If you can master the art of wrapping your baby up in a nice, safe swaddle, then you may have the ticket to a more settled, restful night of sleep with your newborn!
You may have noticed that when you had your baby, they were returned to you as a little baby burrito.
That’s because swaddling mimics that womb feeling your little one has had for the last 9 months! It is very soothing for them to be wrapped up nice and cozy in a swaddle.
In this article, we will discuss all things swaddling including:
- how long do you swaddle a baby
- how to swaddle a baby: step by step
- how to swaddle a baby: youtube
- best way to swaddle a baby
- how long to swaddle a baby per day
- newborn baby swaddle
- how to swaddle a baby for sleep
- how long to swaddle baby for sleep
What is swaddling and what are the benefits?
Swaddling is an ancient practice of wrapping our babies up in a thin blanket or cloth. It is obviously super cute, but also serves a purpose! Swaddling refers to the restrained movement of their arms.
If their arms are free, they are not swaddled. I find it is important to make that distinction!
- Swaddling helps your little one to feel safe and secure outside of the womb.
- It muffles the moro reflex to prevent them from flailing their limbs and waking themselves up unnecessarily (this blog goes into detail about the Moro reflex)
- It keeps them warm until they can regulate their temperature better
- Improves sleep (but be realistic about newborn sleep-- here is a blog for more info!)
- Swaddling decreases anxiety
- Keeps baby from scratching their face
- Eliminates the need for other objects in the crib like a lovey or loose blanket
- Swaddling mimics touch
- Helps to maintain the back to sleep safe sleep rule
- Swaddling soothes colicky babies
- Swaddling can improve maternal mood; from this study, “Studies note that swaddling is thus associated with a “significant reduction of maternal anxiety, and an increase in parental satisfaction”
Swaddling is not a new practice. Most presume this started in the palaeolithic era, but perhaps most famously is the reference of Jesus being swaddled by Mary when he was born in the New Testament of the Bible.
According to wikipedia, “Swaddling is still practised worldwide. In some countries, swaddling is the standard treatment of babies. In Turkey, for instance, 93.1% of all babies become swaddled in the traditional way. According to the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF), 39% of all documented contemporary non-industrialized cultures show swaddling practices; further 19% use other methods of movement restriction for infants.
Some authors assume that the popularity of swaddling is growing in the U.S., Great Britain and the Netherlands. A British sample showed up 19.4% of the babies are swaddled at night.
In Germany, swaddling is not used as routine care measure and experiences relatively little acceptance, as the missing mentioning of this practice in the standard work on regulatory disturbances of Papusek shows
Fun fact: swaddling was first used to “shape a child’s body” as they thought it would help to keep their limbs and spine straight!
How long do you swaddle a baby?
In terms of how long to swaddle a baby by age, you’ll want to discontinue swaddling by 8 weeks of age or at the first sign of rolling, whichever comes first.
According to healthychildren.org, a website by the AAP, “I would stop swaddling by age 2 months before the baby intentionally starts to try to roll,” Dr. Moon says. “If babies are swaddled, they should be placed only on their back and monitored so they don’t accidentally roll over.”
If you are unsure on how to drop the swaddle when that time comes, then check out this blog!
Some research even suggests that the benefits of swaddling are short-term anyway, as far as the soothing/calming effect.
In terms of how long to swaddle a baby per day, you will want to have equal swaddled and unswaddled time.
If you are attempting to swaddle to calm your little one during the day, it is important to note that skin to skin time will also help, and also has a positive benefit on weight gain in the early days of being born.
While there is no current research that supports a delay in development due to being swaddled, it is important to give your baby freedom to move around and have tummy time to strengthen the extensor muscles along their back. This is the foundation for many developmental milestones!
Once your little one can no longer be swaddled safely, then it is appropriate to switch to using a sleep bag. This will keep your baby safe and warm in their sleep space.
If you haven’t heard of a sleep bag before, you can check out this blog and this blog to see what the difference is between a sleep bag and a swaddle!
Before we talk about how to swaddle a baby, it is important to review the safe sleep rules and safe swaddling habits!
A swaddled infant should only be placed on their back to sleep. Placing an infant on their side or stomach increases their risk of SIDS. For those put on their bellies, especially babies more than 6 months old, the risk doubled.
Research suggests that the increased risk is linked to unsafe swaddling techniques, such as placing babies to sleep on their front or using thick sheets or blankets, rather than the practice itself.
Experts also recommend that if you’re going to swaddle your baby, you should do it from birth. Don’t introduce swaddling at two to three months, when the risk of SIDS is at its highest.
