Ready to learn how to swaddle a baby?
Swaddling is the practice of wrapping babies from the shoulders down in a blanket.
Many parents want to learn how to swaddle because, at first glance, it certainly looks like origami!
But rest assured, you too can become a pro.
By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll be an expert at making baby burritos.
Why swaddle babies?
The idea of swaddling is to calm newborns by creating a cozy environment similar to the one they experienced in the womb.
Some people believe it reminds infants of the womb and helps them to settle because they feel safe.
Swaddling was traditionally used in a number of cultures but it fell out of favor after doctors discovered it increased the risk of hip dysplasia in infants.
What happens if you don’t swaddle a baby?
Not all parents want or like to swaddle. The world definitely won’t end if you don’t! But your baby’s startle reflex might cause her to flail her arms and wake up constantly. Swaddling helps calm a baby and increases the sense of safety.
Is swaddling safe?
Swaddling has recently enjoyed a revival as a way of calming colicky and unsettled children. This has led to an increased need for raised awareness of safe swaddling practices.
Most experts recommend you stop swaddling by the time your little one is two months old.
This is about the time when infants start to roll over.
You should always place your baby to sleep on her back. A baby sleeping on her front, in a swaddle, increases the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Here’s how to swaddle a baby!
How to swaddle a baby
There are safe and unsafe ways to use a swaddle. The video below will show you how to swaddle a baby safely.
Below the video, you’ll find more safe swaddling tips.
Swaddling and hip dysplasia
Newborn infants naturally adopt a ‘frog’ position, with their knees bent and their hips open. This encourages their hip joints to develop normally as they move and grow.
Traditionally, swaddling involved wrapping a baby tightly, with legs extended and held together. The hip sockets were in an unnatural position, so the thighbone wouldn’t sit properly in the joint. This increased the risk of hip dysplasia.
What the experts say
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI) states:
“Swaddling infants with the hips and knees in an extended position increases the risk of hip dysplasia and dislocation.
“It is the recommendation of the IHDI that infant hips should be positioned in slight flexion and abduction. The knees should also be maintained in slight flexion.
“Additional free movement in the direction of hip flexion and abduction may have some benefit”.
For more information on hip dysplasia, visit the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
How do you swaddle a baby step by step?
To safely swaddle and allow for natural hip positioning, try the diamond method, detailed below:
- Place a blanket on the floor, in a diamond shape.
- Fold the top corner of the blanket down, and lie your little one with the shoulders across the flat edge.
- Draw one top corner of the blanket across your child’s chest, over both arms, and tuck it under the child’s bottom.
- Draw the bottom of the blanket up gently and tuck it into the edge across the chest. Your baby’s legs should be in the frog or fetal position, rather than in an unnaturally extended position.
- Draw the remaining corner of the blanket across your baby’s chest, over the arms, and tuck it in near the neck. Both the right arm and the left arm should now be wrapped inside the blanket.
5 tips for safe swaddling
- Always use a thin blanket or muslin to stop your little one overheating. You can buy a specially designed blanket to allow you to swaddle safely.
- Always put your baby to sleep on her back.
- Don’t swaddle a baby who has started rolling (or trying to). This can begin when your child is just two months of age. Once babies can roll, it’s no longer safe for them to be swaddled.
- Don’t swaddle during breastfeeds, as this could cause your baby to overheat. It’s also easier for babies to latch properly if they’re free to move.
- If somebody babysits, make sure you tell them the safe baby sleep guidelines and show them how to swaddle a baby safely. It might feel patronizing to tell your mother how to swaddle, but safe practices have changed since you were born.
To swaddle or not to swaddle?
There are safe ways to swaddle.
Tight swaddling, however, can not only lead to hip dysplasia, but the excessive use of blankets can lead to overheating.
Overheating can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Some healthcare professionals warn against swaddling because of the apparent risks, but others are happy to recommend safe swaddling as it is believed that this can reduce the risks.
You can read this research study to find out more.
