How To Swaddle A Baby: A Complete How-To Guide

Last Updated On: 

January 23, 2019

When you have a baby for the first time, there are a few pieces of advice you’re likely to hear over and over again – swaddling being one recommendation you might already be sick of hearing.

Your little one won’t sleep? Swaddle! Colicky kiddo? Swaddle! Waking up and fussy every hour? SWADDLE!

But, what exactly does it mean to swaddle? Why do we do it? And, most important of all, how can you swaddle a baby safely and effectively?

What is Swaddling?

Swaddling is the centuries-old method of tightly and carefully wrapping babies to keep them comfortable and happy. It requires nothing more than a blanket and the confident and knowledgeable hand of a parent or caretaker.

So, what do you need to know to be a successful swaddler?

Well, first things first, you certainly cannot just pick up a blanket and wrap it around your baby two or three times and walk away. That’s not swaddling.

Correct swaddling should really be thought of as a form of art. And, if you think about it, it really is. It takes practice and intimate knowledge of your baby’s needs to get it right.

There are several different methods of swaddling (all of which we’ll cover in the sections that follow), and each one offers different benefits to your baby.

The main benefit to all methods of swaddling, though, is that it’s like a warm embrace that mimics the well-known feeling of mama’s belly.

A Reminder Of Why We Swaddle Our Babies

Most newborn babies are comfortable when they are somewhat constricted.

Why is that so? Because they are used to the limited space and movement of the womb where they lived for 9 months straight.

Swaddling can help recreate that old familiar feeling, bringing peace and comfort to your baby, and peace and quiet to you in return!

Dr. Karp of the Happiest Baby on the Block has built his baby soothing method on recreating the atmosphere of the womb with the 5 S’s.

The 5 S’s are:

  • Swaddle
  • Side
  • Shush
  • Swing
  • Suck

Swaddling is the first “S,” and Dr. Karp even calls it the “Cornerstone of calming” your baby.

Be sure to check out his breakdown for details, if you’re interested in learning more about this.

How To Swaddle A Baby Safely

What’s more likely to give new parents a blowout anxiety attack than their sleeping baby’s safety? Maybe the thought of packaging their sleeping angel up in a blanket like a tightly bundled burrito!

That does sound anxiety-inducing, right? Well, only if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Here are a few tips to get you off to a safe start when swaddling your little one.

Swaddle on a Flat Surface

Your first step is to find a firm, flat surface to use for swaddling.

You can lay the blanket on your bed, a piece of furniture (like a couch) or even on the floor. Just make sure it’s completely flat.

This is important so that your baby doesn’t roll around while you’re swaddling. If they roll or move around too much during the swaddling process, it can result in an incorrect wrap.

This could mean baby might escape the swaddle while sleeping (i.e everything you’ve done so far has been a complete waste of time), or even worse, be swaddled in a harmful position.

Swaddle With The Hips In Mind

What’s a harmful position? To many experts, the number one thing you should be concerned about while swaddling is your baby’s hips and legs.

Have you ever noticed how babies, especially newborns, seem to be comfortable bunched up in a little ball?

It’s called the “fetal position” for good reason; because that’s how babies spend their days in mom’s belly! It’s a comfortable and familiar position.

A baby’s legs are not used to being straightened or held down for any length of time.

So, always keep those hips loose. When swaddling, you never want to wrap your baby in a position so that his/her hips will be pinned down. This could cause complications such as hip dysplasia, an abnormal formation of the hip joint, and could complicate the development of your child’s legs.

You want your baby to have flexibility in his/her hips, even when the upper half is tightly bundled up. The International Hip Dysplasia Institute calls this “hip-healthy swaddling,” and every method mentioned in this article will keep your baby’s hips free as a tree frog even though the legs are wrapped!

Swaddle With Confidence

But, of course, they’re going to wiggle around while you’re swaddling, just like any other time of the day!

So, if you want to get a snug and correct swaddle, you need to know just where to tug, fold, and tuck the blanket to keep it in place.

