How to Swaddle Your Baby

Swaddling is an ancient practice of wrapping up a baby to help them sleep. It’s been gaining popularity over recent years, with an estimated 90% of babies in North America being swaddled in their first few months.

Swaddling recreates that cozy feeling of the womb and can help soothe an infant, but in recent years, doctors have questioned its safety. So it’s important to learn how to do it properly, as well as to know the benefits and risks of swaddling. 

Where To Get a Swaddling Cloth

You can buy a swaddling cloth from most baby stores. There are different types of swaddling cloths. Some of them are simple square or rectangle blankets. Others are sack-like and allow you to zip your baby up. Some have additional flaps on the side that wrap across your baby’s body and are secured with sticky strips. 

When To Swaddle Your Baby

You’ll most often swaddle your baby before they sleep and to help calm them when they’re fussy. It’s important to stop swaddling once your baby starts trying to roll over. This can be as early as 2 months of age. Sleep sacks or wearable blankets that don’t compress your baby’s arms and chest can be worn as long as you want.

How To Swaddle Your Baby

Follow these simple steps to swaddle your baby safely:

  1. Spread your swaddle blanket out and fold one corner down. 
  2. Place your baby lying face-up on the blanket, with their head at the edge of the folded corner.
  3. With one hand on your baby, pick up the left corner of the blanket. Bring the blanket across your baby’s body. Tuck the blanket between their right arm and their body. It should go under their lower back and bottom.
  4. Gently straighten your baby’s left arm so it’s against their side. Pick up the right corner of the blanket and bring it across their body. Tuck it under their left side. 
  5. Fold or loosely twist the bottom corner of the blanket and tuck it under your baby. 
  6. The swaddle should only expose your baby’s head and neck. 
  7. Don’t swaddle so tightly that your baby can’t bend their legs.
  8. Place your baby on their back to sleep, not on their side or stomach

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Swaddling Your Baby

Swaddling can help a baby sleep but has both pros and cons. The advantages of swaddling your baby include: 

  • Better sleep. For babies, being swaddled is like being back in the womb. One study of 16 babies aged 10 to 16 weeks found that swaddling increases the amount of time they stay asleep and decreases the number of times they startle and wake by themselves.
  • Less crying. A study on 368 babies who cried excessively found that babies under seven weeks old cried slightly less after being swaddled.
  • Premature babies. Swaddling has been found to help premature babies with improved development of nerves and muscles, better organization of motor movement.
  • Calming and pain relief. Premature babies who are swaddled during a weighing were less distressed compared to babies who aren’t swaddled. In a study, it was found that swaddling can help relieve pain in premature infants after a heelstick blood test.
  • Sleep position. Parents who swaddle their babies are more likely to place them flat on their back when swaddled, which is the recommended sleep position for babies.

Disadvantages include:

  • Increased risk of SIDS. Researchers say that being swaddled decreases babies’ arousal which means it’s harder for them to wake up. That may sound like a good thing. However, research has shown that lower arousal may be one of the reasons behind sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the sudden and unexplained death of a baby under the age of 1. There are about 3,500 baby sleep-related deaths a year in the US.
  • Loose bedding. If your swaddle isn’t properly done, your baby can wriggle out. This means that the swaddling cloth is left loose in the crib, which can block your baby’s airway. Loose bedding increases the risk of SIDS. 
  • Overheating. As the swaddle is an extra layer, you should make sure your baby doesn’t overheat. Touch their chest or back of the neck to see if they feel sweaty or warm. Remove a layer of clothing or switch to a lighter, more breathable swaddle material such as muslin or cotton.
  • Developmental dysplasia of the hip. Improper swaddling can increase the risk of hip dysplasia. This is a problem with the way the hip joint forms. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. In developmental dysplasia of the hip, the ball of the hip isn’t centered in the socket, and in some cases may slide in and out of it. Studies have shown a connection between tight swaddling and hip dysplasia. Cultures that traditionally swaddle babies with their legs straight, such as on a cradleboard, have higher rates of hip dysplasia than cultures which carry babies with their hips apart. A program to educate Japanese grandmothers about traditional swaddling found a decrease in babies’ hip dislocation from about 3.5% to 0.2%.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Archives of Disease in Childhood: “Swaddling and hip dysplasia: an orthopaedic perspective.”

Clinical Pediatrics: “Swaddling: Will It Get Babies Onto Their Backs for Sleep?.”

HealthyChildren.org: “Swadling: Is It Safe?”

International Hip Dysplasia Institute: “Understanding Hip Dysplasia: What Causes Hip Dysplasia?”

Journal of Clinical Nursing: “A feasibility and efficacy randomised controlled trial of swaddling for controlling procedural pain in preterm infants.”

The Journal of Pediatrics: “Comparison of behavior modification with and without swaddling as interventions for excessive crying.”

Journal of Perinatology: Official Journal of the California Perinatal Association: “Infant physiologic and behavioral organization during swaddled versus unswaddled weighing.”

National Institute for Children’s Health Quality: “Health Professionals Need to Talk to Families About Swaddling.”

National Institutes of Health: “Unsafe Infant Bedding Use Still Common.”

OrthoInfo: “Developmental Dislocation (Dysplasia) of the Hip (DDH)."

Pediatrics: “Influence of Swaddling on Sleep and Arousal Characteristics of Healthy Infants,” “Swaddling: A Systemic Review.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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