You’ve seen how cute a baby looks when wrapped in a swaddle. But do you know why swaddles are used? How to do it? What about the benefits and risks? Or when to stop? We’ll answer all your questions so that you’re 100% ready for swaddling when the time comes.
What Is Swaddling?
It is an age-old practice of wrapping a baby to calm them and help them sleep. Parents have been doing this since 4000 BC! Swaddles are also known as swaddling blankets.
Why Do You Do It?
The purpose is to recreate the feeling of being in the womb, making a newborn feel safe and calm.
What Are the Benefits?
Swaddling doesn’t just make your little one look like a cute baby burrito. It has a host of benefits. These include;
● Sleep – Parents’ most popular question is: Do babies sleep longer when swaddled? It hasn’t been proven but countless parents find it helps them sleep longer and more soundly. And it makes babies feel secure, which encourages sleep.
● Startle Reflex – It keeps their hands and legs snug against their body. Helping to reduce the Moro reflex (The startle reflex). This can wake babies during sleep. It also stops them from scratching their face.
● Soothe – When paired with movement and sound swaddling can help quickly soothe a crying baby.
● Safe – Some studies find that when a newborn is put on its back while swaddled, the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is lower. We’ll get more into swaddling safety and SIDS later in this post.
● Helps the Parents – Swaddling helps parents too! With a baby that fusses less and sleeps more, parents can get a bit more rest.
Types of Swaddles
There are two main types: traditional and two-in-one swaddles.
A traditional swaddle is a large blanket made of material that is thin, stretchy, and soft. Muslin, bamboo, and jersey are popular choices.
A two-in-one swaddle (also called a swaddle sack) can function as both a swaddle and a sleep sack. You can wrap them up like normal or leave their arms out like a sleep sack. These kinds usually have zippers or Velcro.
Within these two main types, there are many different kinds.
How to Swaddle a Baby
How hard can it be to wrap a blanket around a baby, right? Well, swaddling can be confusing. Many parents are left scratching their heads when trying for the first time.
If you haven’t had your baby yet, you can ask a nurse to teach you before you leave the hospital. You could also ask during your first visit to the paediatrician.
In any case, here are step-by-step instructions:
Step 1: Lay it down flat in the shape of a diamond. Take the top corner and fold it downwards to the centre of the diamond. The top of the blanket should now be a straight line.
Step 2: Place your baby on their back on the blanket. Their neck should be along the blanket’s top edge. It’s important to note that only the body will be wrapped — not the head or neck.
Step 3: Hold your baby’s right arm gently down its side. Take the right corner of the blanket and pull it down and across your baby’s body. Tuck it underneath them on the left side. At this point, the left arm should still be free.
Step 4: Lift the bottom corner and pull it up over your baby’s legs. Tuck it beneath the left shoulder. This fold should be a bit looser so that the legs can move around a little.
Step 5: Hold the baby’s left arm down against their side gently. Take the left corner and lift it across your baby’s body, then tuck it into the other side of the blanket snugly.
The swaddle should be secure but not too tight. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to fit two fingers between the blanket and your baby’s chest. But it shouldn’t be too loose! If it seems like it’ll unravel easily, try again. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t get it straight away. If you are still struggling, look for a swaddle with Velcro or a zipper.
Do All Babies Like to Be Swaddled?
Most babies enjoy warmth and comfort but each has their own preferences. Not every newborn likes it.
What to do when a newborn doesn’t like being swaddled
In most cases, when a baby doesn’t like it, it’s the way you’ve done it. Don’t feel offended!
First, make sure that you’re doing it properly. Check the how-to section and video above. Also, make sure you’re swaddling at a good time. If you wait until they are exhausted the wrapping process could make them cranky. They might be more receptive after a bath or a massage.
Alternatives for babies who don’t like it
If you’ve done everything right and they’re still not taking to it. You could try a different technique or material. Try swaddling them with an arm, both arms, or even a leg out.
Some babies are simply natural enemies of the swaddle and nothing will work. In this case, consider switching to a sleep sack (more on those later!).
When to Swaddle
How old should babies be?
Babies can be swaddled as newborns up until they start showing signs of wanting to roll over. Which can make swaddling unsafe. This usually falls between the ages of two to four months.
How many hours a day should a newborn be swaddled?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies can be swaddled for 12–20 hours per day during the first few weeks after birth. From then on, the time should gradually decrease to lower the risk of hip problems.
