Plus, learn why some babies shouldn’t be swaddled and what to do when it’s time to stop swaddling baby.
For a new mama, learning how to swaddle a baby 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!
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
How to Swaddle a Baby – the Diamond swaddle – Mama Natural
- 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. Tuck into the little blanket pocket you’ve created on their front.
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.
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2. Square swaddle or quick swaddle
If the diamond swaddle isn’t for you, don’t worry, there are other ways.
- 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.
How to Swaddle a Baby – the Square swaddle – Mama Natural
3. Sleep sack swaddle
Looking for an even faster option? This method involves a special sleep sack 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.
How to Swaddle a Baby – the sleep sack swaddle – Mama Natural
Here are some of the best swaddling clothes:
- Aden + anais muslin swaddle plus is a light-weight 100% natural cotton muslin that’s great for diamond swaddling or the square swaddle. Lilbaby is similar to the Aden and Anais swaddle, but uses 100% organic cotton muslin and is less expensive.
- Woombie is cult classic, 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.
- This is an excellent and affordable velcro option, while Halo Sleepsack 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!
- As baby is transitioning out of swaddling, the Zipadee-Zip is a good option.
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.
Does Swaddling Work for All Babies?
Some children will resist swaddling like the plague. At the same time, you want to try several different swaddles before giving up completely; but bottom line, some children will not be comforted by a swaddle—never force it to work.
It’s also important to note that a swaddle 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 can roll over
- 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 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, as this is a suffocation risk.
When to Stop Swaddling?
It’s 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.
What to Do When Baby Outgrows the Swaddle
When babies first outgrow the swaddle, somewhere between 2-3 months of age, the transition may be a bit challenging. Since baby is used to being snug as a bug, normal movement may wake them up at first and cause a bit of a sleep regression. Here are some things you can try:
Try a transition swaddle. My daughter went from waking herself up constantly to sleeping through the night again.
Slowly reducing swaddle
You could also try slowly transitioning baby out of the traditional swaddle over the course of a week or so. Start by leaving just one arm out of the swaddle. A few nights later, remove the other arm from the swaddle.
Remember, all babies develop at different rates. If your baby is still waking him/herself up multiple times per night, wait a week and try again.
Once baby has mastered sleeping with both arms out of the swaddle, they can sleep in their pajamas or in a wearable blanket like this one. Either way is perfectly fine, but some mamas and papas swear the wearable blanket helps their baby sleep. Do what works for you!