By then, your baby will have learned to sleep without swaddling, so a change in her sleeping habits may make her more vulnerable.
Whatever you are using to swaddle should be snug and secure to ensure nothing comes loose and increases the risk of suffocation.
While it should be snug around their arms, we want it loose around the hips to decrease the risk of hip dysplasia.
One last safety checks off is to make sure they are not overheating with the swaddle. Signs of overheating are:
- Damp hair
- Heat rash
- Red cheeks
- Heavy breathing
Kyte BABY swaddle blankets are made of breathable material (bamboo rayon) which is 3 degrees cooler than cotton. It will reduce the risk of overheating when using a swaddling blanket!
For more safe sleep information, check out this blog!
Does swaddling reduce the risk of SIDs? According to this study, “In 2002, researchers explained that “recent epidemiologic evidence . . . shows swaddling in supine sleeping infants is associated with reduced SIDS risk as compared with back sleeping alone.”
For infants placed to sleep on their backs, the investigators summarized: “swaddling seems to be protective. . . Up to a certain age, swaddling hinders turning prone, but on the other hand, when an infant is prone, his or her risk of SIDS significantly increases.”
And this study specifically states the risk is increased if the infant is unfamiliar with swaddling: “This study provides a scientific basis for assessing the safety of swaddling in infant care practice. The decreased cortical arousals observed in infants unfamiliar with swaddling may correspond to the increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome for inexperienced prone sleepers.
Experts agree: swaddling is only a risk when it’s done improperly.
How to swaddle a baby: step by step
Here is a brief description of how to swaddle a baby step by step with a blanket: (this is called the diamond swaddle)
*note: they may cry while you’re doing this and that is okay. That doesn’t mean they hate the swaddle. Try turning on white noise or giving a pacifier while you swaddle. Otherwise, once they are swaddled, pick them up and soothe them.
Most babies will prefer to have their arms swaddled down by their sides. This is hard to wiggle free from.
However, others may prefer to have their hands across their chest, peeking out of the swaddle where they can suck on their fingers.
Others will prefer to have their arms up, in a touchdown position and there are specific swaddles that will keep them secure while allowing them to get their arms in their position.
1) Spread the blanket out on the floor in a diamond-esque shape.
2) Fold the top corner down about 6 inches
3) Place your baby face-up on the blanket, where her head sits above the folded corner with her feet toward the bottom corner.
4) Straighten your baby’s left arm, take the left corner of the blanket and wrap it over her left arm and chest; then tuck the blanket under her other arm and back. The left-arm will be swaddled, but the right arm is free.
*this may be when your little one starts to resist or try to get free. Try shhing loudly, singing a soothing song, or narrating what you are doing to help calm your little one through this step.
5) Fold the bottom corner of the blanket up over your baby’s body and tuck it under the first fold.
*make sure their legs can move freely and are not stuck in a straight position; this is damaging to their hip joints!
6) Straight your baby’s right arm and pull the right side of the blanket over your baby’s body and tuck it under her left side.
How to swaddle a baby: step by step guide for the square swaddle/quick swaddle:
1) Lay a blanket down in a square shape, folding the top corner down about 6 inches for baby’s head
2) Lay baby down on their back with their neck at the top of the fold; the baby will be diagonal across the blanket
3) Pull the right side over and snugly tuck under baby (loose hips!)
4) Pull the left side over and snugly tuck under baby
5) Tuck the bottom of the blanket behind baby
Important safety notes:
- The swaddle should be snug and secure, but not tight. You should be able to stick 2-3 fingers in between the swaddle and your baby
- Loose around the hips for healthy hip development
- Always place your baby on their back when swaddled
- Keep the room cool (between 68-72 degrees F is ideal) or layer appropriately
- Only swaddle for a short period of time (the first 8 weeks or so)
According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, improper swaddling of your baby can cause hip development problems. It notes, “Sudden straightening of the legs to a standing position can loosen the joints and damage the soft cartilage of the socket.”
The source notes that for proper hip health, the baby’s legs should be able to move upwards and outwards at the hip and not be tightly wrapped together in an extended position, which may hinder the natural development of the joints.
If you just can not picture what that looks like, I found some great videos….
How to swaddle a baby: youtube
For how to swaddle a baby video, I chose the ones that only used real babies instead of dolls as I feel like that gives more of an accurate representation when you attempt this on your own!
This video highlights 5 different ways to swaddle a baby using a swaddling blanket.
This video shows 3 different ways to swaddle a baby including the double swaddling method (be careful of overheating with a double swaddle).
This video demonstrates how to swaddle a baby, but also discusses the safety aspects.
