Being a newborn is hard. One moment you’re snug as a bug inside of mom, and the next, you’re in this bright big (and a bit cold!) place. That’s where swaddling can make it an easier transition from womb to world.
It’s a time-honored technique that can help make your baby feel warm and secure, but proper technique is essential.
If you’re wanting to learn, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a step-by-step guide on swaddling, safe swaddle methods to follow and some do’s and don’ts when it comes to this age-old practice.
The benefits of swaddling
“Secure swaddling benefits the baby by providing boundaries like they were used to inside their mother to push against and find security,” said Mary Ann Sawyer, a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) developmental specialist nurse at Banner Health. “It also prevents an overactive startle reflex, known as the “Moro” reflex from waking a baby up.”
New babies have very little control of their limbs, so swaddling can help prevent your little one from being startled and hitting themselves in the face, ultimately disrupting their sleep.
Swaddling also benefits an overtired, fussy baby. “If your baby has a clean diaper and full tummy, swaddling can work well when combined with gentle swaying, shushing, holding your baby over your shoulder or side-lying and offering a pacifier,” Sawyer said.
Is swaddling safe?
Swaddling can encourage your baby to sleep better as long as it’s done correctly and done in accordance with other safe sleep practices. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Swaddling is recommended for newborns up until your baby starts to turn over on their own. You can use a swaddle or try a sleep sack or wearable blanket.
- To prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), make sure your baby is always put to sleep on their back on a firm surface.
- Don’t swaddle too tightly and make sure to check for signs of overheating.
- Babies aren’t to be swaddled all the time. When babies aren’t napping or resting, let them learn about themselves and their world with their hands and feet. “When babies are happy, they look at their hands and reach for things,” Sawyer said. “The time for them to learn from parents, siblings and caregivers is in their quiet, wakeful times.”
How to safely swaddle your baby
You may have learned how to swaddle a baby during a birthing class, but it’s much different swaddling in real life. Sawyer shared three ways to swaddle so you can become a wrapping pro.
Boat or Square Swaddle Method
Step 1: Spread the blanket out flat and fold down one corner.
You can make this a perfect triangle if the blanket is big enough, but make sure the blanket extends far enough below their feet and that you can fold it up and reach their chin.
Step 2: Lay your baby face-up on the corner of the blanket.
Your baby’s neck should be over the edge of the fold that you made or slightly above it, so the blanket stays away from their face.
Step 3: Fold over one corner and tuck under baby.
Gently straighten your baby’s left arm and wrap the left corner of the blanket over their body and tuck between their right arm and right side of their body.
Step 4: Repeat the process on the other side.
Tuck the right arm down and fold the right corner of the blanket of your baby’s body and under their left side.
Step 5: Bring up the bottom of the blanket and tuck
You can fold or twist the bottom of the blanket loosely under one side of your baby.
Step 6: Double-check snugness
You want them snug as a bug—but not too snug. Make sure your baby’s hips can move and the blanket is not too tight. You should be able to get two or three fingers between the baby’s chest and the swaddle.
The DUDU (Down-Up-Down-Up) Method
A method coined by Harvey Karp, MD, author of “Happiest Baby on the Block.”
Swaddle Prep: Spread out a large, light cotton blanket (about 44 inches) or a swaddler down on the bed. Fold the top corner down so it’s near the center of the blanket. Place your baby face-up on the corner of the blanket so the top fold runs under their neck.
Step 1: Down
Gently place your baby’s right arm down by their side. Grab the blanket about 4 inches from their shoulder and tug it snugly and bring it across their body diagonally to tuck behind their back—just below their waist. “It should resemble a V-neck sweater,” Sawyer said.
Step 2: Up
Gently place your baby’s right arm down by their side. Bring the bottom point of the diamond near their feet up and tuck it snugly around their left shoulder. Make sure your baby’s legs aren’t scrunched and they have some wiggle room.
Step 3: Down Again
Grab the blanket on the left side about 4 inches from your baby’s left shoulder and pull it down a little. Wrap it diagonally to your baby’s chest to form the other part of the V-neck sweater. Gently hold this against your baby’s breastbone like you’re holding down a ribbon to make a bow.
Step 4: Up Again
You’re almost there! While holding the one part of your baby’s chest, with your other hand pull the remaining free blanket away from the baby to snug things up. Then wrap it around the back of the baby’s body and tuck it in the front.
Hands-Up Method (for babies born before 37 weeks)
“Babies who are born before 37 weeks should not be swaddled with their arms down by their side,” Sawyer said.
Follow the steps as you would for the other two methods, but instead of pulling your baby’s arms down to their side, bring their hands together on their chest or under their chin. “This will promote your baby’s ability to soothe themselves,” Sawyer said. “If your baby has medical tubes, cover their hands so they can’t pull them.”
Important dos and don’ts to keep in mind
Now that you know the basics, keep these important tips in mind to keep your baby safe and sleeping well:
- Do check for recalls on any baby products you use. Go to CPSC.gov and type in the name of a swaddle product you are considering to see if it has been reported as unsafe.
- Don’t breastfeed a swaddled baby. Only swaddle for sleep. Babies breastfeed best when they are skin to skin and are able to have their hands near their face.
- Don’t swaddle your baby too loosely – or too tightly. When swaddles are loose, they can become a suffocation risk because your baby can accidentally pull the blanket over their face. Make sure the swaddle isn’t too tight, so your baby can move their legs and hips up and out.
- Do dress your baby appropriately. Overheating increases a baby’s risk of SIDS. Use lightweight pajamas under the swaddle.
- Do always place your baby on their back for sleep—swaddled or not.
- Do show caregivers how to appropriately swaddle your baby. Make sure they know about safe sleep practices.
- Do check out baby classes in your area. Banner Health has a series of baby classes available.
Swaddling can be tricky at first – especially with a wiggly baby – but just like with everything, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Remember to enjoy this time with your baby. It will go fast!