.

The best one I’ve found so far is the Summer Infant SwaddleMe Wrap (pictured above). It has little velcro tabs that pull him tightly into the correct position, with arms at his sides. However, he’s even getting strong enough to pull his hands up in that swaddle, and it’s pulled so tightly that once he gets them up by his face they are stuck and he wakes up and cries.

So now I have a dilemma. He can’t seem to sleep without a swaddle (since his arms and legs move constantly and he tends to scratch himself in the face), and he can’t seem to sleep WITH one! What do I do?

Dr. Karp says that the more your baby resists the swaddle, the more he/she actually needs it. I totally agree. I think Owen needs to have his body quieted so he can sleep, and he can’t seem to do that on his own yet. But if putting him in the swaddle becomes pure torture, and then he struggles so hard to get out of it that he’s stuck in an uncomfortable position, what’s the alternative?

To add another level of complication, he loves to suck his fingers. He has a serious sucking obsession, and needs to suck to be pacified sometimes. I’ve tried giving him a pacifier a few times, but he won’t suck it. He’s sooooo close to figuring out how to get his thumb in his mouth, and it would really make things easier on me if he became a thumb-sucker. But how can he become a thumb-sucker if his arms are stuck down at his sides in a swaddle? Is there any way to encourage thumb-sucking?

Thoughts? Suggestions? Stories? I’m beginning to think we need one made out of metal with a lock and key!


26 responses to “She Says… My Little Houdini

  1. We used the Miracle Blanket and LOVED it. I thought I’d have to send James to college in it. He could get out of the Summer Swaddle.

  2. Ah, I could’ve written this post! Our baby, Harry, is 8.5 weeks old. I love the SwaddleMe but found its cousin, the SwaddlePod, worked a little bit better when he was a little bit little-er. It has a zipper instead of the velcro. I was having such a hard time getting the little guy’s arms to stay down when I used the velcro tabs on the SwaddleMe. Now that he’s bigger (guessing he’s 12.5-13 lbs) and about to outgrow the small size, it’s much easier to keep him swaddled.

    Good luck!

  3. I was going to recommend the Miracle Blanket also! It looks kind of scary, but it works!!!

  4. Swaddling takes a LOT of practice. I use a light weight muslin swaddling blanket (Aden&Anais brand) and it took weeks to get it really good. Don’t give up, it’s so great when you get it. The blankets with velcro and stuff are ok when they are really little, but they get too strong for it so quickly. I can tie up my baby in a swaddle really quickly now and it lasts all night.

    Also, my baby resists the pacifier, I have to force it on her (she screams and fights it) and then she finally takes it and calms right down. Who knows why she fights it, but it’s a daily struggle. I had glucose from the hospital, so I put a drop on the pacifier at times to “sweeten” the deal for her 🙂

  5. You might look into the Woombie. It’s great. It’s just a big, stretchy sack that zips up. They can’t get out of it, but they can more their arms around inside of it. I used a miracle blanket on my baby, but it was too restrictive. Then I tried the woombie and it’s great. You can even get a convertible woombie when you’re ready to transition your baby out of swaddling. If you google woombie you’ll find the page. You can also get the regular woombie (not any of the special ones) on Amazon with free shipping. Hope that helps.

  6. I have also heard from several mamas that the Miracle Blanket does indeed work miracles.

  7. I agree, the Miracle Blanket is the way to go!

  8. oh, you are going to get a long of comments about this!

    we have two thumb suckers in are house and they are now 7 and 5!!! When my son was a baby, I actually put his thumb in his mouth. i will never forget that he seems to have forgotten how to suck his thumb for like a day or so and would scream

    my kids didn’t like to be wrapped so they always had their hands free.

  9. We used the Aden and Anais muslin blankets and loved them. They’re huge, and kind of stretchy, so it’s easy to get it nice and tight. And they’re not heavy, so good for the summer. I’ve also heard great things about the Miracle Blanket and the Woombie though. Good luck! My son was swaddled until about 4 months when his startle reflex finally calmed down.