Should I swaddle my newborn during the day?
You can swaddle your newborn during the day. Usually only for naps though. Swaddling should be a signal to them that it’s time to sleep. You can occasionally use it to soothe a baby outside of bedtime or naptime. But it’s not recommended to make this a habit.
Is it OK to keep a baby swaddled while feeding?
Babies shouldn’t be swaddled while feeding. There are several reasons why.
- Swaddling can get in the way of the important skin-to-skin contact they get while breastfeeding.
- Sometimes a swaddle can hinder a baby from moving freely enough to latch on and nurse effectively.
- A swaddle can even be so cosy that they will fall asleep before getting enough to eat!
Should I swaddle before or after feeding?
You can swaddle your baby either before or after. Provided its note while they are feeding. In general, it might be better to swaddle after. A full tummy will help them sleep more soundly.
When should you stop using swaddles?
Once your baby starts trying to roll over or showing signs of wanting to, it’s time to make the transition out of the swaddle. This is because if a swaddled baby rolls over they can end up on their tummy and be unable to roll back over. Babies usually start attempting to roll over at the age of two to four months.
Transitioning Out of the Swaddle
Swaddles are amazing for newborns but eventually become a hazard to their safety. Sooner or later, you need to make the transition to a sleeping bag.
A sleeping bag (also called a sleep sack or wearable blanket) is looser, with holes for the arms and ample space for the baby to move and grow. These are great for sleeping as well as letting your baby crawl and roll over safely.
There are many ways to make the transition out of a swaddle. A cold turkey approach works for some babies. If they are good at self-soothing, you could try going straight from the swaddle to the sleeping bag.
If you feel like that might be a bit much, aim to get your baby fully out of a swaddle in one or two weeks with this method:
Start swaddling the baby with one arm out. This is a good first step because it retains most of the comfort of swaddling. If your baby still has the startle reflex, the fact that only one arm can jerk minimises the chances of waking. It might take a few nights or naptimes for them to get used to this.
If your baby’s lost their startle reflex or if they’re used to sleeping with an arm out, try swaddling with both arms out! It may take a bit longer than usual for them to fall asleep. They might simply not be ready to sleep with both arms out. In which case you can go back to step one for a bit longer.
When your baby has adjusted to having both arms out, it’s time to make the actual transition to a sleeping bag. In any case, you do need to get them out of a swaddle sooner rather than later.
How Many and Which Should I Get?
There are so many options on the market, leaving new parents to wonder which is best for their baby.
How many do I need?
You will only need two swaddling blankets. One is to use while the other is in the wash. But if you don’t want to wash daily buy three or four.
How much do they cost?
The average swaddle costs about A$30–40, though you can find ones as low as $20 and some around $50.
Our swaddle recommendation
Our handmade muslin wraps are naturally breathable and lightweight. They are slightly stretchy, making wrapping your baby a breeze. They’re 1.2 m by 1.2 m, giving you ample space to swaddle a newborn. They are $39.95 each, putting them in the affordable mid-price range. Despite being high-quality and handmade.
What are they made of?
When shopping around, you’ll realise that there are a lot of options for materials. Three of the most popular choices are muslin, bamboo, and jersey.
What is the best material?
Muslin is considered by many to be the best. It is a type of cotton cloth with a fine weave. It’s soft, lightweight, and breathable. This makes them super comfy while staying cool. Organic muslin is also naturally hypoallergenic.
Bamboo swaddles are usually a cotton blend and are like muslin in their benefits. Bamboo is naturally antibacterial, offering an extra layer of protection. This material is also very good for temperature control.
Jersey is a blend of cotton and polyester or rayon. Swaddles made of it are silky and stretchy. If you’re looking for super stretchy swaddles, a jersey swaddle will be your best bet! Despite the stretch, jersey swaddles often have more structure than others. And are more likely to stay in place.
Regardless of the material, you should get blankets that have a little stretch to them. This not only makes wrapping easier but also makes sure that they have a bit of wiggle room.
What materials should I avoid?
Avoid heavy, thick, bulky, and non-stretchy materials. These put your baby at risk of overheating. They could also make them feel too tightly wrapped.
Are Swaddles Safe?
There are many things to be cautious about when swaddling. Like sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), hip dysplasia, and overheating.
Don’t panic! When done properly, swaddling is very low risk. Parents have been doing this for a long time. And the practice is very safe and beneficial for the baby.
