Everything You Need to Know About Swaddling Your Baby

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 7 minutes

What to know about safely swaddling your baby

  • What are the benefits of swaddling?

  • Are there disadvantages to swaddling?

  • How to swaddle your baby

  • Important swaddling tips

Many cultures around the world use the practice of swaddling, or wrapping babies in a tight blanket, as a means of calming and soothing their baby.1,2,3

When done correctly, swaddling can be a very beneficial aid to sleep as long as it is used before (and never after) your baby learns to roll.2,4

Benefits of Swaddling

Comforts baby by recreating the feeling of the womb. Swaddling recreates the coziness and tight feeling of the womb – that snug and secure cradle so familiar to newborns.4 Skin-to-skin, kangaroo care, and breastfeeding (if you are breastfeeding) are also great soothing techniques.5,6,7

Swaddling promotes sleep by combating the baby’s startle reflex and involuntary movements. All babies are born with the startle reflex, an involuntary sudden movement of the arms as if reaching or grabbing for something, that disappears by 2 months of age.8,9 Additionally, newborn babies don’t quite know how to control their limbs.

The combination of reflexes and involuntary movements can wake a baby during sleep. By swaddling your baby’s arms against their sides, you are decreasing the likelihood that baby’s own movements and reflex responses will wake them.11

Potential disadvantages of swaddling

Some research shows potential drawbacks to swaddling. Many studies point toward unsafe swaddling practices as the main concern,12 including:

  • Placing baby on their bellies or side when they are swaddled, which may increase the risk of suffocation or SUIDS

  • Swaddling too tightly, which may increase the risk of hip dysplasia

  • Keeping baby too warm, which may increase the risk of SUIDS

  • Starting to swaddle too late; it may be best to start from birth1,3,13

Read more:Which Sleep Positions Are Safe For Your Baby?

How to swaddle your baby

Here’s one commonly used method to swaddle your baby correctly:

  1. Spread the blanket out flat, with one corner folded down.

  2. Lay baby face-up on the blanket, with baby’s head a bit above the folded corner.

  3. Straighten baby’s left arm and wrap the left corner of the blanket over their body and tuck it between baby’s right arm and the right side of baby’s body.

  4. Then gently hold the right arm down and fold the right corner of the blanket across baby’s body and under their left side. Make sure baby’s head and neck are not covered.

  5. Fold the bottom of the blanket loosely and tuck it under one side of the baby.4,14

You can also choose to loosely fold the bottom of the blanket up after wrapping the first side, which sometimes helps to hold it in place after you tuck the second side in.

TIP: Make sure baby’s hips and legs are not wrapped too tightly, allowing them to bend up and out at the hips. Ensure the blanket is also not too tight around baby’s chest. You want to be able to get 2 or 3 of your fingers between the swaddle and baby’s chest.4,14

Swaddling tips, tricks, and safety

Always put your baby to sleep on their back, especially if swaddled

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies be placed flat on their back to sleep, and this guideline is especially important if you swaddled your baby first.4

From a side sleeping position, it is easier for a baby to roll onto their stomach, and if a swaddled baby is on their stomach, their hands are not free to help baby raise their head to breathe freely.1,3,12

Use swaddling as part of your bed and naptime routines

Your baby will recognize the process of being wrapped into a swaddle as a predictable sign that sleep is coming. Try incorporating swaddling into your baby’s sleep routine, for nighttime sleep and daytime naps, to help your baby sleep longer and more soundly.15

Read more: How Do I Create a Bedtime Routine For My Infant and Toddler?

Consider room-sharing or a video monitor to keep an eye on a swaddled baby

You don’t need to be hover over baby’s crib but keeping a supervised eye on a baby wrapped in a swaddle may be a smart idea. This is particularly true if your baby seems to be learning to roll.

Just keep in mind that if you are sharing a sleep surface with baby, then it is not safe to swaddle your baby.3,13

Keep your baby un-swaddled during waking hours

Keeping your baby swaddled all the time may hinder motor development and mobility, as well as limit baby’s opportunity to use and explore their hands when awake. Remember that other techniques of comforting baby can be beneficial for both you and them; skin-to-skin, baby-wearing, breastfeeding, or the “colic” hold are all options.5,6,7

Learn about: How do I Give my Baby a Massage? Benefits and Techniques

Experiment with several kinds of blankets or commercially made swaddle products to find what works best for you and your baby

Learning how to wrap a baby in a swaddle blanket is sometimes challenging, but there’s likely a product on the market to help you. Some parents prefer a larger muslin or cotton blanket, while others like how a thermal blanket can really pull and stretch around your little one. Other products use pouches, pockets, zippers, snaps, or Velcro to simulate the swaddle feeling without you actually having to learn the wrapping technique.

