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

Experts weigh in on best practices for parents and caregivers

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By Kait Hanson

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 promote sleep.

Veteran parents might admit swaddling saved their sanity when it came to a fussy newborn.

“As a first time mom, swaddling was one of the things that intimated 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.”

Dr. Jude J. Cope, pediatrician and assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, confirmed the importance of technique.

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

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How do you swaddle a baby

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

Spread a blanket out flat, with one corner folded down.

Lay the baby face-up on the blanket, with their head above the folded corner.

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.

Then tuck the right arm down, and fold the right corner of the blanket over the body and under their left side.

Fold or twist the bottom of the blanket loosely and tuck it under one side of the baby.

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.

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.

Swaddling a baby to sleep

Cope suggests parents using swaddling as part of the sleep routine do so in accordance with the the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Back To Sleep campaign, whose slogan ‘On their back, every nap & every night’ draws attention to the most crucial step — placing the baby on his or her back.

Other recommendations include:

  • Monitor the baby to be sure they don’t roll over while swaddled.​
  • Do not have any loose blankets in the baby’s crib. A loose blanket, including a swaddling blanket that comes unwrapped, could cover his or her 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. The baby could be too hot if you notice sweating, damp hair, flushed cheeks, heat rash, and rapid breathing.
  • Consider using a pacifier for naps and bedtime.
  • Place the crib in an area that is always smoke-free.

Is it better to swaddle a baby with a wrap or swaddle sack?

Cope shared that one is not better than the other.

“It is what you as a parent feel more comfortable with and the preference of your baby,” she shared. 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, she said 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,” Cope said.

And 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.”