Do pediatricians swaddle babies?
Dr. Glassy, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Early Education and Child Care Executive Committee says:
“As everybody knows, babies are born and cleaned up and then put in a nice, tight swaddle to keep them comfortable and warm. They love it. You can see it on their faces.
“The problem comes when we don’t have a clear idea of when to tell parents to end it”.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has not taken an official stance on swaddling techniques because of the mixed research available on the subject.
Dr. Rachel Y Moon, a lead author of the AAP safe sleep guidelines, says:
“Given that we see deaths from babies who are swaddled and end up on their stomachs by 2-2½ months, I get really nervous when babies are swaddled past the age of 8 weeks”.
As with anything related to parenting, do what works for you, but always follow safety guidelines.
Is it OK to swaddle a newborn at night?
Yes, it is OK to swaddle a newborn at night. It might help your baby sleep better because she feels safe and secure.
You should swaddle your baby using the diamond method, described above. This allows the baby’s legs to remain in the natural frog position.
Make sure you always place your baby on her back to sleep.
Until how old should babies be swaddled?
You can swaddle your newborn from birth, but it’s important to stop swaddling babies when they start trying to roll over.
They can start rolling onto their tummy from as early as two months in age. As soon as your baby starts trying to roll over, you will need to stop swaddling.
Is a swaddle safe for newborns?
Yes, it is safe to swaddle a newborn baby and you might find it helps her to settle more easily. The feeling of being ‘cuddled’ in a firm swaddle mimics the environment of the womb.
As long as you follow the safe sleep guidelines and ensure the baby can adopt the frog position in the swaddle, it’s considered perfectly safe.
Be sure to place your baby on her back to sleep.
Do you put a blanket over a swaddle?
You can use a swaddle, a blanket, or a baby sleeping bag to cover your baby at night. Your baby probably doesn’t need too many layers, though, unless it’s particularly cold.
You should avoid letting your baby get too hot or too cold. A baby who is too warm has an increased risk of SIDS.
To check your baby’s temperature, put your hand on her tummy. If it feels too hot, remove a layer of clothing or bedding. Don’t worry if the hands or feet feel cool, this is normal.
Do babies wear anything under a swaddle?
Parents often worry what to dress their little ones into sleep. They can wear their usual sleeping clothes under a swaddle. You don’t want your baby to get too warm, so don’t overdress them for bed.
If you’re not sure how to dress your baby for sleep, simple is best. A single layer plus the swaddle might be enough.
Keep an eye on your baby’s temperature. If she feels too warm, lose a layer. If your baby won’t settle or wakes, she might not be warm enough.
Can newborns sleep with arms out of swaddle?
If your baby doesn’t like having her arms in the swaddle, it’s fine to swaddle your baby with arms out.
Alternatively, your baby might just need a few minutes to have a good wriggle before you try again.
Some infants like having the right arm or the left arm out of the blanket; others like to have both arms free.
Do some babies hate being swaddled?
Many babies fuss and seem to resist swaddling at first. This can often happen when they’re already overtired, hungry, or just want to be close to you.
Swaddling mimics the feeling of being in the womb. If your newborn baby seems to hate being swaddled, try using other techniques that mimics the womb.
They include ‘sshhing’ sounds (the sound of your blood flow from inside the uterus), gently swinging, or even holding in the side position (don’t place your baby in bed in this position though).
The sleep sack is another alternative for keeping your little one warm without using loose blankets in the crib. A sleep sack allows the sense of freedom while keeping your baby secure.
As your baby grows, she might not like the feeling of being swaddled anymore.
Follow your growing baby’s lead. If she’s fighting the swaddle, it could be time to stop using it.
Can a baby be swaddled too tightly?
It’s possible to swaddle your baby too tightly. Traditional swaddling techniques saw babies wrapped tightly with their legs held in unnatural positions; these methods are no longer recommended.
You should swaddle your baby so she can freely move her legs. Follow the instructions above to learn how to swaddle a baby safely.