Make sure you know what to do and what not to do. It can take a little while to get the hang of it. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not a swaddling superhero on day one.
Below we will answer common questions to consider for safe swaddling.
Are swaddles safe for newborns?
Yes, swaddles are meant specifically for newborns. They can be used from day one. But you should transition out of a swaddle once your baby starts to show signs of wanting to roll over.
Are swaddles safe for sleep?
Yes! Swaddles are meant specifically for sleeping. Though they can sometimes be used to soothe a baby outside of bedtime or naptime.
Swaddling them is safer than covering them with a blanket. As they sleep and move around, a loose blanket could end up covering their face. And potentially cause suffocation.
Is it safe to swaddle a newborn with arms out?
Not every baby takes to full-on swaddling. Some prefer to be swaddled with one or both arms out. It’s perfectly safe to swaddle your baby with its arms out.
Can you swaddle a baby too tightly?
Swaddles should be fairly tight, as they’re meant to recreate the feeling of being in the womb. But there should be a bit of wiggle room. It’s especially important that the swaddle isn’t too tight around their hips. As this can cause hip dysplasia.
If they seem uncomfortable like they’ve been too tightly swaddled, try to do it again a little looser.
Can you swaddle a baby too loosely?
But it’s also possible to swaddle too loosely! It should be secure enough that it won’t unwrap through the night or throughout the nap. Loose bedding or blankets are a safety hazard and increase the chance of SIDS if the baby pulls it over their head.
If you find that you have a problem with swaddles getting untucked, buy swaddles with zippers or Velcro.
Do swaddles cause hip dysplasia?
Another point of worry is the correlation between swaddling and hip dysplasia. This is a developmental condition where the baby’s hips don’t grow properly. Indeed, wrapping them too tightly can cause this condition. To gauge tightness, a general rule is that you should be able to fit two fingers between the blanket and your baby.
Can swaddling cause overheating?
Overheating is only a possibility if the proper precautions aren’t taken. Make sure to only swaddle them with a blanket made of a thin, light, and breathable material such as muslin. Don’t put any blankets over them while they’re swaddled.
When considering the risk of overheating, you can’t just think about the swaddle. Keep in mind the clothes that they are wearing underneath. The combination of the clothes and swaddle should be appropriate for the temperature of the room. Check their temperature periodically, as well.
Swaddling in the winter vs. swaddling in the summer
Swaddling is safe in both the winter and summer and the method of doing it is the same year-round.
The material of the swaddle and the baby’s clothes should match the temperature of their environment. In the summer, consider using a lighter material than usual, and vice versa. In any case, check your baby’s temperature to make sure that they’re not too hot.
Does swaddling increase or decrease the chance of SIDS?
The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is low but is a major source of stress for parents.
Throughout the years, there have been conflicting studies. Many studies have been inconsistent. They used small sample sizes or didn’t specify between sleeping positions.
The general consensus seems that when following safe sleep guidelines swaddling can lower the risk of SIDS. This includes putting your newborn to sleep on their back and making sure there is no loose bedding around.
One comprehensive report (drawing from a number of studies) says that if a swaddled baby is sleeping on its belly, the risk of SIDS greatly increases. The swaddle makes it more difficult for a baby to lift or turn their head if they face suffocation.
But according to the same report, a swaddled baby on its back seems to have a lower-than-normal risk of SIDS. This is because they can’t move into a position that would leave them susceptible to suffocation. Additionally, without their hands free and without loose blankets around, the baby has nothing to pull over their head.
To add to that, another study found that parents who practice swaddling are more likely to remember to put their babies to sleep on their backs.
Another concern is whether swaddling makes them so comfortable that they won’t wake up should something go wrong. The report above finds that swaddling does inhibit wakefulness. But not the specific kind that would be an issue.
Can a swaddled baby sleep on their side or on their belly?
No! It is always recommended to put a baby to sleep on their back rather than their side or belly, regardless of swaddling.
When sleeping on their belly, a newborn is at a higher risk of SIDS, usually as a result of suffocation. When a baby is put to sleep on their side, they could roll over onto their belly.
A swaddled baby put to sleep on their side or belly faces a higher risk of SIDS than a non-swaddled baby put to bed on their side or belly.
Does it help with gas?
