Chances are, you already know what a swaddle is—the blanket that you wrap your infant up in like a burrito to foster calmness and sleep. But how do you actually go about using it? Your technique is important. Loose blankets aren’t recommended for sleeping infants (because they can cause suffocation), so if a swaddle gets loose, it can create an unsafe environment. Then again, if you wrap it too tightly, that may cause your infant to overheat. Once you get the hang of it, though, the technique isn’t hard or complicated. These are the steps to follow to do it correctly:
Sleep Training Tips for Children
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- Take a large, relatively thin blanket (receiving blankets work best), place it on a flat surface so it looks like a diamond, and turn the top corner down a little. Place your baby on the blanket on his back with his head lying on the edge that you folded down. A quick note about what your baby should be wearing: Swaddling can make a baby toasty, so dress him in only light clothing or leave him naked with just a diaper on.
- Take the right corner of the blanket and wrap it around your baby, tucking it under her left side (the right arm should be in the blanket, down by her side while the left arm should be free). You will probably need to keep one hand on your baby to make sure she doesn’t move too much during this process.
- Then take the bottom corner and bring it up, tucking it under one of your baby’s shoulders. This part is important because you don’t want the blanket to be too tight around your baby’s feet. Make sure that his feet can move easily and that his hips and knees can move around.
- Take the final corner on the left and bring it across your baby’s body, tucking it underneath (have the left arm secure inside the swaddle down at her side). At this point, only the baby’s head and neck should be visible.
- That’s it! Leave your baby on his back and enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with a calm or sleeping baby.
For a brand new mama, how to swaddle her baby can seem like some secret jujitsu that only nurses and midwives have mastered. I remember watching the nurses swaddle our first baby at the birth center and marveling at their skilled hands. And yet, when I tried to swaddle our son he’d break free in a matter of minutes.
But soon my husband and I got the hang of it. And we learned two key things:
- There is a swaddle for every baby (blanket swaddle and swaddling clothes) and for every mama (who knew zippers could be involved?)
- With some helpful tips for swaddling success, you too can swaddle like a pro!
What is Swaddling?
Swaddling a baby is a technique practiced throughout the world for thousands of years (so it must be good, right?) which can help calm and prepare baby for sleep.
Swaddling involves snugly wrapping up your baby in either a blanket or swaddle clothing designed for baby’s comfort and safety.
Swaddling is meant only for the first few months of baby’s life.
Why Do Babies Benefit From Swaddling?
Babies have a startle reflex (also known as a Moro reflex) which can wake them from an otherwise peaceful sleep. Keeping your baby’s arms bound in a swaddle can prevent this reflex from waking them up.
Swaddling also keeps your newborn warm and reminds him or her of the comforting confines of the womb (it’s a big adjustment moving out of a one bedroom apartment into a mansion). Swaddling can help with the transition to life outside of their mother.
Additionally, keeping tiny baby mittens over the razor-sharp fingernails babies are born with is not easy. Swaddling can keep them from scratching their beautiful tiny face.
All of these calming benefits can also prepare baby for sleep.
Three Ways to Swaddle a Baby
For a very long time I was under the impression there was only one way to swaddle a newborn. The diamond swaddle was the only technique I knew.
Luckily, for those of us who like to have options, there are three excellent swaddling techniques. Life is not the same every day, our time and patience for day-to-day operations of motherhood changes, and so can our swaddling techniques.
1. The diamond swaddle
- Lay a blanket down on a safe, flat place for baby in a diamond shape/position with the top-most corner folded down 4-6 inches for baby’s head.
- Lay baby down on their back in the center of the blanket with their neck on the folded corner.
- Pull the left side over and snugly tuck under baby, making sure to keep baby’s hips loose. Never pull their legs straight or force their joints as this could cause hip dysplasia.
- Pull the bottom corner up and over baby’s left shoulder and then wrap the last corner all the way around baby and tuck into the little blanket pocket you’ve created on their front.
