You’ve heard us say it before, and we’ll say it again: becoming a mom is a damn steep learning curve. It turns out there’s a lot to know about taking care of a tiny human.
One of the very first skills you’ll likely call upon once your babe is earthside is swaddling. But, if you’re a first-time mom, you may not be familiar with swaddling in the slightest (and we don’t blame you – some of these #momskillz are quite particular to parenthood). So, here’s a swaddling 101, including the benefits, the risks, how to swaddle a baby, and when to stop swaddling a baby.
What is swaddling?
Swaddling is a baby-care technique that’s been used for millennia. It involves wrapping a baby swaddle (or similar – more on this below) snugly around your little one’s ‘bod to resemble the cozy feeling of your womb. Basically, it’s turning your babe into the cutest little burrito (eee!).
When do you stop swaddling a baby?
Swaddling is designed for very young babies, usually from birth until they show signs of rolling over – around the four to six-month mark. (So basically, how long you swaddle a baby depends on when your little one starts to roll.) Once your baby starts to roll, you need to get them out of that swad’ ASAP – they need their little arms free to help them roll over again and ensure they have enough room around their face to breathe if they do flip onto their belly.
Why swaddle a baby?
It’s essential to know that swaddling has many benefits but also a couple of risks too.
Benefits of swaddling include:
- Providing warmth for your baby
- Helping soothe your baby, particularly if they’re fussy or they have colic
- Promoting falling and staying asleep for longer
- Preventing your baby from rolling on their belly, thereby reducing the risk of SIDS (though, the risk of SIDS actually increases if a baby is swaddled and placed to sleep on their side or tummy)
- Calming your baby’s startle reflex (which can interfere with their sleep)
And the risks of swaddling include:
- Decreased arousal, which can make it hard for your baby to wake up and also increase their risk of SIDS
- Greater risk of hip problems like hip dislocation or hip dysplasia (when the top of the thigh bone isn’t held firmly in the hip socket)
- Stress for parents – while it’s easy to swaddle your babe, it can be hard to get the swaddle appropriately tight. In addition, babies are also little Houdinis that can wriggle their way out of swaddles, which can cause parents to worry their little one is ok overnight.
How do you swaddle a baby?
There are many ways as to how to swaddle a newborn baby, and each pediatric nurse or doctor might have their own technique. However, here’s an easy version.
- One baby swaddle wrap (something like this, which is touted as one of the best baby swaddle products)
- One baby
- Grab the wrap, lay it horizontally. Fold the top edge down by about eight inches (20cms). Lay your babe down on their back on top so their shoulders are in line with the fold.
- Place your baby’s left hand under the fold.
- Bring the right edge of the wrap diagonally across your baby’s body. Tuck it under their butt and legs.
- Place your baby’s right hand under the fold.
- Bring the left edge of the wrap diagonally across your baby’s body. Tuck it under their back.
- Fold any extra length of the wrap under your baby’s butt and legs. Cuddle away!
Here’s a video if you’re a visual learner. Note that it shows a slightly different way of positioning and folding the wrap. And there you have it: how to swaddle a baby!
How do you swaddle safely?
Swaddling is safe if done correctly. So, there are a few basics to keep in mind to ensure your little one stays safe while swaddled, including:
- Don’t swaddle your baby if you co-sleep – they can get too hot.
- Always dress and swaddle your baby appropriately for the weather – this can also cause them to get too hot (or cold, for that matter).
- Make sure the swaddle is tight, but not too tight – you need to ensure the fabric won’t come loose, but your babe still needs to be able to breathe.
- Always put your baby to sleep on their back (regardless of whether swaddled or not, in fact) to help reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Keep the swaddle looser around your baby’s hips and legs – to help prevent the aforementioned hip problems.
- And, as mentioned, once your babe starts a-rollin’, stop a-swaddlin’. At this point, you could move them into an arms-out sleep sack.
While swaddling is frequently used in hospitals and recommended by doctors, it isn’t for everyone or every baby. And neither is it a must – you don’t have to swaddle your babe.
If you’re worried about hip problems, for example, try a sleep sack, like this one, that allows room for your little one’s hips but still keeps their mitts contained.
If you are concerned about the swaddle coming loose, try a ready-made baby swaddle sack, like this one, that does up with a zip and velcro.
And if swaddling doesn’t calm your baby, try other techniques like rocking or even a relaxing hold. Here’s a video with a hold to try.
Ultimately, your decision to swaddle or not and how you do it is just that: yours. It’s often a test-and-try situation, where you need to find what suits you and your babe best. You’ve got this, mama.
This article doesn’t replace medical or professional advice. If you’re concerned about your little one’s health or unsure what’s suitable for you and your family, speak to your pediatrician or primary care doctor.