The first thing you should know is to never cover any part of baby’s face with the blanket while swaddling. Always begin with the blanket at their shoulders with their head completely above (and therefore free of) the blanket.

Once you know you aren’t in danger of covering his/her face, you can begin to confidently lift, wrap, and secure your baby in a snug little cocoon.

For more details about this, see the instructions below for each method, as well as how to tuck the blanket in order to keep your swaddle in place.

Comfortable Swaddling

You might think babies would hate the process of being swaddled, but the truth is most babies don’t really mind! In fact, if you can put together a proper swaddle, they’ll love you for it.

There are a few factors you should keep in mind, though, to make sure your baby remains comfortable while you swaddle.

Firm, But Gentle

The first thing to remember is that you should be firm, and don’t worry about being on the brink of breaking your baby.

It’s actually essential that you are a little bit assertive while you’re swaddling. You may have to tuck that chunky little arm down or lift that diapered bottom up in order to get that perfect swaddle. Or else, it’s going to take all day long and you won’t get anywhere.

Of course, you never want to be too forceful with your baby that you hurt them. The best technique when swaddling is to be firm, but gentle.

Moderate Temperature

Another obvious concern for swaddling is keeping your baby’s temperature at a comfortable level. This starts with the temperature of the room they’re in at the time.

An appropriate temperature for their room is between 68 and 72 degrees fahrenheit. Swaddling will cause your baby’s body to retain heat, so you might want to err on the lower side for room temp.

Also, be mindful of what clothes the baby is wearing when you’re swaddling them. Don’t put on layers of clothing! A simple onesie or a thin pair of pajamas will be sufficient.

Clean Diaper

Before you bundle that baby up, take a second and ask yourself: “Is this a fresh diaper?”

Trust me, you’ll be kicking yourself when you realize that you’ve just wrapped up that tiny little package with a dirty diaper!

So, go ahead and give the diaper the sniff test (if you have to) just to be sure. A clean, dry diaper is key to a happy and comfortable baby both while you’re swaddling, and afterwards as they fall asleep.

Full tummy

Basically any parent knows the two most important questions to ask themselves before putting a baby down to sleep. Right after “Is the diaper clean?” we ask ourselves “Is the tummy full?”.

Make sure that your little one isn’t hungry before you start swaddling.

Remember that newborns eat almost around the clock in the beginning. The Mayo Clinic suggests looking for hunger cues such as moving hands to mouth and lip-smacking.

You might be wondering, “How can I look for hunger cues if my baby’s hands are wrapped up in a swaddle?”. Excellent question! Check out the “Swaddle Methods” section we’ve put together below to see how you can properly swaddle your baby so their hands can still reach their mouth.

Swaddle Methods To Use

First off, it should be made clear that there’s no one correct or perfect way to swaddle. There are several different approaches and methods you could follow, each with a few similar principles and practices to ensure your baby’s safety at all times.

So, ready to jump in and learn the ropes? Let’s go!

Method #1: Swaddle With a Blanket

Traditionally, swaddling is done with a thin sheet or blanket. This is for two main reasons:

  1. So the baby doesn’t overheat in thick blankets
  2. Because thinner blankets are more pliable and easy to wrap

Nowadays, there are tons of swaddle blankets you can purchase that work really well, so you’re definitely not short on options to choose from.

Muslin blankets are especially great for swaddling because of the thin, lightweight qualities of the material. Muslin also stretches very easily, making it ideal for that perfect swaddle.

The examples below all use a muslin blanket. These three swaddling techniques use the same basic wrap formula, with slight variations to allow for different sleeping positions.

Ready? Here we go!

Basic Wrap (Arms Straight & In)

This basic swaddle is probably the simplest method discussed here, and you can use this method for babies of all ages.

It keeps the baby’s arms wrapped down at the side and provides a nice snug wrap about their midsection.

Step 1: Fold the top corner down (this is the first step for every technique).

Step 2: Fold the right side of the blanket over the right shoulder and arm. Pull tight & tuck under the hips.

Step 3: Bring the bottom of the blanket up to the left shoulder and tuck behind that shoulder.

