Baby Care

Must-know tips and advice from experts

If you’re caring for a little one, it’s common to have questions and concerns about swaddling, including how to do it and whether or not swaddling is safe. Swaddling is a popular method of baby care where you wrap an infant up in a blanket to help soothe and comfort them. 

“Many cultures have practiced swaddling for centuries, as it can help babies feel secure and might aid in sleep,” says Dr. David Sorrentino, pediatrician and neonatologist at Pinewood Family Care Co. “Swaddling, when done correctly, is generally safe for babies.”

Here, we’ll take a closer look at swaddling, including the basics of how to do it and how to make sure that everyone who cares for a baby — parents, grandparents, nannies and babysitters — is on the same page about how to safely and effectively swaddle.

What is swaddling?

Many parents are taught swaddling at the hospital after their baby is born. There are a number of different ways to swaddle, but the basic idea is that you wrap your baby up snugly — but not too snugly — in a blanket, so that your baby feels cozy and secure but still has room to breathe and move.

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), the two main goals of swaddling are soothing a newborn and helping them sleep. “Swaddling is safe and can help babies stay warm after birth,” says Nicole Peluso, a certified lactation consultant and the manager of lactation services and education for Aeroflow Breastpumps. “Babies generally enjoy the womb-like feeling and are comforted by it,” she adds.

Is swaddling safe for babies?

“In general, yes, swaddling is safe for newborn babies,” says  Dr. Jenelle Ferry, neonatologist and director of feeding, nutrition and infant development at Pediatrix Medical Group in Tampa, Florida. Still, there are some caveats here, because when done incorrectly, swaddling can pose some risks, Ferry adds.

Here are some potential concerns to be aware of when swaddling babies, and how to address them.

Proper hip development

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, swaddles that are placed too tightly around a baby’s hips can lead to hip instability and even hip dysplasia, which is when the hips don’t develop properly and the thigh bone isn’t held correctly in the hip socket.

 “A swaddle should be loose enough to allow for the baby to move freely, which allows for hip movement,” Ferry notes.

Potential feeding difficulties

There are some concerns that swaddling can have negative impacts on infant feeding. For example, a 2023 review found that when babies are swaddled right after birth, they may not breastfeed as readily and could have trouble suckling and taking in enough milk.

To correct this, Peluso recommends unswaddling a baby prior to feeding. “It’s possible to nurse while the baby is in a swaddle, but it isn’t optimal and may put the baby in a less than ideal feeding position,” she says. This is because babies need to be free to use their hands while feeding and lie tummy to tummy with the breastfeeding parent.

Swaddling can soothe unsettled babies and help them nurse, but Peluso warns that sometimes swaddling can dull baby’s feeding cues, such as normal infant fussiness. “It may be best to bring the baby to the breast first and opt for the swaddle if still needed after the baby is no longer hungry,” she recommends.

Sleep safety

Swaddling can be helpful for infants who are restless during sleep, but the AAP explains that swaddling doesn’t necessarily make sleep safer, nor does it reduce the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Additionally, there are risks to babies who are swaddled, if other safe sleep practices aren’t followed.

“When it comes to sleeping, swaddled infants should always be placed on their backs,” Sorrentino warns. “This positioning reduces the risk of SIDS.”

What are the benefits of swaddling?

While there are some safety precautions to keep in mind, many parents and caregivers find numerous benefits to swaddling babies, especially in the early newborn period.

Better Sleep

Research has found that swaddling does a good job of calming babies, and that it can also help infants sleep better. For instance, a review published in Frontiers in Pediatrics noted that swaddling encourages more “quiet sleep” in infants, which is the non-active stage of sleep during which babies lie quiet and still. Swaddling also reduces the number of times babies move from one stage of sleep to another, thereby promoting more peaceful sleep.

“Swaddling can mimic the snugness of the womb, potentially offering comfort to newborns.”

— Dr. David Sorrentino, pediatrician and neonatologist

Settling and soothing

If you’ve ever cared for a newborn, you may have noticed that they tend to flail their little arms around haphazardly at times, and they often startle easily. You can blame this on normal newborn reflexes. Still, babies who are unsettled tend to be fussier. Swaddling can help with this.

