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How to swaddle a baby: Step-by-step guide for parents

Experts share tips and best practices for correctly swaddling a baby with a blanket.
“When done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep,” Jude J. Cope, DO, told TODAY.
“When done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep,” Jude J. Cope, DO, told TODAY.Cavan Images / Getty Images

Because swaddling a baby resembles the close comfort of a mother’s womb, new parents are encouraged to learn the process to soothe infants and encourage sleep.

Some veteran parents say swaddling saved their sanity when it came to a fussy newborn.

“As a first time mom, swaddling was one of the things that intimidated me,” Maxine Clegg, a mother of two in Hawaii, told TODAY Parents. “The nurses gave me a quick run through and talked to me about the importance of wrapping them tightly and keeping the blanket away from her face. This seemed like an obvious thing to do, but when the baby is screaming at another decibel, you’re just doing things fast and trying to make them happy again.”

Learning how to swaddle a baby correctly is key, said Jude J. Cope, DO, a pediatrician and assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.

“When done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep,” said Dr. Cope.

How to swaddle a baby, step by step

The American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Safe Sleep provides the following instructions on how to swaddle a baby:

  1. Spread a blanket out flat, with one corner folded down.
  2. Lay the baby face-up on the blanket, with their head above the folded corner.
  3. Straighten their left arm, and wrap the left corner of the blanket over the body and tuck it between their right arm and the right side of the body.
  4. Then tuck the right arm down, and fold the right corner of the blanket over the body and under their left side.
  5. Fold or twist the bottom of the blanket loosely and tuck it under one side of the baby.
  6. Make sure the hips can move and that the blanket is not too tight, especially around the chest, so as not to restrict the baby’s breathing.
TODAY Illustration

Pediatricians caution that improper swaddling may cause problems in the hips of a newborn.

“The International Hip Dysplasia Institute recommends wraps and sleep sacks that have a loose pouch [or] sack for the baby’s legs and feet, are not too confining around the thighs, and that allow plenty of hip movement,” Cope said.

How to swaddle a baby for sleep

For parents using swaddling as part of their baby's sleep routine, Cope recommends swaddling in accordance with the AAP's Back To Sleep campaign guidelines. The campaign slogan, "On their back, every nap & every night," draws attention to the most crucial step — placing the baby on their back.

Other recommendations include:

  • Monitor the baby to ensure they don’t roll over while swaddled.​
  • Avoid loose blankets in the baby’s crib. A loose blanket, including a swaddling blanket that comes unwrapped, could cover baby's face and increase the risk of suffocation.
  • Use caution when buying products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. Wedges, positioners, special mattresses and specialized sleep surfaces have not been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • A baby is safest in his or her own crib or bassinet, not in your bed.
  • Swaddling can increase the chance a baby will overheat, so avoid letting the baby get too hot. If you notice sweating, damp hair, flushed cheeks, heat rash or rapid breathing, it could mean the baby is too hot.
  • Consider using a pacifier for naps and bedtime.
  • Place the crib in an area that is always smoke-free.

Which is better: a swaddle sack or a swaddle wrap?

When it comes to choosing between a swaddling wrap or sleep sack, one is not better than the other, according to Cope.

“It is what you as a parent feel more comfortable with and the preference of your baby,” she said. If you can’t get the hang of swaddling, there are many commercially made wraps and sleep sacks available that can mimic the feeling of being swaddled and achieve the desired calming effect.”

In addition, Cope pointed out that swaddling does not always have to include the entire body. “An alternative would be to just swaddle the upper extremities and allow the legs to move freely,” she said.

And sometimes, just when parents attain the perfect swaddling technique, it’s time to stop. “Parents should stop swaddling when their baby shows signs of rolling over,” Cope said. “This may be as early as 2 months of age.”

This article was originally published on June 23, 2020.