Step 4: Fold the top-left side of the blanket over the left shoulder and arm, and hold in the center.

Step 5: While holding the fold in the center, wrap the excess blanket at the bottom of the blanket up over the right shoulder. (Important tip: Remember to not wrap the bottom half of the blanket too tight around the hips!).

Step 6: Carefully roll and lift your baby in order to tuck the end of the blanket behind.

Step 7: Pull the excess blanket tight.

Step 8: Neatly tuck into the folds of the wrap.

Step 9: Ta-da! Your baby burrito is finished!

The Australian Swaddle (Arms Bent & Inside)

This technique of swaddling is known by many different names, and is a great option.

The perk of this wrap is that it keeps baby’s arms up by his/her face, but keeps those tiny hands (and razor-sharp nails that should regularly be trimmed) wrapped up.

So if your baby prefers to sleep with his/her arms bent at the elbow and hands by the face, give this one a try!

Step 1: Fold the top corner down (this is the first step for every technique).

Step 2: Tuck the right arm under the inner flap of the triangle at the top of the blanket.

Step 3: Bring the bottom of the blanket up to the left arm and tuck behind the back (under the arm).

Step 4: Tuck the left arm under the inner flap of the triangle at the top of the blanket (as in step 2). Bring the excess blanket across the midsection & hold in the center.

Steps 5-7: Now simply follow steps 5-7 from the “Basic Wrap” technique—it’s exactly the same process! Only now, the arms will be tucked in an upward position, and closer to the face rather than down by the side.

The Feeding Cues Swaddle (Arms Bent & Out)

As the name suggests, this swaddle technique is great if you want your baby to be able to tell you it’s feeding time. Remember, one of the main ways newborn babies show their hunger is by bringing their hands to their mouths.

This method is ideal for newborns, but not necessarily the best if you’re planning to swaddle overnight, as it’s not the most secure.

Step 1: Fold the top corner down (this is the first step for every technique).

Step 2: Gather the arms to the chest and hold there.

Step 3: Fold the top part of the blanket down across the right shoulder. Leave the arms bent at the elbow and allow the hand to stick out.

Step 4: Bring the bottom of the blanket up to the left shoulder and tuck behind that shoulder, leaving the left arm bent and the hand exposed.

Step 5: Fold the other top of the blanket down across the left shoulder. Pull so that it is snug & keeps the arms secure.

Step 5-7: Now you can just follow steps 5-7 from the “Basic Wrap” section to finish! It’s exactly the same process.

Remember, your baby’s hands will be exposed rather than tucked inside the blanket.

When you’re done with everything, the finished product should look something like this.

Method #2: Swaddling With a Specialty Wrap

Although parents have been swaddling for ages, the recent production of specialty blankets and wraps has really boosted the popularity of the concept.

Most of these products will provide that snug embrace we’re all looking to master, but they all boast different pros and cons. So, think all of this through and choose wisely, depending on what features you want for your babe.

The beauty of these specialty wraps is that there’s not much of a learning curve involved to them.

So, here’s a quick list of some of the types of specialty swaddlers that you might find when shopping around, along with the basic pros and cons you should know about each one.

Sleepsack Swaddlers

What’s There To Like About Them:

  • Keep baby’s legs/ hips extremely loose
  • Easy zip up for those late night diaper changes (even easier with a soft night light).
  • Best for older infants
  • Some of them have velcro for a more snug fit
  • Leaves baby’s hands free

Drawbacks You Should Know About:

  • Not ideal for newborns
  • Not all have a snug fit

Velcro Swaddlers

What’s There To Like About Them:

  • Adjustable in midsection
  • Keep baby’s legs/ hips loose
  • Great for newborns

Drawbacks You Should Know About:

  • No easy access to diaper

Zip-Up Swaddlers (Arms Tucked In, Or Out)

What’s There To Like About Them:

  • Great for newborns that prefer to self-soothe with arms close to face
  • Easy zip-up

Drawbacks You Should Know About:

  • Doesn’t “wrap” midsection

One thing to keep in mind is that you can always combine the blanket swaddle with any of these specialty swaddlers to maximize your benefits.