These products are also great for larger babies or escape artist babies – those who can more easily squirm out of their swaddle blankets. And while the ease of Velcro and zippers is great for a tired parent in the middle of the night, note that these products often don’t wrap quite as snugly as a blanket you can pull and tug yourself.

It’s important to make sure baby’s face is not able to be covered by loose corners or fabric. As long as you’re following safe swaddling practices, you can use whichever blanket or product works best for your family.3

Keep baby un-swaddled while nursing

Babies need their arms and hands free to nurse because research shows that babies actively use their hands to locate the nipple area, promote milk letdown, and latch properly. 7Having your baby’s hands free will also allow you to notice their hunger cues, such as when their hands go towards their mouth.7,16

Additionally, for some drowsy babies the swaddle is just too cozy, and they’ll doze off while nursing without getting enough to eat. Keeping your baby out of the swaddle while nursing will help keep them stimulated, awake, and alert to feed.7

Read about:

Breastfeeding: How to Support Good Breastmilk Supply

How do I Keep my Breast or Formula Fed Baby Awake during Feedings?

Promote your baby’s healthy hip development with proper swaddling

If you swaddle with a blanket, swaddle tightly around the arms, but make sure the bottom tuck is loose enough that your baby can still move their legs and hips.

If you swaddle with a commercial pouch or sack product, make sure the pouch around your baby’s legs allows for plenty of hip movement.

An incorrect swaddle position is one where your baby’s legs are pressed together and pulled tight and straight, as if the baby was standing upright. This position can cause hip joint misalignment, which may lead to damage to the soft cartilage in the hips.13,17

Swaddle your baby securely to reduce the likelihood of loose blankets in the crib, which are associated with SUIDS

One of the biggest risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SUIDS) is loose blankets in the crib.20 Make sure your baby is never put to bed with improperly swaddled blankets that may pose a strangulation or suffocation hazard.

Swaddling or wrapping babies in blankets loosely or using a swaddle that your baby can easily break out of increases the chances that a loose blanket may end up over your baby’s head or face.13

Make sure your little one is swaddled securely before placing baby on their back to sleep.

Read more: Setting Up a Safe Sleep Environment

If your baby is in childcare, check with your provider regarding their swaddle policy

Recent guidelines from the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association state that swaddling in childcare centers is “not necessary or recommended,” and as a direct result many states and centers have adopted “no swaddle” policies.4,18

The main concerns are temperature control, swaddling techniques, and whether babies are swaddled at home, all of which are hard to control.18 If you still swaddle your baby for daytime naps when you start childcare, talk with your provider to find a solution that will work for all involved.

Start transitioning your baby out of the swaddle at around 3 months old, when they are beginning to roll over

Once your baby is rolling, the time for swaddling with both arms down is over! If you see the beginnings of rolling during the day, start transitioning out of the swaddle at night.1,8

Some babies love being swaddled, and a cold turkey departure from their swaddle blankets can come as a shock. Try a slow transition out of the swaddle. Many commercial product blankets act as ‘one arm in one arm out’ swaddles, to help teach sleeping with arms free. Once comfortable, move to both arms free while still swaddling your baby’s midsection or use a wearable blanket that may provide the same comfort and snugness of the original swaddle.

You can also try a wearable suit that limits some arm motion, making it less likely baby will startle themself awake, but still allows movement to bring baby’s hands to their mouth or push up when they are on their belly.19

You may need to wake baby to feed if you use the swaddle often

There is a chance that a comfy and warm baby may not wake often enough to feed, affecting milk intake, weight gain, and breast milk supply.7

While feeding on demand (when baby indicates they are hungry) is important, if your baby tends to sleep for long stretches in the swaddle, it might be important to wake baby regularly to make sure they get the nutrition that they need, particularly if they are newborns.7

Your doctor or lactation consultant can help you come up with an optimal routine, or you can discuss your options on our Happy Expert chat.

Read about: Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues: Responsive Feeding

It's OK if your baby does not like the swaddle or you prefer other methods of soothing baby

As long as your baby is safe, then there are a multitude of techniques to help you soothe your baby. Swaddling is a great option for some families but as with anything, it does not necessarily work across the board, and that’s OK!7

Learn about: Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact with your Baby

Let's Chat!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

How Can I Help My Newborn (0-12 Weeks) Sleep Well at Night?

Why is My Toddler Waking Up So Early?

How Do I Teach My Baby to Sleep in a Crib?

What are Typical Sleep Patterns for Newborns (0 - 12 week olds)?

How do I Transition my Child to a New Nap Time?