How to swaddle a baby
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.
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.
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”. 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.
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
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!
- Consider a sleep training method to improve sleep without the swaddle