Remember to avoid having the blanket rub up against baby’s cheek, because it can cause baby to begin rooting at a time when you do not want them to.
It’s okay if your baby swaddle doesn’t look picture-perfect the first time, or the second time, or even the third time. Take a breath, take your time, and keep trying. Your baby might be crying, and you’ll want to cry too, because you can’t get their little arms to stay in, but you will get it. Remember, many babies calm down once they feel that security in the swaddle.
Some people maintain that swaddling a baby is a one-two-three process. I have found it can sometimes take more steps than that. If the diamond swaddle isn’t for you, don’t worry, there are other ways.
2. Square swaddle or quick swaddle
- Lay a blanket down in a safe, flat place for baby in a square shape/position folding the top right corner down about 4-6 inches for baby’s head.
- Lay baby down on their back on the blanket with their neck at the top of the fold; baby will be diagonal across the blanket.
- Pull the right side over and snugly tuck under baby (always making sure they have frog legs/loose hips).
- Pull the left side over, and snugly tuck under baby.
- Tuck the bottom of the blanket behind baby and you’re good to go.
Similar to this illustration, except tucking the bottom of blanket behind your baby.
The diamond swaddle seems beautifully perfect and what I always imagine when I think of a quintessential swaddle. Sometimes life does not allow for the perfect swaddle, however. Life is messy; the water is boiling over in the pot, you have that deadline to meet, and taking fifteen minutes to try to swaddle baby is unrealistic (though with practice, the diamond doesn’t have to take so long).
Sometimes time is against us, other children demand our attention, or you just need to calm baby down so you can get work done (or watch Netflix). Whatever the reason, the square swaddle can be just as effective as the diamond swaddle in calming baby but takes a fraction of the time.
Looking for an even faster option?
3. Sleep sack swaddle
This method involves a special sleepsack swaddle, but once you’ve got one it’s super simple.
- Put baby in sleep sack like you would a onesie or footie pajamas
- Zip sleep sack
- Wrap and Velcro
These steps will vary depending on which product you purchase and prefer. We will show you some of our favorites later on in this article. Whether you don’t have enough time or want the simplicity of not having to wrap baby “just so,” a sleep sack is a fine option.
Does Swaddling Work for All Babies?
No. Some children will resist swaddling like the plague. At the same time, you want to try several different swaddles before giving up completely; but bottom line, some children will not be comforted by a swaddle so never force it to work.
A Baby Swaddle is Not Appropriate For:
- Co-sleeping babies because they cannot move covers from their face or alert their parents when they are too close.
- Babies who actively resist swaddling—this is meant to be a comfort, not a punishment.
- Babies who can roll over, so around 2 months (or 8 weeks) old.
- Babies at a higher risk of SIDS.
- Babies in hot environments (especially homes without air conditioning), as baby could be dangerously overheated.
If your baby does not like being swaddled, try wrapping him or her in a lightweight blanket or trying the sleep sack option, as the tight restrained feeling might be what your baby is resisting.
Never put baby to bed with loose bedding or blankets, however, as that is a suffocation risk. Always place baby down to sleep on his or her back.
When to Stop Swaddling?
It is important to remember that swaddling is not recommended once baby can roll over, as the blanket begins to pose a risk for suffocation. Many parents stop swaddling baby after one month when she begins to hold her head up.
Swaddling will inhibit motor development beginning around two months. This is when the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents stop swaddling. When baby is more active during tummy time, that is a good indicator that they are outgrowing the swaddle.
You might also find that as your baby grows in their ability to move, they will not want to be swaddled. This is the time when I began to turn my babies into burritos by doing a looser “burrito wrap,” not a swaddle. I sometimes still call our two-year-old “burrito baby” when she’s wrapped in a towel. But if you are still swaddling, what are the best products out there? Here are some of our favorites:
- Aden + anais muslin swaddle plus is a light-weight 100% natural cotton muslin that’s great for diamond swaddling or the square swaddle. Lilbaby is similar to the aden and anais swaddle but uses 100% organic cotton muslin and is less expensive.
