Learn how to swaddle a baby, how to know when to stop swaddling, and what to do if your baby doesn’t want to be swaddled.
One of the best ways to soothe and calm a newborn baby is by swaddling them. Odds are that while you and your baby were still in the hospital, your baby was brought to you wrapped tightly in a blanket, with only their adorable little head and face visible.
Most new parents discover and learn how to swaddle a baby during their stay in the hospital after delivery. Swaddling newborns has been around since ancient times but regained its popularity in the early 1990s when back sleeping was proven to be the safest sleeping arrangement for babies.
Besides making back sleeping much easier for your newborn, there are many reasons why to swaddle a baby. Swaddling your little one helps to soothe and calm them and help them get better sleep by:
- Helping your baby feel secure and safe while adjusting to life outside the womb.
- Preventing their arms and legs from flailing around and triggering their startle reflex.
- Providing warmth until their internal temperature regulation develops.
- Keeping their hands away from their face to avoid scratching.
- Eliminating anxiety for your baby by simulating touch and helping them to self-soothe.
Getting better sleep is critical for both a newborn and their new parents. Learning how to swaddle a baby properly can prove to be one of the most essential tools in your new parenting arsenal.
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How To Swaddle A Baby: Step-by-step
Swaddling is one of the safest ways to help your newborn stay calm and sleep soundly during the first 3 months of their lives. Swaddling helps to increase sleep efficiency in newborn babies by preventing spontaneous awakenings caused by their startle reflex or involuntary twitches in their arms and legs.
Trying to get the perfect wrap on your newborn can seem challenging at first, and it is easy to become frustrated, especially in the middle of the night. Don’t worry! With a little practice following these steps, you will be a master swaddler in no time! Here is a step-by-step guide on how to swaddle a baby.
1. Spread Your Swaddling Blanket On A Flat Surface
When you lay out your swaddling blanket, you want to place it sideways, so that it appears as a diamond shape. You can use your bed, the floor, or a table.
Take the corner of the blanket that is on the top, and fold it down about 6 inches, essentially turning your diamond shape into a triangle.
2. Lie Your Baby Down On The Blanket
When you lay your baby down on the swaddling blanket, make sure they are face-up, and their head sits just above the fold across the top. Their body should lie straight down the center of the blanket toward the bottom corner.
3. Start On The Left Side
Straighten your baby’s left arm to their side. Take the left corner of the blanket and wrap it snugly across your baby’s chest, underneath their right arm, and around their back.
4. Secure The Bottom
Bring the bottom corner up over their body and tuck the corner into the left fold, directly underneath your baby’s chin.
5. Finish On The Right Side
Finally, straighten your baby’s right arm against their side and pull the right corner of the blanket snuggly across your baby’s body and around to the back. You can tuck this corner into the top fold right at the base of your baby’s neck.
Remember that swaddling a baby takes a bit of practice, and you may not get it right on your first few tries.
How To Swaddle A Baby Safely
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) the benefits of why to swaddle a baby include better and safer sleep quality in newborns. This is of course, as long as your baby is swaddled safely, and swaddling your baby is used in conjunction with all other safe sleeping guidelines.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when learning how to swaddle a baby is that the blanket should never be loose enough to come unwrapped while sleeping. This can cause an increased risk for suffocation and SIDS.
Additionally, if you are wrapping your baby too tightly in a swaddle, you may run the risk of poor hip development and damage to their joints and cartilage. When wrapping your baby’s legs, be sure that they are able to keep their legs bent and that they are not forced into an unnaturally straight position.
Swaddling your baby will help them to sleep much more soundly and safely, allowing you to get some rest yourself. When swaddling your baby, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure the swaddle is not too tight. You can test this by checking to see if you fit two to three fingers between the blanket and your baby’s chest. Be sure to check that your baby’s legs are able to bend.
- Babies should always be put down to sleep on their backs.
- Make sure your baby is not overheated. When your baby is swaddled, be sure to keep the room at a comfortable and recommended sleep temperature (between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round).
- Use swaddling for sleeping only. You can swaddle your newborn for naps and sleep at night safely by following the recommended guidelines.
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Signs That A Baby Doesn’t Want To Be Swaddled
While the science behind swaddling is sound, and it is proven to help babies stay calm and get better sleep, it is also true that not every baby likes to be swaddled. You may be wondering if you have to swaddle your baby, or if your baby is showing signs they don’t want to be swaddled.
The short answer is that swaddling your newborn is not a requirement for them to be happy and healthy. However, you may want to consider alternative swaddling options before giving up on it altogether.
Some signs that a baby doesn’t want to be swaddled include:
- Increased fussiness when swaddled
- Kicking and squirming to try and free themselves
- Struggling to get their arms free
Some babies prefer to have their arms left out of a swaddle. If this is the case for your newborn, consider wrapping the blanket securely underneath each arm and swaddling them with their arms out. This modified swaddle may just be the best of both worlds for your newborn baby.
If your baby is a stronger kicker and is constantly kicking their way out of their swaddle, you may consider trying specialty swaddle wraps that include velcro closures that keep your baby wrapped safely and securely.
If, however, you feel that swaddling is not right for your newborn, it is perfectly fine to forgo it altogether.
When Do You Stop Swaddling A Baby?
Swaddling is a wonderful way to increase sleep efficiency in newborns and help keep them feeling safe and soothed. However, once your baby reaches a certain age and begins to develop specific motor skills, swaddling your baby can become unsafe and detrimental to their health.
So when do you stop swaddling a baby? Generally, babies are swaddled for the first three months of their lives. However, once your baby is able to roll over, you will want to stop swaddling them. Some little ones can accomplish this as early as 2 months, while others reach this milestone later, around 3 or 4 months old.
Sometime between 2 and 4 months, you will stop swaddling your baby. But it is important to remember that at this age, even once you stop swaddling, they are still unable to sleep with blankets and pillows.
Safe sleep for babies after they are done being swaddled includes the use of sleep sacks and other wearable blankets that allow your baby to transition out of the swaddle safely.
No matter how intimidating it may feel when you start learning how to swaddle a baby or how stressful it might seem to have a baby that doesn’t like being swaddled, remember that with a little practice, and some help from experts, you will be able to help your baby get better sleep safely in no time!
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