Swaddles vs Sleep Sacks: What Are the Differences, Pros & Cons?

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A baby sleeping in a swaddle blanket

It’s common knowledge that when a new baby arrives, sleeping parents become a thing of the past; at least for a little while.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that parents want to try everything possible to help their little darlings sleep for longer periods of time. Quite often, what works for your baby might be different than what works for another bundle of joy; so knowing the different options out there is essential.

Some of the many things that parents use to help their babies sleep are swaddles or sleep sacks; or perhaps even both!

Babies are used to being snug and cozy inside the womb for roughly nine months; therefore, when they come out into the big, wide-open world things can be a little jarring.

Swaddles and sleep sacks are designed to help mimic that tight, comforting squeeze but to varying degrees.

In this article, I want to break down the differences between swaddles vs sleep sacks and help you decide which one is right for you. So what’s the difference?

The main difference between swaddles and sleep sacks is that swaddles are designed to completely wrap your baby tight so that there is little to no mobility in the arms and legs, where sleep sacks have arm-holes so that your baby’s arms can move freely, and the legs are less confined so that some mobility is still present.

Swaddling is a must for newborns, but as they grow, they may need the extra mobility of a sleep sack.

Let’s take a little bit of a closer look at this comparison.


Swaddles Explained

Tightly swaddled newborn baby
StarMama/Flickr

A swaddle is basically a thin, soft blanket that makes your baby look like an adorable, human burrito when wrapped up tightly.

Swaddles are designed to completely wrap snugly around your baby, keeping his arms and legs confined. 

Swaddles mimic the feeling that your baby experienced inside of the womb so that he is more likely to sleep more soundly.

One of the ways swaddles can help your baby sleep for a longer period of time is that they can prevent your baby from waking up due to the Moro Reflex — that little jerk your baby makes when he’s sleeping; sometimes you might refer to it as “jumping in your sleep.”

The main uses of swaddles are:

  • To mimic the same feeling that your baby had while in the womb
  • To provide a snug and secure sleeping environment
  • To help your baby sleep more soundly and for a longer period of time (which means you can sleep more soundly and for a longer period of time)

Swaddles are only for newborns and infants since they completely suppress mobility. Therefore, once your baby is able to roll over, a swaddle is no longer safe. Your baby would not be able to lift herself up if she rolled onto her tummy because her arms would be constricted.

Swaddles come in many different styles and colors. You can get a swaddle blanket that is essentially a large cloth square (usually 36” or 48”) and completely wrap your baby yourself.

There is a certain way to perform the perfect swaddle so that your baby stays snug and tight, and it takes a little bit of practice to get it right.

You can also get swaddles that are easier to use because you basically slip your baby into a sleeve, and there are flaps that can be pulled snugly across the chest and arms and secured in place with velcro closures.

(These were my favorite when my daughter was young.)

Swaddles also come in various materials so that you can choose the ones that are best for the season.

For example, during warmer months you most likely will want to use lightweight materials like muslin or cotton.

I like velcro-assisted swaddles like these (Amazon link) that take some of the pressure off of your swaddling technique!


Pros and cons of swaddles

Pros

  • Can help lengthen baby’s sleep: Swaddles can provide a snug fit that makes babies feel like they are back in the womb, encouraging them to sleep longer and more soundly.
  • Keeps baby secure: Swaddles completely wrap your baby, providing the ultimate sense of security.

Cons

  • Diaper changing can be a pain: Depending on what type of swaddle you have, re-swaddling your baby every time she needs a new diaper can get pretty tiresome, especially since newborns go through about 10 diapers a day.
  • Need to be careful not to keep legs too tight: Swaddles are designed to tightly wrap your baby, but make sure that your baby’s legs have a tiny bit of room to prevent hip dysplasia (looseness of the hip joint).
  • Can only be used for a few months: Once your baby can roll over, you should no longer use a swaddle to avoid the risk of suffocation.
  • Can be tricky to perfect the technique: If you opt for the swaddle blanket, it might take some time for you to get the swaddle technique down, but with practice, you can do it. If you continue to have difficulty, you can always get one of the easier models that uses a velcro flap to secure the baby.

Sleep Sacks Explained

Baby sleeping in sleep sack
TwoPointsCouture/Flickr

Sleep sacks, or sleepsacks, are basically wearable blankets designed to help keep a baby warm and also provide a sense of security.

Sleep sacks can sometimes also be used as swaddles first and then convert to sleep sacks later.

Sleep sacks keep your baby’s legs inside of the sack but offer a looser fit to allow for more mobility, and there are arm holes (or sleeves) so that your baby’s arms are completely free.

Since they provide more mobility, sleep sacks can be used by older babies and even toddlers. They can also be easier for diaper changes since they simply zip up the front.

Sleep sacks come in a number of different colors and styles, and also hybrid versions; which are the ones that can double as swaddles.

Sleep sacks also come in different sizes since they can be used by a wider age range of babies and toddlers.

Once your baby starts to consistently break free of her swaddle, it’s time to consider moving her into a sleep sack. 

The main uses of sleep sacks are:

  • To provide a warm, snug sleeping option for your baby
  • To give your baby a little more mobility, especially if she is starting to get out of her swaddles

Pros and cons of sleep sacks

Pros

  • Easy to use: Sleep sacks are essentially bags for your baby. You just slip her legs into the bag, her arms through the armholes and then zip it up.
  • Good for babies that can roll over: Since sleep sacks leave your baby’s arms free, they are safe for babies who can roll over.

Cons

  • Less snug: For newborns and infants who crave the feeling of the womb, sleep sacks may not provide that super snug feeling that can help your baby stay asleep for longer periods of time.

Halo makes an excellent and adorable line of sleep sacks for older babies and toddlers. Check them out on Amazon using the link.


Wrapping Up

That about sums it up when it comes to swaddles vs. sleep sacks!

The biggest difference between the two is the level of mobility that they give to your baby. Swaddles completely wrap baby tight, allowing for minimal to no movement in the arms and legs, while sleep sacks allow your baby to move her arms freely and move her legs more than with a swaddle.

Swaddles and sleep sacks are both good options for keeping your baby warm and secure at night and during naps, and they both come in a large selection of styles, colors, and materials.

Swaddles are designed to be used exclusively by infants and newborns, while sleep sacks can be used by infants, newborns, older babies, and even toddlers.

I hope this helps, parents, and good luck with your search!

Before you go, check out more from my Baby Stuff Explained series:

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