“Swaddling can mimic the snugness of the womb, potentially offering comfort to newborns,” says Sorrentino. “It can also help in reducing the startle reflex, which can inadvertently wake a sleeping baby.”

How do you swaddle a baby?

Many people are confused about how to swaddle a newborn, and that’s understandable. Wrapping up a tiny, squirming baby in a blanket can feel daunting. Plus, there are many different ways to do it, and you might be unsure how to approach it.

Ferry breaks down the basics of swaddling into the following steps:

  • Place the blanket down, oriented like a diamond.
  • Fold a small triangle down at the top, where the baby’s head will go.
  • Place the baby on the blanket, folding one side around the baby and under their body.
  • Next, fold up the bottom of the blanket and tuck it under the baby’s shoulder.
  • Finish with the other side, wrapping the blanket fully around the baby.

If you prefer a visual guide, here’s a video showing how to swaddle a baby, according to a registered nurse.

As for the best swaddle blankets to use, the answer may depend on your preference and your individual baby. In general, blankets should be thin, breathable and lightweight. What about just using a swaddle blanket you can purchase from the store? It’s fine to use one, Ferry says. “Commercially available swaddle blankets with Velcro can also take some of the guesswork out and allow for a lot of leg movement,” she explains.

Many people also wonder how long to swaddle a baby per day. “There isn’t a strict limit to how long a baby should be swaddled daily, but it’s essential to provide ample time for unswaddled activities and movement to promote motor development,” Sorrentino advises.

A safe swaddling cheat sheet for parents and caregivers

“While many pediatricians might recommend swaddling for its potential benefits, it’s essential to ensure it’s done correctly to be safe,” Sorrentino emphasizes. In addition, he recommends that everyone who cares for the baby be on the same page about safety protocols.

“Educating anyone who cares for the baby on these techniques is crucial,” he explains. “Demonstrating the proper method, supervising them until they’re confident and sharing resources or videos on safe swaddling can be helpful.”

Ferry shared her top tips for swaddling safety for parents, caregivers and anyone who cares for an infant:

  • Only use thin, lightweight blankets for swaddling.
  • Avoid “crib size” blankets, as these will result in excess material.
  • Always put your baby on their back for sleep.
  • Make sure blankets aren’t too loose, as those can be unsafe during sleep.
  • At the same time, make sure the blanket doesn’t restrict movement.
  • Keep any blanket material away from the baby’s face.

Remember: the swaddle should be placed at the baby’s shoulder and neck area, and it should always rest below the chin.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about sleep safety, swaddling or the best products to use.

When to stop swaddling

Okay, so you’ve got the swaddling thing down, and it’s working for you. Now, how long do you swaddle a baby? And, how exactly should you transition out of a swaddle?

The AAP recommends that swaddling be stopped once a baby shows signs that they can roll over or they are trying to roll over. This usually occurs when a baby is about 3 to 4 months old, but many babies show signs as early as 2 months.

“A sleep blanket is a great next step after swaddling to ensure your baby is covered yet safe from loose blankets that increase suffocation risk.”

— Dr. Jenelle Ferry, neonatologist

Most of the time, you don’t need to do anything special to transition a baby away from swaddling, because it usually happens naturally, Peluso says. “Usually babies start to kick out of a swaddle around 2 months old, which is an indication that they are progressing out of that stage of infancy where they enjoy the womb-like snuggle of the swaddle,” she explains.

Once your baby outgrows swaddling, there are other safe methods to keep them snug and soothed. “A sleep blanket is a great next step after swaddling to ensure your baby is covered yet safe from loose blankets that increase suffocation risk,” Ferry recommends.

The bottom line

Swaddling babies can be confusing for sure, but it’s actually simpler than you might realize. Learning how to swaddle a baby only takes a few steps. And, while swaddling safely is super important, once you are aware of a few basic rules — like always using a thin, lightweight blanket and practicing safe sleep guidelines for infants — you’re all set.

Of course, not all babies find swaddling soothing, and some seem to outgrow the practice faster than you might expect. Try your best to go with the flow when it comes to swaddling. Use it if it works for you, and feel free to move on if and when it doesn’t.

If you have questions about swaddling — especially about how to do it safely — don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s pediatrician for advice and support. 

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