Swaddling 101: How to Swaddle a Baby like a Pro
While bringing home a brand new baby comes with a lot of change for parents, it's nothing compared to the transition the baby faces from living in utero to being born into the big bright world. This transition, filled with sights, sounds, smells, and more, can be overwhelming, to say the least. Swaddling, wrapping a baby snuggly to mimic how they felt in the womb, can help them relax and rest more quickly in the early days. Read on to learn everything there is to know about how to swaddle your baby. We've got the info you need, from why to try it to swaddle techniques that work.
- Malabar Baby
- Written By
- Julia Pelly, MPH
What is Swaddling?
While there are a variety of swaddling techniques and methods, they all rely on wrapping a baby’s body snuggly so that just their head remains free and mobile. If you’re imagining a baby-burrito, you’ve got the right idea. Swaddling (in one form or another) has been practiced throughout history to help newborns feel more comfortable in the first weeks of life.
Swaddles can be comforting to young babies because it mimics the feeling of being held snugly in the womb. It also prevents them from making involuntary “startle” movements that wake them up when they’re surprised by movement or noise.
When Should you Swaddle?
If you don’t know how to swaddle on day one, don’t worry. In the first few days of life, you’ll want to focus on getting in as much skin-to-skin time as possible which means you won’t be swaddling much. Sink-to-skin helps regulate the baby’s temperature, promotes bonding and connection, and helps get breastfeeding off to a good start. After you've spent a few days with your shirt off, snuggled directly against your baby, you may want to think about adding some swaddle time into your routine.
You can begin swaddling your baby as soon as you feel comfortable with them spending a little time out of your arms and can continue until they’re able to roll from their back to their side or stomach. For the average baby, this milestone happens when they’re around two months old. If you have an early roller though, you’ll need to nix the swaddle a little sooner than other parents might.
What are the Benefits of Swaddling?
The primary benefit of swaddling is that it can be soothing to babies and lead to more time sleeping and less time crying. This is a major benefit for both a snoring baby and the probably-exhausted parents. Swaddling has been shown to both help babies go to sleep more quickly and to help them sleep for longer stretches.
This sort of rest helps their growth and development and helps parents feel more comfortable and confident in their parenting abilities. Swaddling has been shown to be particularly effective for babies with colic and for babies who were born prematurely (before 37 weeks).
Is Swaddling Safe?
For the most part, swaddling is a safe practice. Like anything baby-related though it’s important to do it correctly to avoid any safety risks. Swaddling a baby with too many hot layers underneath or too tightly can be dangerous, as can swaddling them so loosely that the blanket is free to ride up over their face.
You’ll also need to follow the guidelines on when to stop swaddling (by the time baby can roll!) and avoid bed-sharing with a swaddled baby. If you have any concerns about safely swaddling your baby or if you have a special circumstance, ask your child’s pediatrician before you begin bundling them up.
How To Swaddle A Baby
While it might feel intimidating at first, swaddling your baby will become second nature after you do it a few times. Here are the basic steps:Choose your swaddling blanket and lay it out flat, oriented in the shape of a diamond, on a firm but comfortable surface (like your bed). You’ll want to choose a square-shaped blanket that’s lightweight and has a little stretch to it. A basic flannel receiving blanket or a muslin swaddling blanket are good choices.
• Fold the top corner of your swaddling blanket downward, so that its point is about halfway to the center of your diamond.
• Lay your baby gently on the blanket, with their head resting just above your folded corner. Their shoulders should be level with the top edge of your fold.
• Now, gently straighten your baby’s right arm and fold the right corner of the blanket over their body, wrapping their tummy and tucking the corner of the blanket between their left arm and the left side of their body.
• Fold the bottom corner of your blanket up towards the baby’s tummy and chest. You’ll want to be sure you leave enough space for your baby to straighten their legs, even though they’re probably doing the newborn scrunch a lot of the time.
• Finally, grab the left corner of the blanket and mimic what you did on their right side; straighten their arm, wrap the blanket around their midsection and tuck it under the right side of their body.
• Once your baby is fully burritoed, check to be sure that none of the blanket is touching their chin or face and that it’s just the right amount of snugness; you’ll want to be able to place 2 fingers between the blanket and their chest, but no more.
• You might find over time that your baby prefers to be swaddled with one or both arms out. If this is the case, simply follow the steps above, leaving out whichever (or both) arms they prefer to keep by their face.
A basic swaddle offers most babies exactly what they're looking for but, if you have a baby that’s a little particular, or you want to save a little time in the swaddle department, you can check out the various swaddling products on the market.
Some swaddles zip up the front while others offer a velcro closure that eliminates the need to tuck the blanket under the baby. To find out the specifics of how to use a baby wrap or swaddle that you’ve purchased, read the product insert or look for videos on the manufacturer's website. No matter what product you choose, it’s always good to know how to whip out a basic swaddle should you find yourself with a cranky baby and a dirty velcro swaddle.
How much swaddling is too much swaddling?
Depending on your newborn's sleep habits, you might be wondering how much swaddling is too much swaddling. Experts recommend that you swaddle your baby when they are going to sleep but that you keep their arms and legs free during their awake times. Giving them time to kick, paw and punch will help them begin to develop motor coordination down the line.
You’ll also want to keep offering skin-to-skin through your baby’s entire infancy, so it’s important to be mindful not to over-swaddle during times you could otherwise be snuggling up without a fabric barrier. Consider designating certain times of the day (like feeding time or post-bath playtime) as swaddle-free and saving the swaddles for sleep-time only.
Swaddling can feel like just one more thing to learn but, when you get it right and your cranky baby is suddenly soothed, you’ll know it was all worth it.