Swaddling is a technique that involves wrapping a baby snugly and securely in a blanket. To swaddle a baby safely, the blanket must support the baby’s body comfortably, but not too tightly, leaving the head showing so they can breathe.
Swaddling may help babies sleep better, as it helps stop them from jolting awake when noises or motion trigger their startle reflex. It may help comfort babies by resembling the conditions inside the uterus.
However, swaddling has some potential risks if a person does it incorrectly or at the wrong age for the baby.
This article discusses how to swaddle a baby safely, why technique matters, when to swaddle, and the benefits. We also look at why a baby may resist swaddling and when to stop swaddling.
To swaddle a baby safely:
- Spread a square blanket out on a flat surface. Position it so that the corners point north and south, like a diamond.
- Fold the top corner down one-third of the way toward the middle of the blanket.
- Lay the baby face-up on the blanket, with their shoulders lined up where the top of the blanket ends.
- Straighten the baby’s left arm against their body, and wrap the left corner of the blanket over them. Tuck it between their right arm and right side of the body.
- Straighten the right arm against their body, and fold the right corner of the blanket over them. Tuck the blanket under their left side.
- Loosely twist or fold the bottom of the blanket and tuck it under one side of the baby. Make sure the baby’s hips and legs can move.
- Check the blanket is not too tight by placing two to three fingers between the baby’s chest and the swaddle. If the fingers do not fit, the swaddle is too tight. If there is excess space, it is too loose.
- Adjust or redo the swaddle until it is the right fit, then lay the baby on its back to sleep. Always make sure they are on their back while swaddled.
Swaddling is generally safe if a person uses the right technique. Swaddling may be unsafe if:
- the blanket is too warm, or the baby has too many layers
- the blanket is too loose, as this can allow it to cover the baby’s face
- the blanket is too tight
- the baby rolls onto their stomach
These conditions can raise the risk of harm to the baby. They may cause:
- Overheating: Swaddling in hot weather, with warm blankets, or when the baby is wearing layers poses a risk of making the baby too hot. If the baby is sweating, has damp hair, flushed cheeks, or breathing rapidly, they may be too hot.
- Hip dysplasia: This condition occurs when the hip socket does not properly cover the end of the thigh bone, making the leg prone to dislocation. Swaddling babies too tightly may raise the risk of hip dysplasia.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Babies sleeping on their side or front are at increased risk of SIDS. Loose blankets can also increase the risk by making suffocation more likely. Secure swaddling and ensuring the baby is on their back reduces the risk.
It is safe to swaddle babies during the first 2–3 months of their life, as long as they are showing no signs of being able to roll onto their stomach.
Parents and caregivers may find it beneficial to swaddle at night, as it can help babies sleep better with fewer awakenings. This is safe as long as caregivers monitor the baby to ensure they do not roll over, that the blankets do not become loose, that they do not overheat, and that they can still feed on demand.
While swaddling can help babies settle and sleep, it is important for caregivers to note that young babies need to feed often. During the first 2–3 months of life — when it is safe to swaddle — babies
It is also OK to swaddle during the daytime, but only for short periods. People should not swaddle a baby constantly. Instead, give them opportunities to move around and let the legs fall into a natural position. This can happen during tummy time, when the baby is in a baby carrier, or during skin-to-skin contact.
Do not swaddle while feeding, as this can cause the baby to overheat. Swaddling during feeding can also suppress some of the baby’s important reflexes. During breastfeeding, a baby who can move freely can latch on better and nurse more effectively.
As soon as a baby is able to roll onto their front, it is no longer safe to swaddle.
Swaddling sometimes helps with:
- promoting deeper sleep
- minimizing the
number of timesa baby wakes up
- reducing stress and crying
- keeping the baby on their back during sleep
However, it is worth noting that the reason swaddling helps with sleep can also be a downside. Swaddling works by reducing stimuli and the baby’s arousal, which reduces awakenings. However, a baby’s arousal pathways are important so that they can detect danger or simply respond to their environment. While a baby sleeping on their back is known to reduce the risk of SIDS, having decreased arousal can actually increase the risk.
It may be harder for swaddled babies to wake up. According to the United Kingdom charity National Childbirth Trust (NCT), swaddled babies may also suckle less and feed less often. Especially in the early days and weeks of a baby’s life, this can have a negative impact on establishing healthy breastfeeding routines. When a baby is swaddled, their hunger cues might not be as obvious, so caregivers might not feed the baby as often as they should. This is why it is important to only use swaddling in certain situations.
Some babies may become frustrated, cry, or break out of their swaddle. This may happen if the swaddle does not fit correctly. Try:
- ensuring the swaddle is secure but that the baby can still move their hips
- making sure the blanket does not brush the baby’s cheeks, as they may interpret this as a sign the breast is near for feeding
- trying a different fabric
If the baby moves their limbs too much while a person is swaddling them, they may find it useful to ask someone else to help. One person can gently hold the limbs still while the other folds the blanket.
Alternatively, a baby may prefer to sleep without a swaddle.
A person should stop swaddling a baby at the first signs that they may be able to roll over. It varies when a baby is able to do this, but they may start as early as 2 months of age.
When the baby reaches this milestone, switch to other methods of soothing them at bedtime. This may include:
- Pacifiers: Pacifiers can soothe a baby and help them fall asleep. Pacifiers can also help protect against SIDS. If a person is breastfeeding a baby, they may want to wait until the baby is used to breastfeeding, at around 3–4 weeks old, before giving them a pacifier. A person should not attach the pacifier to anything or hang it around the baby’s neck.
- Feeding: Babies often fall asleep while feeding, so people could try timing their feed so that it happens before the baby is due to sleep. Move any items out of the crib or bassinet before feeding so that, if they do fall asleep, they can go straight into their sleep environment.
- Bathing: A warm bath may help soothe a baby before bedtime. It can be part of their bedtime routine, helping signal it is time for sleep.
- Music or reading: Soft, relaxing music or quietly reading to the baby may help them fall asleep. Quiet singing or humming may also help.
- Touch: Gentle touch may help the baby fall asleep. A person can try softly stroking the baby’s back with the palm of their hand.
Before bedtime, people should aim to switch off anything that may startle the baby, such as televisions, phones, or doorbells.
Swaddling a baby safely involves creating a swaddle that is snug, but not tight. It should be secure around the baby’s torso but with room for the hips and legs to move. Babies must always sleep on their back whether they are in a swaddle or not, as this reduces the risk of SIDS.
Parents and caregivers may find swaddling helps a baby sleep more deeply and for longer. However, it is still important to make sure a baby feeds often enough, usually every 2–3 hours. In addition, it is only safe to swaddle before a baby can roll over. As soon as they show signs of rolling, caregivers must stop using this technique.
Avoid swaddling too frequently, too tightly, or too loosely. These all pose a risk to the baby. If a person is unsure, they should hold off on swaddling and consult a nurse or pediatrician for advice.