It’s great to swaddle your baby to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and help your newborn sleep better. In this post, you will learn what swaddling is, why you should swaddle your baby, and 3 easy ways to swaddle so they won’t break out.
What Is Swaddling?
Swaddling your newborn is similar to wrapping them up like a little burrito. You wrap their body, legs, and arms up in a light blanket in order to keep them calm, happy, and sleeping better. In my 10 years as a sleep consultant, most families who wrap up their newborns get longer stretches of sleep in the early days.
Is it magic? Why does it work?
Why Swaddle Your Baby?
There are several reasons why you should swaddle your baby:
- The primary reason swaddling helps keep them calm is it helps them feel more like when they were in their mommy’s womb. Your baby didn’t have room to stretch out and, for months, found comfort in being tightly “held” in your belly. And, the movement, when walking, lulls babies to sleep.
- Dr. Harvey Karp in The Happiest Baby on the Block suggests that babies actually need more time in the womb (a “fourth trimester”), but if they had that time, they’d never get through the birth canal because their head would get too big. Therefore, swaddling extends the womb feeling for babies. Makes sense! Dr. Karp has been big on swaddling for a very long time and invented the SNOO which is a smart bassinet with a built-in swaddle to make it even easier.
- When babies are first adjusting to this big, cold world (compared to your belly), swaddling helps a lot to keep them calm and relaxed. Swaddling is especially helpful when babies haven’t outgrown the moro reflex (or startle reflex) when they startle themselves awake.
Now that we know why we swaddle babies, how can you do it like a pro such as a nurse in the hospital?
Learn How to Swaddle Your Baby – Step By Step
While there are a few swaddling techniques, learning to swaddle your baby so they don’t break out can be challenging, but it only involves a few steps:
- Lay the Blanket Down – On a semi-flat surface such as your bed or changing table, lay your blanket in a diamond shape with the corner of the square blanket at the top and bottom.
- Fold Down One Corner – Fold down the top corner approximately 6-10 inches.
- Lay Your Baby Down – With your baby’s shoulders at the top of the straight-edge of the top, lay your baby face-up on the blanket.
- Wrap the Right Side – You will straighten your baby’s right arm and wrap the blanket from the left across the right arm, your baby’s chest, and tuck it under the opposite side of their body. You will want the blanket fairly snug.
- Fold The Bottom Up – Next, fold the bottom up and cover your baby’s feet and body, tucking the end of the blanket into the blanket you pulled across in the previous step under your baby’s chin. Your baby should be able to move their legs so don’t make the blanket too snug in this step. In rare cases, tight swaddling can cause hip dysplasia. See more safety tips below.
- Wrap the Left Side – Now, straighten your baby’s left arm and wrap the blanket from the right across the left arm, the chest, and wrap the blanket snugly across your baby’s body. Voila!
How to Swaddle a Baby – Video Illustration
It can be difficult to learn how to swaddle a baby without a visual. Some people call it wrapping up a burrito and if you’ve ever made a burrito, it is a little similar. You want to fold the bottom of the blanket over the legs and then wrap up the sides, so the “contents” don’t fall out. 🙂 Here is a good video about how to swaddle your baby:
What if Your Newborn Doesn’t Like Being Swaddled? Do You Have to Swaddle Your Newborn?
Sometimes it appears your baby doesn’t like to be wrapped snugly. This could be true. But sometimes, they are just so overtired and wound up that they resist the process only because they are agitated and fatigued. It does not necessarily mean your baby doesn’t like it. After you wrap your newborn, try swaying and soothing them to see if they will calm down.
My son loved to be swaddled, but at first, he’d still cry once he was swaddled. He did not calm down instantly once he was swaddled. That was just his personality. But, he did sleep better and longer once he did fall asleep when he was swaddled.
You might also swaddle your baby with one arm out or both arms out if that’s what they prefer. Some babies become frustrated when they can’t get to their hands.
If your baby just never calms down, or if swaddling used to work and now it doesn’t, it might be time to stop swaddling.
Baby Breaking Out? 3 Easy Ways to Swaddle Your Baby
There are much easier ways to swaddle your baby, so they can’t break out. The main goal of wrapping up your baby this way is to help your baby feel secure and comforted. They like the “snug” feeling, which can be achieved with 3 products that make it sooooo much easier!
The Miracle Blanket
The Miracle Blanket was just the product I needed to swaddle my baby much easier. It has velcro so it’s much harder for babies to break out. I just couldn’t wrap the blanket tight enough, so having this made it super fast and easy. When your baby is fussy, it was a God send!
Love To Dream SwaddleUp Blanket
The Love To Dream SwaddleUp Blanket is one of my favorite products to recommend. I never got to use it because either I didn’t know about it or it didn’t exist when my boys were babies. But, we’ve had many families recommend this product to us in the past 10+ years we’ve been around. My favorite part about this blanket is it helps you transition away from swaddling in a more gradual fashion so you can do it when your baby is truly ready. When your baby is ready to stop being swaddled, simply zip off one or both of the “wings.” It’s that simple!
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Very similar to the Love To Dream SwaddleUp blanket, the Woombie offers you to keep your baby’s arms in or keep them out for a nice transition away from swaddling when your baby is ready. It’s comfortable and breathable for your baby and we hear from families who use this one all the time, too!
Is Swaddling Safe? Swaddle Safety Tips
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a baby is always put to bed without loose bedding or blankets, on their back, in a separate sleep space but in the same room such as a co-sleeper next to your bed.
Does that mean swaddling isn’t safe? After all, they don’t recommend a blanket.
Here are a few important safety tips when it comes to swaddling:
- Always place your baby on their back to sleep
- DO NOT swaddle too tightly. You should be able to get two fingers between your baby and the blanket under the chin.
- DO NOT swaddle a baby who is breaking out and leaving loose blankets in the crib or bassinet.
- DO NOT swaddle your baby all day. They need to be able to move to develop properly.
- DO NOT overheat the baby. Depending on how cool you keep your room, only one or two layers are required underneath the blanket. Be sure to keep your room at an ideal temperature.
- Stop swaddling as soon as your baby begins rolling from back to front.
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Can You Do Sleep Training While Baby is Swaddled?
A common question is whether you should do sleep training while your baby is swaddled. It never hurts to try to let your baby fall asleep on their own, even while swaddled. Some babies simply will fall asleep within a few minutes when they are put down awake. Other babies (like mine) will not! Allowing your baby a little space to figure it out can work in your favor. Some babies are very easy-going and adaptable.
In general, I do NOT recommend sleep training while your baby is swaddled, especially if you are using a variation of Cry It Out. Your baby needs to find a way to self-soothe whether it’s sucking on her fingers, thumb, or holding on to her sleep sack. But, if you put down your baby and he fusses or cries for 5 minutes or less, it appears you have a very good self-soother and you can continue swaddling.
What If Stopping the Swaddle is Hard?
You’re in luck! This entire site is dedicated to when things don’t come easy when it comes to your baby’s sleep! Make sure you get your FREE guide and helping your baby sleep through the night or consider our baby sleep consulting services, where you can get a Personalized Sleep Plan® for your family that you can feel good about.