Want to know the secret to a happy, calm baby? — swaddling! Okay, maybe it’s not the only secret, but it’s a pretty helpful technique when it comes to soothing a crying baby. As crazy as it sounds, wrapping your baby up like a burrito just might do the trick in getting your troubled sleeper to calm down. Babies who are wrapped during sleep startle less, arouse less, and sleep more.
Figuring out how to swaddle a baby yourself can be a little intimidating (especially when you’re already exhausted), but swaddling only takes a few steps. We’ve compiled a step-by-step guide on how to swaddle a baby with a blanket, safe swaddling techniques, and when it’s time to transition.
Why swaddle a baby?
Swaddling has been part of caring for babies all throughout history, and has been shown to help many babies sleep better — here’s why...
Similar to the soothing womb environment where your baby lived for 9 months prior to birth, swaddling helps your baby feel safe and secure while adjusting to life outside the womb. Because the limited space in the womb only allows for small movements, the feeling of being wrapped snugly is familiar and comforting to your baby. The “hug-like” feeling of being swaddled, combined with other baby-soothing techniques, such as swaying and ‘shushing’ sounds, can help tremendously in calming and soothing a crying baby. When done correctly, swaddling can help a baby fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
It is common for babies to experience something called the Moro reflex (or startle reflex). This reflex refers to an involuntary motor response that infants develop shortly after birth. A Moro reflex may involve your infant suddenly flailing their limbs or experiencing the sensation of falling. This sudden jolt may make some babies cry and can be a pretty scary and frustrating experience when woken up from a peaceful slumber. Swaddling helps prevent babies from springing their arms and legs out, which can trigger the startle reflex and potentially cause babies to wake up. Because swaddling helps calm the Moro reflex, it does seem to help newborns sleep longer stretches at night.
Newborns are not as adaptable to temperature change as adults are. Babies can lose heat rapidly, as much as four times more quickly than adults. A swaddle keeps your baby cozy and warm until his internal thermostat kicks into gear.
Stay on back
Swaddling can also help babies to fall and stay asleep on their backs, which is recommended to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Some babies have trouble sleeping on their backs because they startle themselves awake; when they are swaddled, that’s less likely to happen.
Swaddling reduces two common parent stressors: Persistent crying and poor infant sleep. Because of this benefit, swaddling is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Reducing crying and mom exhaustion are key goals because these problems often trigger a plethora of dysfunction, such as postpartum depression, child abuse/neglect, shaken baby syndrome, breastfeeding failure, dangerous sleeping practices, marital stress, smoking, car accidents, over treatment with medication, and perhaps even obesity. It’s important that babies are able to be calmed so that moms can stay calm and get rest as well.
How to swaddle a baby step-by-step
Now, you may be wondering how to swaddle a newborn, and while there are many methods, we’ve compiled just a couple of the most basic techniques and steps to try. But before we go into the folding techniques to achieve that burrito cuteness, we first need to lay down some important ground rules to ensure your baby is swaddled the safest.
No fabric near face
Make sure the swaddle is worn low and snug around baby’s shoulders, not bunched up at the neck. His face and neck should be fully exposed. There is a risk that loose fabric could cover baby’s face and cause suffocation.
Babies should be dressed lightly underneath a thin swaddle to avoid overheating. It is best to choose a swaddle blanket made of breathable fabric such as organic cotton, muslin, bamboo, or merino wool. Woolino swaddle blankets are made of super fine, breathable, merino wool which assist in naturally regulating your baby’s body temperature in all 4 seasons.
For healthy hip development, avoid wrapping your baby’s legs tight and straight. Your baby’s legs should be able to bend and kick within the swaddle, while his arms are held still. Keep the fabric in the hip area loose, in order to prevent hip dysplasia.
Back to sleep
Even though swaddling may reduce your baby’s movement during sleep, always place him on his back to sleep. Sleeping on his side or front may increase the risk of SIDS.
Safe sleep space
When swaddling, or when leaving baby alone to sleep, always place him on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet. Your baby’s sleep space should be free of loose objects (suffocation hazards) such as pillows, blankets, or crib bumpers.
Now that you know the ground rules, here's a basic step-by-step guide on how to swaddle a baby using the ‘Burrito Wrap’ technique:
Spread out a swaddling blanket on a flat surface, position it like a diamond, then fold down the top corner.
Lay your baby face-up on the blanket, with his head above the folded corner.
Straighten one arm, and wrap that same side of the blanket over his chest and tuck it under his body.
Then tuck the other arm down, and fold the other corner of the blanket over his body and under his back.
- Fold or twist the bottom of the blanket loosely and tuck it under baby’s back — or tie bottom of blanket into a knot.
Here's another step-by-step guide for the ‘Arms Up’ baby swaddle technique:
Spread out a swaddling blanket on a flat surface, position it like a square, and fold the top edge down by about 6 inches.
Lay baby with shoulders in line with the fold, and place one of baby’s hands under the fold.
Bring the edge of the blanket across the body, and tuck it under baby’s back. Place the other hand under the fold.
- Bring the other edge of the wrap across baby’s body and tuck it under baby’s back. Fold any extra length up and under baby’s legs, or tie bottom length of blanket in a knot.
Don’t be surprised if your baby’s cries escalate when you start to swaddle, and don’t give up if the crying doesn’t stop immediately. You’re not hurting him. He just doesn’t realize yet how happy he’ll feel once it’s done. Some babies may also need the addition of some other calming techniques (swaying, shushing, or sucking) to come to a complete calm.
Is swaddling safe?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says swaddling is low risk if practiced correctly. If you follow safe swaddling and sleep guidelines in your baby’s first couple months, you can rest assured your baby is safely swaddled. Keep in mind the ground rules we mentioned earlier, and follow the ABC’s of safe sleep: alone, on back, and in a crib.
Like all things with babies’ development, swaddling won’t last forever. Swaddling actually becomes risky as your baby gets older and becomes more mobile. Once your little one starts to roll (or is showing signs of rolling), it is recommended you ditch the swaddle.
Swaddling becomes unsafe once your baby can roll over because when they turn over to their stomach they can’t get their arms out of the swaddle to reposition themselves. Also, once your baby is mobile enough to potentially kick off the blanket, the loose blanket poses a possible suffocation or strangulation hazard.
When to stop swaddling
How long should you swaddle a baby? — Just the first couple months. When do you stop swaddling a baby? You should ditch the swaddle as soon as you notice your little one becoming more active and attempting to roll over. The AAP recommends that parents stop swaddling their baby after they turn two months old. This is because swaddling becomes unsafe if:
- Baby starts getting strong enough to break out of the swaddle.
- Baby rolls onto their stomach while sleeping swaddled.
Some signs it’s time to stop swaddling include…
- Startle reflex starts to go away
- Baby starts waking up more frequently throughout the night
- Baby breaks out of the swaddle
- Baby starts showing signs of rolling over
- Baby starts fighting being swaddled
Many parents worry about stopping swaddling because swaddling helps their baby sleep well at night, but that transition is the perfect time to try a sleep sack and a soothing bedtime routine. Find alternatives to help your baby sleep, in order to ease the transition out of the swaddle. Transitioning from the swaddle directly into a baby sleeping bag can really help your baby adjust. Still, be sure to take it slow. To learn more about weaning your baby from a swaddle into a sleep sack, click here.