Swaddling can help a newborn that is gassy or colicky, by applying light pressure to its stomach. The soothing effect that it has can stop a baby from crying. Which in turn reduces them from swallowing air which can cause gas. If your baby is crying while being swaddled, they aren’t comfortable. Follow your baby’s lead and ensure that you’re swaddling properly.
Can I swaddle my baby when bed-sharing?
We do not recommend bed sharing. And should not be done when your baby is swaddled. If an adult gets too close, a baby needs to be able to move and let them know. This can’t happen when they are swaddled. Swaddling while bed-sharing also carries an increased risk of overheating.
Swaddles and Premature Babies
Are they ok to use for premature babies?
Like full-term babies, premature babies can be swaddled. They receive the same positive effects. For premature babies, it’s often recommended to swaddle them with their hands brought together in front with their legs tucked up. Rather than by their sides in traditional swaddling.
Care and Maintenance
How to wash
You can wash a swaddle just like you would any blanket. Since it’ll be coming in close contact with your newborn’s skin. You should always wash a swaddle before the first time you use it.
Different materials have different washing requirements. So check the tag or packaging first.
Here’s a typical step-by-step guide for washing in a washing machine:
Step 1: Set the machine to a normal cycle, usually cold for colours and warm for whites. This may vary by manufacturer.
Step 2: Use the same type and amount of detergent that you use for washing your baby’s clothes, then start the wash.
Step 3: When the wash is done, transfer the swaddles to a dryer and use a low-tumble dry setting. Or you can line-dry.
If possible, avoid detergents that have fragrances and chemicals. This goes for all baby-related washing. It’s also best not to use fabric softener, or bleach when washing and drying them.
Tip: if they have zippers, make sure to zip them up before putting them in the washing machine!
Where to store them
They don’t need to be stored in any particular way — you can just fold them and put them in a drawer.
If you’d like to be creative or you don’t have much storage space, you can try storing your swaddles in:
- A basket or storage bin
- An over-the-door organiser
- A roller cart with other baby supplies
- On a wall ladder
Comparisons and Alternatives
Swaddle vs receiving blanket
The difference between a swaddle and receiving blanket can be a bit confusing. They are quite similar.
Swaddling blankets and receiving blankets are both thin, soft, square-shaped or rectangular blankets. They’re often made out of the same kind of material, like muslin or another cotton weave or blend.
Receiving blankets are plain blankets that are usually larger than swaddles. They are simple and multipurpose, often used for a wide variety of baby care tasks. They can even be used for swaddling!
Swaddling blankets are often smaller. And sometimes that will be the only difference between them and receiving blankets. But most swaddling blankets are specifically adapted for swaddling. They can have winged sides, zippers, or Velcro for easier wrapping and tucking. Depending on the features your swaddle has, it may not be as versatile as a receiving blanket.
Swaddle vs sleep sack
Both swaddles and sleep sacks are used to keep your little one warm while sleeping. Without having any loose bedding in their crib. They are very different, though!
A swaddle is used to wrap a baby snugly and completely (minus their head and neck). Some parents opt to swaddle their babies with an arm or both arms out. It all depends on what they prefer!
A sleep sack (also called a sleeping bag or wearable blanket) is less restrictive than a swaddle. They have armholes and are very roomy — lots of space for the hips and legs.
Swaddles are often better than sleep sacks at soothing babies. The snugness of the swaddle mimics the feeling of being in the womb. They’re also more likely to help babies sleep through the night. As they suppress the startle reflex that wakes babies up.
Swaddles are only for newborns. They can be used from day one up until your baby starts showing signs of rolling over. This usually happens between the ages of two and four months.
Sleep sacks can also be used from day one but can be used all the way up to the toddler years!
Usually, parents will start with a swaddle and then transition to a sleep sack. In some cases, they prefer a sleep sack right off the bat.
Swaddle vs blanket
You can use a normal blanket as a swaddle, once it fits all the criteria for a swaddling blanket, which is:
- Made of light, breathable, soft material
- Has some stretch to it
- Is big enough that, when wrapped, it won’t be too tight
- Won’t come undone after wrapping
Though swaddling blankets are made specifically for swaddling they have other uses. You can use these as:
- Nursing cover-up
- Sun shade on a pram
- Sunshade in the car
- Light blanket when it’s cold
- Furniture cover in case of messes
- Burp cloth in case of spit-ups
We hope this article has helped you on your swaddling journey.
The article has been peer-reviewed by Luisa Figueroa who is a mother of one and owner of My Little Love Heart.