The term “bundle of joy” derives from the age-old tradition of swaddling babies, a technique that has been used throughout history. Swaddling a baby involves wrapping them snugly in a blanket or cloth to provide comfort and warmth. It can help calm a fussy baby and promote sleep.
Swaddling helps to restrict a baby's movements and mimics the comfort of being in the womb.
Swaddling has been proven to help newborns cry less and sleep better.
Once your baby starts rolling over, it is time to discontinue swaddling.
This article will go over swaddling basics such as how to swaddle, the best swaddles to use, benefits and safety concerns to be aware of.
Why do you swaddle a baby?
Swaddling has numerous benefits and is one of the first things many of us learn as new parents. Swaddling is essentially wrapping your baby into a blanket with a series of folds and tucks. Research on the swaddle technique suggests that newborns feel more secure as if they are in the womb. Being securely covered also helps to regulate newborn body temperature.
When finished with a proper swaddle, the baby should be snuggled securely with their heads out and minimal limb movement. The restricted movement may also help to keep them from startling themselves with big movements.
Best swaddles for newborns
The ideal material for a swaddle is lightweight, stretchy, and soft; cotton and muslin blankets are popular choices. Most hospitals typically use a thin, soft flannel cotton blanket measuring about 30 x 40 inches in size.
There are many swaddle options available on the market such as the standard blanket swaddles that you wrap yourself and pre-made swaddles that zip or Velcro into place. These blankets come in a large variety of sizes, textures, shapes, and materials. They may also be labeled as receiving blankets but can all function the same once you learn how to fold them.
How to correctly swaddle a baby
There are a few different ways to swaddle a baby. You can choose different folding techniques and try arms tucked in or out. The most important part of a proper swaddle is a comfortably snug wrap that is not too tight. It is important that the blanket is tucked and folded snugly to offer light constriction but not to where it would interfere with breathing or leg movement. The steps below are for a classic "arms in" swaddle.
Steps for a blanket swaddle
Follow these steps for the classic blanket swaddle with either a square or rectangle blanket. The blanket size should be 40 × 40 inches or 30 × 40 inches for the best results.
- Lay out the blanket in a diamond shape on a sturdy, flat surface.
- Fold down the top corner; the point should be above the middle of the blanket.
- Place the baby on the blanket facing up. The baby's neck and shoulders should line up on the top fold in the center with their head off the blanket.
- Straighten their left arm down along their side and fold the left side of the blanket across their body, keeping the arm in place.
- Tuck the excess of the left side of the blanket behind the baby's back just below their armpit, leaving the right arm free.
- Pull the bottom of the blanket up and over to close in the baby's feet.
- Check that the hips are laying naturally and the baby has space to move.
- Straighten the baby’s right arm down by their side and wrap the right side of the blanket across their body. Tuck the excess in behind the baby.
- Ensure the swaddle is not too tight across the baby's chest. You should be able to fit 2 or 3 fingers in there comfortably.
Specially made swaddle blankets
These pre-made swaddles or sleep sacks are great for a quick wrap or if you just cannot get the hang of the folds on the traditional blanket. These blankets typically come with manufacturer instructions and function like the traditional swaddle but are designed differently than the square or rectangle blankets. Many of these have a pre-sewn pouch for the legs and foldable flaps to secure the arms. Depending on the design, these types of swaddles may allow for more leg movement.
Benefits of swaddling
Swaddling newborns for the first few days after birth helps to regulate body temperature fluctuations and promote the feeling of safety. Research has also determined that, along with a calming effect, swaddling can also reduce sensations of pain and discomfort. Being swaddled also promotes better sleep. Babies tend to sleep longer and startle less when snuggly swaddled.
Swaddling tips and safety concerns
The swaddle should make newborns feel secure and cozy. The snugness of the swaddle can also prevent the baby's startle reflex, helping them to sleep better and longer. However, it is important to swaddle safely and follow proper guidelines to reduce the risk of suffocation or other injuries.
- Choose a proper size blanket. Too small of a blanket may come undone easily while too large will be difficult to wrap. A typical size blanket for a newborn is 40 × 40 inches.
- Overheating. Be sure not to bundle the baby in too many layers of clothing and blankets to prevent overheating.
- Proper sleep position. Always place your baby on their backs to sleep, especially in a swaddle. Babies who sleep on their sides or their stomachs are at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Rolling over. Once babies start rolling over onto their stomachs, swaddling should be stopped. Your baby may not be able to roll back over if their arms are pinned down inside the swaddle.
- Hip safety. Infants need room to move their legs. Over restriction of lower limbs can contribute to hip dysplasia, a misalignment of the hip joint. Be sure the baby can lay naturally and kick their legs while in the swaddle.
Swaddling is a tried-and-true method to help infants feel safe and sleep better. There are many different swaddle blankets on the market, making it easy to find the right fit for your baby. Keep in mind that babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep, and once your baby rolls over it is time to stop swaddling.
Can I breastfeed my swaddled baby?
Swaddled infants can be breastfed. For the first few months after birth, skin to skin contact during breastfeeding is also recommended. Some research suggests that babies may feed for less time due to the swaddle.
Should I swaddle my newborn at night?
Yes, you can swaddle a newborn at night. Evidence suggests that swaddling at night can help promote longer stretches of sleep. Babies who are swaddled at night are also reported to have better abilities to self-soothe. Studies have shown that infants who are able to self-soothe have better sleep patterns throughout childhood.
Do I need to swaddle my baby?
No, you do not need to swaddle your baby. Some babies do not like being in a swaddle. Some signs that a baby does not want to be swaddled are excessive kicking and crying. Once babies get a little older, they may start fighting the swaddle, and that is ok. If they kick it off continually it may be a sign that it is time to stop or to try one of the special sleep slacks that zip up and have more wiggle room.
- American Journal of Human Biology. The impact of swaddling upon breastfeeding: A critical review.
- British Medical Journal. Thermoregulatory effects of swaddling in Mongolia.
- CDC. Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Behavioral Sleep Medicine. Parental Discontent with Infant Sleep During the First Two Years of Life.