- Woombie is cult classic, one-zip option that many parents swear by.
- The Miracle Blanket Swaddle is 100% cotton and gives parents control in wrapping up their baby without the headache of coordinating corners.
- SwaddleMe is an excellent and affordable Velcro option while Halo Sleepsack has a winter weight option for those living in colder climates.
- This Anna & Eve Swaddle Strap is only for baby’s arms and can be versatile for any weather. It doesn’t run the risk of impacting baby’s hips either, though it admittedly looks a little like a baby straight-jacket!
- As baby is transitioning out of swaddling, these are two good options: Swaddle Up and the Zipadee-Zip. Paloma loved the Zipadee-Zip!
With so many options, you don’t have to settle with wrestling the corners of a blanket. The right way to swaddle a baby is whatever soothes him or her, makes mom feel as if her baby is safe, but doesn’t make mom want to pull her hair out.
What to Do When Baby Outgrows the Swaddle
When babies first outgrow the swaddle, somewhere between 2-3 months of age, the transition may be a bit challenging to say the least. Since baby is used to being snug as a bug, normal movement may wake them up at first and cause a bit of a sleep regression. Brutal, I know!
To prevent this from happening, try a transition swaddle. I swear this thing saved my life! My daughter went from waking herself up constantly to sleeping through the night again. Ahhh…
Slowly Reducing Swaddle
You could also try slowly transitioning baby out of the traditional swaddle over the course of a week or so. Start by leaving just one arm out of the swaddle. A few nights later, remove the other arm from the swaddle.
Remember, all babies develop at different rates. If your baby is still waking him/herself up multiple times per night, wait a week and try again.
Once baby has mastered sleeping with both arms out of the swaddle, they can sleep in their pajamas or in a wearable blanket like this one. Either way is perfectly fine, but some mamas and papas swear the wearable blanket helps their baby sleep. Do what works for you!
How To Swaddle Your Baby
Making your baby into a mini burrito can be the fast-track to a happy sleeper, but only if you can do it correctly and safely!
Having loose objects near your infant increases the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome — better known as SIDS. These loose objects can include blankets, pillows, and toys.
Swaddling offers an alternative to a loose blanket by creating a tight wrapping around them that will not slip or cover their face (source).
A safe swaddle is one tight enough to hold their limbs secure and give them pleasant confinement, but not so tight that they struggle to kick their legs and have their circulation cut off.
Swaddling safety should be observed at all times — here are a few key rules to follow:
- Never place a swaddled baby on an uneven or sloped surface.
- Always lay your swaddled baby on their back.
- Check on your swaddled baby every so often.
- Monitor your baby’s temperature, especially in the summer.
Dana’s Favourite Technique:
This wrapping style is a hybrid of several, it results in a nice firm swaddle that allows baby to sleep in a natural ‘flexed’ position, with their hands under their chin. The up side to a swaddle like this is that if you need a nappy change in the night, you can leave the top half wrapped and just unwrap the bottom half. Also babies love to have their hands near their faces. This technique allows this without their hands escaping and scratching their faces or allowing them to startle.
This is the more traditional swaddling method that many websites demonstrate and recommend.
How do we swaddle a baby?
There are two basic methods of swaddling a baby. In the remainder of this article, we will discuss them and analyze the pros and cons of both.
First and foremost, the two methods differ mainly with respect to what we will use to wrap our babies in. Before getting started, we need to decide if we want to use the traditional blanket or the more contemporary specialized swaddle wrap.
They both have their advantages and disadvantages, but the final decision will depend on our personal preference.
The Traditional Method: Swaddling with a Blanket.
Before actually wrapping a blanket snugly around our babies’ bodies, we need to make sure it’s safe for them. It’s best if the blanket is made of cotton, bamboo, muslin, or some such breathable material. We want to avoid causing discomfort to our babies by overheating their bodies.
Aside from the type of material the blanket is made of, we also need to think about its size. If we’re swaddling a newborn, a blanket that is 44×44 inches big will do. However, if we’re swaddling a bigger baby, we need a blanket that is 47×47 inches big.
How do we do it?
Before getting started, we’d like to point out that there’s more than one way to swaddle a baby with a blanket. We chose to describe the following method as it seemed easy to master. However, there’s no harm in adapting the technique if it’s necessary. The basic technique goes as follows:
1st step: We need to make sure that we place the blanket down flat so that it is in a diamond shape. Then, we should fold the upper point towards us.
2nd step: The baby should be facing up when we place it on the blanket. Furthermore, its head should be positioned above the folded edge, whereas the shoulders should be below it.
3rd step: To begin swaddling, we need to straighten our baby’s right arm. Then, we should take the blanket’s left corner and wrap it over the baby’s body. Afterward, we need to make sure that we tuck the corner safely under the baby’s left side.
4th step: Next, we need to lift the bottom point of the blanket and fold it over our baby’s legs. It shouldn’t be too tight.
5th step: Moving on, we need to straighten our baby’s left arm. Then, we need to take the blanket’s right corner and wrap it over the baby’s body. Afterward, we need to ensure that we tuck the corner safely under the baby’s bottom.
Before leaving the baby sound asleep, we need to make sure that the swaddle is neither too tight nor too loose. The baby will need some room to breathe – we need to ensure that at least two of our fingers can fit easily between the blanket and the baby’s chest. We also need to make sure that the blanket is not too tight around the hips.
The downside of the traditional method
One serious disadvantage of the traditional swaddling method is that the technique needs to be perfect in order to be effective. If the wrap is too tight, it could cause injuries to the baby. If, on the other hand, it is too loose, the baby will wiggle free. Therefore, we need to make sure that the swaddle is neither of the two.
The Easier Method: Swaddling with a Specialized Swaddle Wrap.
As you probably noticed, the traditional swaddling method requires great coordination. As some of us might struggle with that, specialized swaddle wraps come as a true blessing.
Namely, swaddling a baby with them requires virtually no practice whatsoever. All we need to do is:
- Place our baby in the wrap.
- Straighten the baby’s arms.
- Fasten the sides.
A piece of cake, right?
What’s more, specialized swaddle wraps come with additional features that will make our lives much easier. For instance, some wraps feature leg pouches that we can open, which makes overnight diaper changes much less arduous.
The downside of the easier method
We have to be honest. It didn’t come as a surprise to us that something as easy as this method comes with a catch. However, this one might not be so serious.
Namely, specialized swaddle wraps come in a limited set of sizes. The thing is, babies don’t. Babies grow, develop and wiggle differently. Therefore, there is a high chance that we will have to go through a number of swaddle wraps before we find the perfect one for our baby.
A Few Other Things to Remember When Swaddling
- Swaddling is not a risk-free sleep technique. We need to pay special attention to our baby’s body temperature and hip placement. Most importantly, we must always ensure that the baby is sleeping on its back.
- Our baby should never wear a hat while sleeping in a swaddle. It is a great suffocation risk, especially if the baby tends to wiggle while sleeping. It is a much better idea that we leave the baby to sleep in the shade or in a cool room.
Your baby is not sleeping. He struggles to fall asleep or stay asleep for long. He only wants to sleep in your arms. The minute you lay him down, he wakes up! He hates the swaddle. You are exhausted and frustrated!
Does this sound familiar?
How do you swaddle your baby for better sleep? As a postpartum doula, I have witnessed countless times “the miracle of the swaddle” in calming a fussy baby.
There is a reason that parents and healthcare workers use this age-old practice…. it works!
Swaddling has literally been used for centuries and by various cultures around the world.
