Swaddling 101: How To Properly Swaddle Your Baby

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While parents have been swaddling their babies for centuries (wrapping them snugly in a blanket), the technique takes a certain amount of skill and practice to master. But don’t be daunted! Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve helped hundreds of parents (especially first-time ones) get the hang of it, and we’re ready to help you, too.

During their first one or two months of life, babies go through a huge adaptation from life inside to outside their mom’s body. Swaddling keeps them warm, calm and secure (by mimicking the tight quarters of the womb), it also has the following important benefits.

Benefits of swaddling

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

1. Swaddling can lead to longer, sounder sleep. While a newborn sleeps about 16 hours a day, it’s usually in 3- to 4-hour intervals. However, swaddling increases your baby’s REM (rapid eye movement), which means he/she is less likely to wake up once they fall asleep.

2. Swaddling soothes a crying baby. Swaddling has been shown to significantly decrease crying in infants 8 weeks old or younger – good news for tired parents. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t always apply to colicky babies.)

3. Most importantly, swaddling may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Babies who sleep on their stomachs are at higher risk of SIDS. For that reason, infants should always be put to sleep on their backs. A properly swaddled baby, with their face up, will be less likely to change positions in their sleep and end up on their tummy, and therefore less likely to experience SIDS.

To learn more about SIDS, here are two highly informative blogs:

The best way to swaddle your baby, step by step

Proper swaddling keeps a baby’s arms close to the body while still allowing some movement of the legs. Follow these 5 steps and you’ll soon be swaddling like a pro:

  1. Spread out a baby blanket, with one corner folded over slightly.
  2. Lay your baby face-up on the blanket with his/her head above the folded corner.
  3. Wrap the left corner over your baby’s body and tuck it beneath your baby’s back, going under the right arm.
  4. Bring the bottom corner up over your baby’s feet and pull it toward his/her head, folding the fabric down if it gets close to the face. Be sure not to wrap too tightly around the hips. Hips and knees should be slightly bent and turned out. Wrapping your baby too tightly may increase the chance of hip dysplasia.
  5. Wrap the right corner around your baby, and tuck it under his/her back on the left side, leaving only the neck and head exposed. To make sure your baby is not wrapped too snugly, make sure you can slip a hand between the blanket and your baby’s chest to allow for comfortable breathing. But, make sure the blanket is not so loose that it could come undone and endanger your baby.

A how-to video

As an easy-to-follow demonstration of the correct way to swaddle a baby, we like this video from babycenter (click on the image below):

When to stop swaddling your baby: 3 months

All newborns are born with a startle reflex called the Moro reflex. If you stop swaddling while your baby’s Moro reflex is still strong, he/she may startle him/herself awake at night and during naps. On the other hand, if you wait too long to stop swaddling, you run the risk of your baby being able to roll around and possibly end up on his/her stomach, which could be very dangerous.

For these reasons, we at Westchester Health Pediatrics recommend stopping swaddling by 3 months.

When our parents ask us for the best way to stop swaddling, we tell them to do it gradually. Start by leaving one arm or one leg unswaddled. From there, leave both arms or both legs unswaddled. Eventually, build up to the point where you’re not swaddling at all. The idea is that a slow, gradual transition makes it easier for a baby to get used to sleeping unswaddled without getting upset.

3 swaddling tips

  1. Swaddled babies should NEVER sleep face down.

The risk of SIDS is much greater when babies are face down, so when they start to roll over onto their tummies while sleeping, it means that it’s time to stop swaddling.

  1. Make sure your baby is not swaddled all day long.

While swaddling babies for sleep is fine, especially when they are very young, they need time to move around freely so they can grow stronger and develop their gross motor skills. If your baby spends all of his/her sleep and awake time swaddled, this impedes crucial physical development.

  1. Stop swaddling before beginning sleep training.

Part of sleep training involves helping your child learn to self-soothe. Babies need to be unswaddled in order to learn this.

Count on us for information and advice to help you raise your baby

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re a new parent or an old hand, you can turn to us for help, whatever stage of development your child is in. We’re parents too, with years of experience helping parents learn how to safely swaddle their babies. To read about our tips, advice and guidance specifically for new parents, click here.

Helpful articles you might want to read:

Want to know more about swaddling? Come see us.

If you’d like more information about the proper, safe way to swaddle your baby, or if you have questions about any aspect of caring for your newborn, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy child and for you to feel confident as a parent. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy baby and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball