For a brand new mama, swaddling can seem like some secret jujitsu that only nurses and midwives have mastered. I remember watching the nurses swaddle our first baby at the birth center and marveling at their skilled hands. And yet, when I tried to swaddle our son he’d break free in a matter of minutes.
But soon my husband and I got the hang of it. And we learned two key things:
- There is a swaddle for every baby (blanket swaddle and swaddling clothes) and for every mama (who knew zippers could be involved?)
- With some helpful tips for swaddling success, you too can swaddle like a pro!
What is swaddling?
Swaddling a baby is a technique practiced throughout the world for thousands of years (so it must be good, right?) which can help calm and prepare baby for sleep.
Swaddling involves snugly wrapping up your baby in either a blanket or swaddle clothing designed for baby’s comfort and safety.
Swaddling is meant only for the first few months of baby’s life.
Why do babies benefit from swaddling?
Babies have a startle reflex (also known as a Moro reflex) which can wake them from an otherwise peaceful sleep. Keeping your baby’s arms bound in a swaddle can prevent this reflex from waking them up.
Swaddling also keeps your newborn warm and reminds him or her of the comforting confines of the womb (it’s a big adjustment moving out of a one bedroom apartment into a mansion). Swaddling can help with the transition to life outside of their mother.
Additionally, keeping tiny baby mittens over the razor-sharp fingernails babies are born with is not easy. Swaddling can keep them from scratching their beautiful tiny face.
All of these calming benefits can also prepare baby for sleep.
Three ways to swaddle a baby
For a very long time I was under the impression there was only one way to swaddle a newborn. The diamond swaddle was the only technique I knew.
Luckily, for those of us who like to have options, there are three excellent swaddling techniques. Life is not the same every day, our time and patience for day-to-day operations of motherhood changes, and so can our swaddling techniques.
1. The Diamond Swaddle
- Lay a blanket down on a safe, flat place for baby in a diamond shape/position with the top-most corner folded down 4-6 inches for baby’s head.
- Lay baby down on their back in the center of the blanket with their neck on the folded corner.
- Pull the left side over and snugly tuck under baby, making sure to keep baby’s hips loose. Never pull their legs straight or force their joints as this could cause hip dysplasia.
- Pull the bottom corner up and over baby’s left shoulder and then wrap the last corner all the way around baby and tuck into the little blanket pocket you’ve created on their front.
Remember to avoid having the blanket rub up against baby’s cheek, because it can cause baby to begin rooting at a time when you do not want them to.
It’s okay if your baby swaddle doesn’t look picture-perfect the first time, or the second time, or even the third time. Take a breath, take your time, and keep trying. Your baby might be crying, and you’ll want to cry too, because you can’t get their little arms to stay in, but you will get it. Remember, many babies calm down once they feel that security in the swaddle.
Some people maintain that swaddling a baby is a one-two-three process. I have found it can sometimes take more steps than that. If the diamond swaddle isn’t for you, don’t worry, there are other ways.
Square swaddle or quick swaddle
- Lay a blanket down in a safe, flat place for baby in a square shape/position folding the top right corner down about 4-6 inches for baby’s head.
- Lay baby down on their back on the blanket with their neck at the top of the fold; baby will be diagonal across the blanket.
- Pull the right side over and snugly tuck under baby (always making sure they have frog legs/loose hips).
- Pull the left side over, and snugly tuck under baby.
- Tuck the bottom of the blanket behind baby and you’re good to go.
Similar to this illustration, except tucking the bottom of blanket behind your baby.
The diamond swaddle seems beautifully perfect and what I always imagine when I think of a quintessential swaddle. Sometimes life does not allow for the perfect swaddle, however. Life is messy; the water is boiling over in the pot, you have that deadline to meet, and taking fifteen minutes to try to swaddle baby is unrealistic (though with practice, the diamond doesn’t have to take so long).
Sometimes time is against us, other children demand our attention, or you just need to calm baby down so you can get work done (or watch Netflix). Whatever the reason, the square swaddle can be just as effective as the diamond swaddle in calming baby but takes a fraction of the time.
Looking for an even faster option?
Sleep sack swaddle
This method involves a special sleepsack swaddle, but once you’ve got one it’s super simple.
- Put baby in sleep sack like you would a onesie or footie pajamas
- Zip sleep sack
- Wrap and Velcro
These steps will vary depending on which product you purchase and prefer. We will show you some of our favorites later on in this article. Whether you don’t have enough time or want the simplicity of not having to wrap baby “just so,” a sleep sack is a fine option.
Does swaddling work for all babies?
No. Two of my children loved being swaddled, but one resisted it at every wrap.
Every child is different and you will be able to tell if baby is comforted by it or not.
Swaddling is not appropriate for:
- Co-sleeping babies because they cannot move covers from their face or alert their parents when they are too close.
- Babies who actively resist swaddling — this is meant to be a comfort, not a punishment.
- Babies who can roll over, so around 2 months (or 8 weeks) old.
- Babies at a higher risk of SIDS.
- Babies in hot environments (especially homes without air conditioning), as baby could be dangerously overheated.
If your baby does not like being swaddled, try wrapping him or her in a lightweight blanket or trying the sleep sack option, as the tight restrained feeling might be what your baby is resisting.
Never put baby to bed with loose bedding or blankets, however, as that is a suffocation risk. Always place baby down to sleep on his or her back.
When should you stop swaddling?
It is important to remember that swaddling is not recommended once baby can roll over as the blanket begins to pose a risk for suffocation. Many parents stop swaddling baby after one month when she begins to hold her head up.
Swaddling will inhibit motor development beginning around two months. This is when the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents stop swaddling. When baby is more active during tummy time, that is a good indicator that they are outgrowing the swaddle.
You might also find that as your baby grows in their ability to move, they will not want to be swaddled. This is the time when I began to turn my babies into burritos by doing a looser “burrito wrap,” not a swaddle. I sometimes still call our two-year-old “burrito baby” when she’s wrapped in a towel. But if you are still swaddling, what are the best products out there? Here are some of our favorites:
- aden + anais muslin swaddle plus is a light-weight 100% natural cotton muslin favorite for swaddling (and comes in so many fun patterns). This is a great blanket for diamond swaddling or the square swaddle.
- SwaddleDesigns, Lilbaby, and Cuddlebug are also 100% natural cotton muslin (Lilbaby specifically saying they are organic) but run a little less expensive than the aden and anais swaddling blanket.
- Woombie is an excellent one-zip option that many parents swear by.
- The Miracle Blanket Swaddle is 100% cotton and gives parents control in wrapping up their baby without the headache of coordinating corners.
- SwaddleMe is an excellent Velcro option that is also very affordable.
- Halo Sleepsack is another one-zip product that has a winter weight option for those living in colder climates.
- This Anna & Eve Swaddle Strap is only for baby’s arms and can be versatile for any weather. It doesn’t run the risk of impacting baby’s hips either, though it admittedly looks a little like a baby straight-jacket.
- The Zen Swaddle by Nested Bean is designed very specifically to mimic a mother’s hold and can be used with the arms in or out.
- As baby is transitioning out of swaddling, these are two good options: Swaddle Up and the Zipadee-Zip.
With so many options, you don’t have to settle with wrestling the corners of a blanket. The right way to swaddle a baby is whatever soothes him or her, makes mom feel as if her baby is safe, but doesn’t make mom want to pull her hair out.
How about you?
What was the best swaddle option for your baby? Did you (or do you currently) swaddle your baby? Does it help him/her sleep better? Let us know!