What Should I Avoid Doing When Swaddling?

Not sure if you’ve swaddled correctly? Worried you might do something that causes more harm than good? Here are a few things you should always avoid to do this as safely (and effectively) as possible.

Do NOT:

  • Swaddle the chest too tight
  • Swaddle the hips too tight
  • Keep baby swaddled all day
  • Swaddle too loose
  • Lay swaddled baby on an uneven surface to sleep
  • Let baby overheat with too many layers

How Tight is Too Tight?

The whole point of swaddling is to give your baby a soothing embrace that will lull him/her to sleep, but you don’t want it to be too tight.

If you’re worried you’ve swaddled too tightly, look for signs that your baby’s chest is constricted. This could be seen in babies having trouble breathing or excessive crying.

When in doubt, remember that you can always unwrap and start over! There’s nothing wrong with doing that.

As mentioned above, you also want to keep the hips loose in a swaddle. Never wrap the lower half of your baby so that their legs are pressed down. You want to make sure there is enough room for those legs to bunch up a little bit.

How Loose is Too Loose?

Frustratingly enough, there is such a thing as swaddling too loose.

After all, you don’t want your little houdini to break free of the swaddle, especially if you’re putting them down in hopes they’ll sleep without interruption all night long.

If the swaddle comes undone, then your little one will be in bed with loose blankets. This is very dangerous and you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure it doesn’t happen, since it could lead to accidental suffocation or SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that infants aged 1 to 4 months are especially at risk of SIDS, but that soft and loose bedding could also be hazardous to children older than 4 months just as well.

What If My Baby Doesn’t Like To Be Swaddled?

It’s difficult to know what your baby is trying to tell you when all they can do is cry.

Many parents might be tempted to believe that their baby hates swaddling because, simply put, they cry when swaddled. Sometimes, that might be the case, but oftentimes there’s no correlation and it might be because of something else.

Here are a few questions for you to ask yourself before you give up and throw that swaddle blanket out for good!

When Are They Too Old For This?

You’ll know your baby is ready to transition out of the swaddle stage when (s)he starts to try and roll over. This usually happens around the 4 to 6-month range.

You don’t want your baby to be able to roll over while swaddled, because it could be dangerous if they roll onto their face.

Would My Baby Be More Comfortable Using a Different Method?

Remember, there are several different methods for effectively and comfortably swaddling your little one, so don’t feel like you’re stuck with just one or two ways to do this.

If you think your baby doesn’t like the method you’ve been using, try a different one shown in this article and see if that works better!

Should I Try To Un-Tuck The Arms?

A lot of newborns are most comfortable sleeping with their arms up by their face (like a tiny little referee). Swaddling the arms inside will definitely upset your baby if this is the case.

So, keep an eye on your baby throughout other times of the day to see if they often assume that position.

If your kiddo wants his/her arms free, try one of the arms-out swaddle techniques and see if that fits the bill!

You can also just remove their arms from the swaddle process altogether—only swaddling the midsection—and it will still make them feel snug and secure.

Don’t Throw In The Swaddle Blanket Just Yet

If your little burrito is still giving you fits about being swaddled, be sure you try other soothing techniques in addition to swaddling.

Remember Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s, and try shushing and swaying with your baby after you’ve swaddled them.

At the end of the day, this may help, and it may not. There’s nothing guaranteed. You have to use your best judgment on what your baby needs and wants.

That’s the frustrating beauty of parenthood!

You know your little one best, though, so this shouldn’t be anything too difficult for you to conquer.

Hopefully, this article has given you several options to try, and you can take it from here! Decide whether or not swaddling will be best for you and your little one, and which method(s) you’d like to give a try first.

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Laurel Dameron

Laurel Dameron

Laurel is a full-time toddler mom and writer. You can find her writing at her wobbly desk, reading a book to her daughter on the potty, or up on her soapbox about the necessary pursuit of identity and individualism for all moms!

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