Find out how to swaddle your baby, step by step. Plus, learn benefits of swaddling, the right age to swaddle, and tips for a smoother swaddling process.
Swaddling means wrapping your little one snugly in a blanket or cloth, in a way that makes your little one look like a “baby burrito.”
Swaddling your newborn can help make them more comfortable and sleep more soundly. Here’s how to swaddle your newborn, step by step. Plus, learn how to keep baby safe when you swaddle them, and when to stop swaddling your little one.
Why swaddle your newborn?
There are several benefits of swaddling your newborn, including these:
It feels like the womb: Swaddling mimics the tight, snug environment of the womb. It helps babies get used to life outside the womb by providing a comforting, familiar feeling. So, when baby is swaddled, they may feel safer and more secure.
It can help baby sleep more soundly: The safety and security of the swaddle can have a calming effect on baby and lead to better, longer stretches of sleep.
It can help calm fussiness: The soothing effect of the swaddle can sometimes help cut down on baby’s fussy times.
It warms baby up: Newborns have trouble regulating their temperature, so it’s easy for them to lose heat on cooler nights. Swaddling helps keep the warmth close to baby’s body.
It works against the Moro reflex: If baby jerks their arms or legs around when they’re sleeping, this could trigger their Moro reflex (startle reflex) and awaken them from their sleep. Swaddling helps prevent these motions and helps stop the Moro reflex from triggering.
How to swaddle your baby?
Ready to swaddle your little one? Here’s how to do it, step by step:
- On a flat surface, lay the swaddle blanket flat, so it’s in the shape of a diamond (one corner pointing up). Fold down the top corner about 6 inches, and keep the folded part flat.
- Lay baby face up on the blanket. Their head should be above the fold, their neck should be on or close to the folded edge, their shoulders should be in line with the folded edge, and their body should point straight down to the bottom corner. Straighten baby’s left arm.
- Wrap the right corner – the side of the blanket that’s closest to her left arm – over baby’s left arm. Tuck the corner you just wrapped baby in under their right armpit and behind their back. This fold should be snug but not overly tight. At this time, baby’s left arm should be covered and their right arm should still be able to move. Keep baby’s hips loose during the process – never force their legs into a certain position, and never straighten their legs
- Fold the bottom corner of the blanket over baby’s feet and legs, and up towards baby’s body. Cover baby’s right arm with this corner. Then pull the corner over baby’s right shoulder and tuck it behind baby’s back. Make sure this fold is loose enough that baby’s hips can still move.
- Straighten baby’s right arm. Wrap the left corner of the blanket over baby’s right arm, and all the way around baby’s chest. Tuck that corner behind baby’s back.
- The swaddle is finished, but now it’s time to check it. The swaddle should be tight enough that baby can’t wriggle out, but loose enough that their hips can move. Use the three-finger check to make sure it is not too tight – make sure you can fit two to three fingers between baby’s chest and the swaddle blanket.
Swaddling tips for parents
- Choose a swaddle made from a breathable material (such as cotton) to reduce baby’s risk of overheating.
- When folding, don’t let the blanket touch baby’s cheek. This could trigger baby’s rooting reflex and leave them confused when they can’t find a breast or bottle to drink from.
- If baby is fussy during the swaddle process, try other calming methods like rocking them or shushing them right after you finish wrapping the swaddle.
- If it seems like baby wants their arms free, you can swaddle them with one or both arms loose. You’ll just tuck all the swaddle folds under their arms.
- If baby is especially wiggly when you try to swaddle them, stop and wait a few minutes before trying to swaddle them again.
- If the swaddle seems too loose, start over or try a different blanket. Don’t get discouraged, as swaddling can take some practice!
- If you need help with swaddling, feel free to talk to a nurse or other healthcare professional – or watch a YouTube video like the one below for more help.
The Perinatal Education Coordinator at Woman’s Hospital (Baton Rouge), Angela Hammett, demonstrates the swaddling process.
At what age should you swaddle your baby? And how old is too old to swaddle?
Swaddling is very beneficial for the youngest babies – from when they’re just born to around 2-3 months of age.
But older babies are more mobile during sleep, so they could break free from their swaddle. And if a swaddle blanket comes undone, this becomes a safety hazard for baby (loose blankets in baby’s sleep area can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS).
Swaddling a baby who’s too old for a swaddle can also keep them from practicing important motor skills, which are needed for healthy growth.
So, swaddle your young baby (birth-2 months) as often as you like.
But, as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises, stop swaddling your baby when they begin trying to roll over. This usually happens between 2 and 3 months of age.
Once baby can roll over, there’s an increased risk of SIDS if they end up rolling onto their stomach when they are swaddled.
When baby is too old for swaddling but still needs warmth, you can switch over to a sleep sack (wearable blanket) that lets baby freely move their arms and legs.
Is it safe to swaddle babies?
As long as you do it in the correct way, and baby isn't trying to roll over yet, it’s perfectly safe to swaddle your young baby for both naps and at night. Follow these guidelines for safe swaddling:
Back to sleep, every sleep: Whether they’re swaddled or not, always put baby to sleep on their back, for both naps and at night. This is the safest way for baby to sleep, and reduces the risk of SIDS.
Use the swaddle only: The swaddle and baby’s clothing should be the only things covering baby. Baby should be placed in a bare crib, as loose blankets and other objects increase SIDS risk.
Tuck the swaddle’s bottom underneath baby: That way, it isn’t a loose blanket part, and it will be far less likely to come undone.
Keep baby’s hips safe: You don’t want to swaddle your little one too tightly, as too tight a swaddle can lead to a hip problem called hip dysplasia. Make sure you can fit two to three fingers between baby’s chest and the swaddle blanket – don’t wrap the swaddle too tight around the neck. Also, never straighten baby’s legs to swaddle them. Leave the bottom of the swaddle loose enough that their legs can bend up and out, and check that their hips can move.
Make sure baby doesn’t get too warm: Don’t dress baby in too many layers for sleep, especially if you are bundling them up in a tight swaddle. Overheating is another factor that could increase SIDS risk. Keep baby’s room between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and all they should need for warmth are their pajamas and their swaddle. If baby has a heat rash, is sweating, is breathing rapidly, has flushed cheeks, or has damp hair, these are all signs that baby may be overheating in the swaddle, and could be overdressed.
Use the built-in check-in times: Swaddling baby overnight is just as safe as swaddling for naps, as long as you follow the above guidelines. And you will have opportunities to check on them during the night. After all, young babies will wake up in the middle of the night because they’re hungry. You can check in more often if this helps reassure you, but this isn’t necessary.
What if my baby doesn’t like swaddling?
It’s perfectly fine to skip swaddling if your little one consistently resists it. If they try to free themself every single time, and you’re worried they’ll loosen themself, a wearable blanket may be a better option. You might also try swaddling with baby’s arms out before giving up on swaddling.
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