So what is the best way to swaddle a baby?
There’s a swaddle option for every baby! First, practice makes perfect.
Newborns sleep quite a bit so you will get a lot of opportunities for perfecting your swaddling technique.
But if you can’t get the hang of using a swaddling blanket, there are velcro options, zipper options.. You name it!
Pro-tip: buy used ones from the facebook marketplace when needing to try it out, do not buy a ton of the same ones, and always buy the convertible option if you use something different than a swaddling blanket!
Swaddling does not work for every baby; for instance, if you are bedsharing, you should not swaddle your baby.
You also do not want to swaddle a baby that can roll or babies that are in a hot environment.
Reasons to not swaddle your baby:
- Their moro reflex is integrated and they do not “startle” any longer
- If they have outgrown their swaddle
- If they are breaking out of their swaddle
- Showing signs of rolling
- You are about to do some form of sleep training
- Your baby is getting more frustrated with the swaddle than without
- They are becoming mobile/scooting around while swaddled (if they are asking for freedom, let them have it!)
- Suddenly waking up more often while swaddled
How long should you swaddle a baby per day?
There are no hard and fast rules for swaddling limits per day.
As per this study, “Prolonged swaddling in the first year of life did not have any significant impact on children’s early mental or psychomotor development.
Additional studies in other settings need to confirm this finding.“While it may not affect their development, prolonged swaddling can increase their risk of plagiocephaly (or flat head) according to this article.
This source says that most babies spend 12-20 hours a day swaddled.
Newborn baby swaddle
Newborn baby swaddles should be used throughout the day to help them calm and keep them warm. Combining swaddling with other soothing techniques (like the 5 S’s from Dr. Harvey Karp) can get you through the “witching hour.”
If you are unfamiliar with the “baby witching hour”, check out this post. In short, it is a time of the day, usually the late afternoon/early evening hour when your baby is overtired and overstimulated.
That means the normal things that soothe them are no longer working, they may even not want to eat!
Practising the soothing techniques during that time can make a huge difference in helping your little on go back to sleep.
How to swaddle a baby for sleep?
When swaddling a baby for sleep, you will want to make sure you try various methods to see which one works best for your little one!
When your baby wakes at night, you can unswaddle, change their diapers, feed one side if nursing/half a bottle, burp, re-swaddle, and then finish feeding so that you can put them down ready for sleep when they are done eating!
How long to swaddle baby for sleep?
You should only swaddle for a brief time of your newborn’s life. It is a helpful tool in those early days to get them calm and soothe them to sleep, but should not be used for a long period of time.
Again, it is important to clarify that swaddling is not the same as using a sleep bag. A sleep bag will leave their arms free, and you can use that as soon as they can fit comfortably in one. If you need help choosing a sleep bag, check out this post!
If you are ready to stop swaddling your baby for sleep, then here are some tips!
- Use white noise to help calm/soothe
- Develop a consistent routine around sleep as this primes and conditions their bodies for sleeping
- Make sure that you are timing sleep well and it is in line with their biological clock
- Make sure they are not overtired or undertired
- Recreate their warm cozy environment with a Kyte BABY sleep bag
- Make any changes at bedtime first, then naps and not the other way around
- Use a pacifier to help soothe baby
- Rocking and bouncing are also helpful ways in soothing
- Consider a sleep training method to improve sleep without the swaddle
How to swaddle a baby is a great skill to learn when your baby is firstborn! This is something you can do from day one to help soothe a fussy baby and increase sleep stretches from 5-10 minutes when they are laid down to 2-3 hours (let us not get too ambitious with newborn sleep).
It is important to introduce this early as opposed to later in order to decrease any risk of SIDs from late introduction during a vulnerable time in your baby’s life or when they have become more mobile/learning to roll.
The how to swaddle a baby videos are very helpful if you are a visual learner and are short enough that you can swaddle your baby right alongside the how to swaddle your baby videos.
Through this article, you have found the best ways to swaddle a baby and how to swaddle a baby for sleep. Practice this with your new baby when they are calm and you can apply it when they are fussy or having a difficult time sleeping outside of your arms.
As always, always swaddle safely!
AUTHOR: Ashley Olson is a certified paediatric sleep consultant, owner of Heaven Sent Sleep, and passionate about helping new parents, experienced parents, desperate and sleep-deprived parents form healthy sleep habits for their children.
She has over 3 years of experience in working with families and has completed over 150 hours of coursework plus continuing education related to infant and toddler sleep. The focus of her work is on fostering a routine that grows your bond with your child while improving their sleep habits. She specializes in custom sleep plans and one on one support in changing sleep practices!