How to swaddle a baby

swaddled baby

Most new parents come across swaddling while hunting for anything that might make their (screaming) bundle of joy settle for longer than five minutes. Although the first couple of attempts can make you feel like you're losing a battle between a wriggly wrestler and a large piece of unwieldy fabric – safe swaddling can gradually become a valuable addition to your arsenal of baby-soothing tricks

What is swaddling and why should I do it?

Although not everyone chooses to swaddle their baby, it is a practice that has been commonly used throughout history to comfort fussy or upset babies. It can help them to get to sleep and, crucially, to sleep for longer periods of time. Swaddling is thought to have these effects because it recreates the snug, restricted space of the uterus, helping babies feel secure.

Swaddling your baby can also make her less likely to disturb herself in her sleep with those little jerky movements she does (caused by her 'startle reflex') and it can calm her down when she's overstimulated.

You may decide that swaddling your baby is not for you, or you may choose to give it a go. If your baby doesn't enjoy the feeling of being swaddled (which some don't), she'll soon let you know!

Is swaddling safe?

When swaddling your baby, it is important to make sure that you do not wrap the swaddle blanket too tightly around your baby or allow her to overheat.

Although a swaddle blanket restricts your baby's movement by its very nature, it is important that your baby's legs are free to move up and out at the hips. In the womb, a baby's legs are bent up and over each other. Forcing them to straighten too much and too quickly after birth by improper swaddling can affect healthy hip development and cause hip dysplasia or dislocation.

You must ensure too that she does not overheat. Remember to use thin blankets – the main aim of swaddling is not to keep your baby warm, but to make them feel secure.

To check that your baby is not getting too hot in their swaddle, simply place two fingers between the swaddle blanket and the skin of her chest – if it feels too warm to you, then chances are it feels too warm for your baby.

Do not cover your baby's head when swaddling as this will restrict the passage of air to her lungs.

How do I swaddle my baby?

Swaddling your baby can seem a little fiddly initially, but you'll soon get used to it. Always remember to:

  • Use a thin, soft and breathable blanket
  • Position your baby on their back – never on their front.
  • Remember to leave your baby with enough room inside the blanket to move their legs and hips – this will prevent any later hip and mobility problems.

To swaddle your baby:

  • With opposite corners touching, fold a swaddling blanket once down the middle into a diamond shape.
  • Place the blanket on a flat surface, such as your bed or a soft carpet.
  • Place your baby on the blanket, positioning her neck on the fold.
  • Hold your baby's right arm flat against her body. Fold the left corner of the blanket over her body then tuck it under her left arm and under her body.
  • Hold your baby's left arm flat against her body. Fold the right corner of the blanket. over her body and tuck it under her right side.
  • Make sure the blanket is secure but not too tight.

Some babies prefer to have their arms free. To swaddle them in this way, simply follow the instructions above but tuck each blanket corner under her armpit rather than over her arm.

How long should I swaddle my baby for?

It is up to you how long you keep your baby swaddled for. As long as your baby is comfortable and content and their legs and hips have enough room to move, then it is fine to leave them in their swaddle blanket.

If you are breastfeeding your baby, it is advised that you take her out of her swaddle blanket for feeds. This allows her to use her hands to explore and is also thought to help with latching on.

Should I swaddle my baby at night, or just for daytime naps?

You can swaddle your baby for her nighttime sleep and daytime naps. However, it is important to remember that you must not keep your baby in a swaddle blanket all day long. Your baby needs time to move freely, develop her muscles and motor skills and explore the world around her.

Whether you are swaddling your baby for half an hour or six hours, it is very important to leave her with enough room inside the swaddle blanket for her legs to move up and out.

When should I stop swaddling my baby?

Swaddling is meant for newborns. Once your baby is rolling over onto her tummy during sleep, it is no longer considered safe to swaddle her. This is because the movement of air to her lungs will be restricted and being swaddled may mean she will be unable to roll herself back onto her back.

Your baby will reach the stage when she no longer appreciates being wrapped in blankets. She'll want to roll around, look with curiosity at her hands and generally move her body more and more. When she starts to try to untuck herself and fuss when she is being swaddled, this is a good sign that she is ready to move on.

For more information on how to swaddle a baby, watch the video below: