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June 01, 2017 3 min read

You know that all too familiar story where your baby has fallen asleep in your arms. Then you carefully lean over the cot and lower them down and as soon as you move away — boom they’re awake and screaming hysterically as if you’re tossing them down a mine shaft.

Or worse, you actually manage to settle them to sleep and they’re completely still and before you know it they twitch or jerk and flail their arms about. Boom, they’re awake.  Well, that’s startle reflex for you.

For many babies, this scenario happens constantly and creates a cycle of poor sleeping patterns that only leads to frustrated and desperate parents.

Babies while asleep are in a state of dream sleep (REM). Your baby’s eyes dart back and forth under their eyelids, while the rest of their body is very still. They will have the occasional twitch and may do little jerks in their sleep known as the startle reflex (also know as the ‘moro’ reflex).


What is ‘startle reflex?

The startle reflex is one of many reflexes that babies are born with. It is an automatic reaction to a loud noise, or the sensation of falling and causes the baby to be startled and flail their arms. So if that baby is falling asleep and suddenly has a startle reflex, it will go from relaxed to hysterical in 0.6 seconds and when their arms move about, they no longer feel the safe environment of the womb – which was once the edges of their little world.

The good news is that the startle reflex usually disappears after around 3 or 4 months, but this may be later for some babies. This is why we are encouraged to swaddle babies from birth until the startle reflex has disappeared.

However for some babies, the enjoyment and security of being swaddled is preferred long after the startle reflex has disappeared but unfortunately, swaddling no longer keeps them satisfied. Babies grow stronger and have developed ‘Houdini’ skills mastering the art of escaping the swaddle, or worse have started rolling over while swaddled which poses a safety risk, and some simply don’t cope well unswaddled.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • When you descend your sleeping baby into its cot or bassinet, keep them as close to your body as possible for as long as possible. Hug your baby while you gradually bend over and contort yourself into a position that’s graced the cover of several chicky magazines. Then place your baby on the mattress holding them close to your chest for a few seconds before relinquishing contact with your body. Once a slumbering baby feels a mattress on their back, they usually feel secure enough not to flail. I know it’ll feel like you’re putting a container of nitroglycerine to bed, but it works.
  • Swaddle wrap your baby tightly to give them a sense of comfort and security. If you’ve ever had an herbal wrap at a spa, you know exactly what I mean. However, be careful not to wrap too tightly to avoid risk of hip dysplasia and shoulder joint displacement.
  • Lie down on the floor and feed your baby to sleep. Okay, you’re desperate. You haven’t slept in days. You’re convinced that your kid is implanted with a high-tech, sci-fi sensor that reacts every time you lower them down. Give yourself a break and lie down on the floor and feed your baby to sleep, then fall asleep yourself. No flailing necessary.
  • Try using a transitional swaddle suit like our SLEEPY HUGS® sleep suit, to transition your baby gently from swaddled arms to free arms in no time.  

What makes the SLEEPY HUGS sleep suit different?

The SLEEPY HUGS® sleep suit is a totally enclosed sleep suit designed to allow your baby to move their arms freely while still providing an enclosed, secure feeling that they enjoy. It has a slight resistance in the arms that allows them to move their arms around freely yet gives them that ‘edge’ feeling (similar to being in the womb), so when they experience a startle reflex, they immediately feel secure.

The SLEEPY HUGS® sleep suit is the only swaddle transitioning sleep suit of its kind that doesn’t restrict your baby’s arms to any one position, making it perfectly safe for babies who start to roll onto their tummy during sleep and allows baby to sleep in their most comfortable and natural sleeping position.