  10. I’m kind of wondering why you want him to find his thumb? I know sucking is a soothing reflex but I’m a huge believer in not starting anything I would have to wean my baby from; pacifiers and thumb sucking top the list! Everytime my little guy gets his fist near his mouth and tries to suck it, I move it and pray that he won’t find his thumb! Every baby is different though I guess and maybe it would be good for Owen. Good luck on swaddling your houdini!

  11. My baby has the same issue, so I just started swaddling him with his hands out. Seemed to work out just great!

  12. I’m a NICU nurse and we run into this problem all the time! It’s actually good that he knows to reach for his face. It’s how an infant re-aligns and ‘centers’ himself. It’s a self-soothing method and as long as you keep his nails filed (you can file them at this age instead of cutting them), he really won’t hurt himself. He can suck on his hands, too. AND you can wrap him like this with his hands out but his elbows bent and tucked in.

    Lay him on whatever blanket you’re using, have Ben stand above him and get Owen to hold onto Dad’s hand with both of his hands. Meanwhile, you wrap him as usual. Then Dad can let go and help the baby find his face, or hold onto his own hands. Does that make sense? I’ll e-mail you a picture of a little one who loves being wrapped like this! (Her mom gave the picture to me… love being a NICU nurse!)

  13. Lilly had the same problem. I swear I thought about duct tapping her in but I think she would have gotten out of that as well. We used the swaddle blankets with velcro but hated it. I’ve heard the Miracle Blanket is good as well as the muslin ones. Lilly didn’t like the big pacifiers they gave at the hospital, she prefered the smaller ones. Look out for those though … try and get rid of them by 1 year old. She’s almost 4 and still has it … it’s been a fight. Good luck my friend!

  14. Don’t encourage thumb sucking! I was a thumb sucker and it took until I was eight to stop and I was in junior high before I stopped ‘catching’ myself waking up sucking my thumb. Horrible.

  15. Don’t encourage the thumb sucking! When I was a kid I sucked my thumb! I continued to do it long past the time I would have been weaned from a pacifier because my parents couldn’t get my thumb away from me. It messed up my front teeth, and even into my middle school and teen years I’d sometimes start sucking my thumb in my sleep without knowing it. It took major intervention to get myself to stop sucking my thumb in my sleep! If sucking is really soothing, keep trying with different kinds of pacifiers. At least those you can take away later, and I believe they’ve come a long way in making them have less impact on a child’s teeth. Good luck!

  16. We use the miracle blankets with much success. I bought a few off ebay to test before I invested in a few, and they were a hit during the first few months. I, too, wanted Austin to be a thumb-sucker (because I figured once he found his thumb, it would always be there, even in the middle of the night, and I wouldn’t have to wake up and put it back in like I would with a paci) but he never really got it, sans the occasional “accident.” He ended up using me as a pacifier…not good. Very little sleep for anyone that first year. Anyhow, you will have horror stories both ways on the thumb-sucking and paci debate, so do what feels right! I would recommend trying out the miracle blanket, it was very helpful to us!

  17. Our little guy (now 10 weeks) liked to have his hands near his face, too. We used the SwaddleMe, and like Therese said, first swaddled him with his elbows bent and his hands near his face. That lasted all of a week before he could get out of it, so we swaddled him with one arm out for a few days, then with both arms out. We stopped using the swaddle all together when he was about 4 weeks old… I think. (Time goes by so fast!) So, we kind of weaned him off the swaddle and he slept just fine. He just sleeps in jammies, and now he has nights where he sleeps 7 or 8 hours.

    We had issues with him scratching his face, too. I filed his little nails every few days for the first couple of weeks and once they were separated from his skin I started clipping them. He still scratches himself sometimes, but those little cuts heal quick!

    He isn’t a big fan of the paci either – he’ll only take a Soothie pacifier and he still spits it out after a minute or two. He has gotten pretty good at finding his thumb when he lays down now, and I don’t try to stop him. I sucked my thumb until I was 6 and my teeth were a little screwed up, but braces fixed it. 🙂 To me, it is more important that he can soothe himself. In fact, now that he is good at sucking his thumb, we hardly use the pacifier, which I am really happy about.

