Why, how, and when to swaddle

Why we swaddle our babies?

From the day you bring your little one home, you will begin a journey of finding ways to soothe, feed, and help this little human sleep. You will go to great lengths to ensure your baby is full and content. One tool we all use to do this is swaddling, which helps babies secure their arms and rest. Babies will often fling their arms around with zero control, and they grab things with a death grip and often can not let go. This is all due to their heightened reflexes. These amazing reflexes help them use their hands and face to get to the milk source. We use swaddling when we need to give them a break and go into a deeper rest and repair sleep.

How to Swaddle Your Baby Safely

Swaddling your baby is a simple way to keep your baby warm and secure by using a snugly fastened blanket. It can also be a source of comfort to your baby, since it mimics the familiar feeling of being inside the womb. However, when not done properly, swaddling can be unsafe. That’s why it’s important for parents to know how to swaddle their baby safely. Follow our guidelines for swaddling safely so you can soothe your baby or help lull them to sleep.

Choose a swaddle blanket

A ready-made swaddle blanket is a little more sophisticated than a simple thin blanket, but both can be used for swaddling. If you want something that will take the guesswork out of swaddling, choose one that fastens with Velcro, zippers, or hook and loop closures. Some highly-rated favorite swaddle blankets include the Halo Sleepsack and the SwaddleMe Original Swaddle

If you’re comfortable with swaddling your little one in a blanket, you can take some home with you from the hospital: they’re free! Or, try a cotton muslin blanket by popular brand aden + anais. They come in all sorts of adorable patterns, and they’re versatile enough to work as more than just swaddle blankets. You can use them as stroller blankets, nursing covers, or burp cloths in a pinch. 

Once you have your swaddle blanket picked out, you’re ready to swaddle your baby.

Lay the blanket in a diamond shape, and fold the top corner down

Arrange your blanket on a flat surface into a diamond shape. Then, fold the top corner down towards the center. The top of the blanket should now form a straight line.

Place baby face-up on the blanket

Place your baby face-up on the blanket. His neck should rest along the top edge of the corner that you folded down. Gently place his right arm (your left) alongside his body, leaving it slightly bent.

Pull the swaddle securely across your baby’s chest and arm 

Take that same side of the swaddle and pull it across your baby’s right arm and chest. Tuck the end of the fabric under baby, leaving his left arm (your right) free. 

Fold the bottom of the swaddle up and over baby’s feet

Next, fold the bottom of the swaddle up and over your baby’s feet. Tuck the end of the fabric into the top of the swaddle. Your baby’s legs and right arm should be covered at this point. While his right arm should be snug to discourage wriggling out of the swaddle, his legs and feet should be able to move around.

Pull and secure the other corner of the blanket to finish swaddling

Then, gently straighten your baby’s left arm, and pull the remaining corner of the blanket snugly across his body. Tuck the end of the fabric underneath him to secure the swaddle. Make sure the swaddle is nice and tight, but leaves enough room for the legs and feet to move.

Safety tips for swaddling

  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, especially when swaddling. 
  • Make sure that your swaddle can’t come loose, which can smother your baby.
  • When your baby learns how to roll onto his stomach, stop swaddling. Your baby may also begin to fuss or fight the swaddle, signaling that it may be time to stop swaddling. This often happens between two and six months.
  • Babies’ legs need room to bend up and out at the hips, so don’t force your baby’s legs to extend or make that section too tight. Restricting movement can lead to developmental dysplasia of the hip
  • Not all babies enjoy being swaddled. It’s common for babies to fuss at first when being introduced to swaddling, but if yours seems happier without it, then that’s okay!

When it is time to stop swaddling

From birth to 8 weeks, swaddling is a big part of your life. It supports sleep as well as resets your baby when they have become overwhelmed. It is a great way to help your baby when they can not developmentally control their limbs and need to just relax. But like all things in the first year, they will grow out of it. 

The first sign your baby is outgrowing the swaddle is the desire to begin rolling over. This is a fun and exciting time, when they begin to master their movement and developmentally want to start moving. Because it is unsafe to have a rolling baby in a swaddle, we need to “break” the association of the swaddle to sleep. To do this:

  1. Begin with all naps during the day being unswaddled
  2. Practice rolling during the day time …A LOT! They will use muscle memory and natural curiosity to master this new skill, but it takes practice.
  3. Once your baby starts rolling over regularly (not just once), you will stop using the swaddle “cold turkey” during the night. I do not advise leaving one arm out, as it just limits their movement and is higher risk for them to roll and get stuck.

Swaddling can work wonders for soothing a fussy baby or encouraging sleep. If you need more guidance on sleep training methods or soothing techniques, Sleep by Rachelle is here to help! Learn more about the Sleep by Rachelle method or reach out to us with your questions now.

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