Since the launch of the “Back-to-Sleep Campaign” in 1994, (now known as the Safe to Sleep Campaign) we have seen a resurgence in the widespread use of swaddling. This is because babies tend to startle more easily in this sleep position.
Is it Safe to Swaddle?
When used properly, it is quite safe and effective in calming a baby. (See My Favorite Swaddling Tips below to find out more about safe swaddle use!)
There has been recent controversy over swaddling, however. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released the results of a 2016 study that called into question this age-old practice.
Swaddling and SIDS
Unfortunately, the study, which was a meta-analysis, was misrepresented in the news media.
While there are some potential risk factors with swaddling older babies, there is no proven connection between swaddling and SIDS.
Many healthcare professionals and newborn experts criticized the media’s interpretation of the study. This article helps to explain the results of the study and puts it into proper perspective for parents.
It’s unfortunate that many parents were scared off by swaddling after that, when, in fact, swaddling is an evidence-based method of calming and soothing a baby that has been used for centuries!
Is My Baby too Warm in the Swaddle?
Many parents are concerned if their baby will over-heat in a swaddle. It’s a good idea to choose natural fibers like cotton when swaddling and take into consideration the temperature of your home.
If you have air-conditioning in the summer months, then using a fleece swaddle might be appropriate. If however, your home is warm, then choose a light-weight muslin one.
A good test for baby’s temperature is to feel their back between their shoulder blades. A baby may have cold hands and be perfectly warm otherwise!
When thinking about your baby’s body temperature, remember that they are probably not as warm as you are, since they are sleeping most of the time.
Keep in mind, for safe sleep recommendations, the swaddle takes the place of a blanket, so they probably appreciate the added warmth. Be sure to use common sense and take into consideration your own unique home environment!
The Blanket Swaddle
Perhaps you are a bit nostalgic or prefer a DIY method! You can also use a receiving blanket for swaddling. I am including a video with 3 different swaddling methods for blanket swaddling:
Great swaddling video link here:
Have you ever heard of bath swaddling when bathing your baby? It’s true! Bath swaddling can be used to keep your baby cozy and warm during his bath! Find out more in this post.
Safe Sleep Practices
It’s a very good idea for all new parents to be familiar with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Safe Sleep Recommendations. The AAP Guidelines for Infant Sleep Safety and SIDS Risk Reduction are intended to help prevent SIDS and other tragic sleep-related deaths. A desperate, sleep-deprived parent will find creative ways to get some sleep, but not every sleep situation is safe for your baby. For example, a swing or an inclined chair is fine for supervised, daytime napping, but not recommended as safe alternatives for overnight sleep. Find the guidelines here.
30 Easy Sleep Tips for New Parents!
Having a newborn is hard! The greatest challenge for most new parents is loss of sleep. How can you get more sleep with your newborn? It is possible! My new eBook shows you how. This is NOT your average book on baby sleep, but an easy step-by-step, hands-on survival guide for new parents! I teach new parents how to maximize their sleep during the postpartum period.
I have compiled all my favorite doula tips into a very practical and useful book on sleep for new parents. It’s called 30 Sleep Hacks for New Parents: A Sleep Survival Guide for Parents of Newborns. This quick read is a very affordable eBook that will be a game changer for your family!
Download your copy here.
Professional Sleep Coaching!
While it is too early to begin sleep training with a newborn, it is not too early to help your baby develop some good sleep associations and habits! This online program is designed to support new parents by avoiding bad sleep habits and preparing a baby ages 0-6 months to be ready for sleep training after 6 months. This is not a “cry-it-out” program, but rather a gentle approach that uses behavior modification techniques to gradually teach your baby to self-sooth, fall asleep and stay asleep. Gentle Baby Solutions 0-6 month program focuses on helping new parents establish good habits and paves the way for future sleep training efforts. Check out this online program here.
They also have an online program for older babies and children called Gentle Sleep Solutions.
What’s your favorite swaddle? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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