  18. I’ve heard the Miracle Blanket and also The Woombie. I actually got online today to order one for my little guy (born 7/22). It’s strange to see how different all babies are because my other son only liked being swaddled at the beginning but my new baby absolutely has to be swaddled to fall asleep. I’m going to try the Woombie because I’ve heard such great things – good luck!

  19. I’m a simple person, so simple answers seem to work best for me.

    1. Hold your baby.
    2. Don’t worry about thumb sucking. People make it out to be a bigger deal than it actually is.

  20. I tried both the SwaddleMe and the Halo Sleep Sack. He outgrew both quickly and easily wiggled his way out. I just borrowed a Miracle Blanket from a friend to test before committing to buy it. The first night he was out in a flash, but I think that was due to my husband’s poor wrapping job, because last night he stayed in it the whole time. I’ve also heard that if the baby wears full pj’s underneath, it’s more difficult for them to get out – after all, bare skin is slippery! This is tough in the warmer months, though. While our dude loves to have his hands out and in his mouth, the reality is that he sleeps more soundly (and longer) when he’s wrapped up. Oh, and he’s a binky man, no doubt. A bit annoying for us, but it makes him happy! We use the Soothies from the hospital.

  21. My first child used a SwaddleMe for his first 6 months. He slept great. He slept through the night (7-8 hours) from the time he was 7 weeks old. So with the second baby, I figured I’d do it exactly the same way, but it didn’t work at all. He was (and sometimes still is) a terrible sleeper, and he was too big and too strong for the SwaddleMe right off the bat. He broke out of it every time we put it on him. He actually ripped the larger size one when he was only about 3 months old. I tried swaddling him in blankets, never with any luck, and there were no swaddle wraps in a big enough size for him at that point. So we went cold turkey and stopped swaddling him. It took a long time, but he eventually was able to sleep without being swaddled (even though he still woke up several times a night until he was well over a year old). I’ve heard great things about the Miracle Blanket, but I decided to skip it and save the money.
    As for a pacifier, my older son did not take one at all, and he never did get the hang of sucking his thumb. So we never had to deal with anything like that. My younger one refused the paci for a couple of months, then one day it just clicked. I had 2 different kinds and I tried the one he hadn’t used in a while, and he took it and never refused it again. He went through a Maggie Simpson period for a bit, but now he’s only allowed to have it in the crib.
    I guess my point was that you never know what’s going to work for any given child – just keep trying until you find something that works and don’t worry too much.

  22. Isn’t it interesting how babies are different from one to the next? My nephew has NEVER had a swaddle. He slept in a sleep sack (but with arms free) when he was 1-2 months old, but since then just sleeps in his crib with no blanket.

  23. I used the woombie too! It was awesome. I wish they made them big enough for adults. lol As for the sucking. My 4 kids all had pacifiers. My first 2 girls gave them up easily but my 2 boys forget it. One is 4 and still steals the babys. For my kids I preferred them. My sister in law was a thumbsucker along with with her 2 girls and they STILL suck their thumbs at ages 32, 14 and 12. AND they all have perfectly straight teeth. If hes going to suck his thumb then so what. At least you never have to worry about losing it. I swear ive bought over 500 pacifiers in my lifetime. PS please excuse my horrible punctuation my youngest tried cleaning my keyboard with a bottle of milk.

  24. When my kids started popping out of the swaddle, one of my twin mom friends taught me a crazy super swaddle. I posted instructions and pictures back in the day. 🙂

  25. Miracle blanket ALL THE WAY! I think I used it until my daughter was 9 months old….with her legs out of it…I was really worried about transitioning her out of it, but it just happened naturally. I would 100% recommend it!

  26. Thanks for this. I’ll try the miracle blanket. My 2 mo daughter breaks out of the swaddle me in no time to get her hands to her mouth but won’t fall asleep unless her arms are constrained- in she’s in the carseat or I’m holding her. She has no interest in a pacifier. I’m going to find a miracle blanket today. I want to sleep tonight!

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