Last Updated on January 1, 2023
Many parents ask themselves (and us) if it is OK not to swaddle a newborn. The simple answer is, yes! Swaddling healthy infants with a breathable blanket is great for both parent and child, and comes with many benefits, with few drawbacks.
Swaddling has been used since the dawn of civilization to induce sleep, reduce the chance of injury and aid bonding. The first example of swaddling clothing is depicted in ancient Egyptian art. There are also examples of swaddling in Ancient Greece and Rome, as well as in medieval England. It was believed the procedure would keep babies calm and prevent harm to their joints.
Swaddling a newborn baby can be tricky, but it’s worth the effort. It helps your baby feel safe, secure and comfortable from head to toe. It also helps them sleep better and longer, which can save you as much as 4-5 hours a day of interrupted sleep.
In this post, we’ll show you how to swaddle a newborn, so they stay warm without overheating and so they don’t startle themselves awake with their movements. Here are six quick steps to follow:
Swaddling Your Baby: 6 Easy Steps
There have been many tried and tested swaddling techniques over the centuries. Below we outline one of the simplest and most effective:
- Place the desired swaddle blanket on a flat surface. Most parents prefer to do this on a bed, as it’s soft and safe. Be sure to place the blanket in a pointed (or diamond shape), with each of the four corners pointing up, down, left and right.
- Take the top part of the blanket and fold it downwards so the top point of the folded corner is now in line with the bottom point, creating an upside-down triangle.
- Place baby in the centre of the swaddle blanket, with the top line of the blanket level with his shoulders. Don’t place it too high; to keep baby safe, you need to ensure his face and neck aren’t covered in the process.
- Start with the left side, and fold the left corner of the blanket over baby’s chest, ensuring baby’s left arm is covered and snug against his body and tuck this corner by his side.
- Next, to cover baby’s legs and feet, fold the bottom corner upwards, but don’t cover baby’s face. Some people prefer to skip this step and keep baby’s legs free from the swaddle.
- Lastly, take the right arm and place it by baby’s side. Then, take the right corner, place it snugly over the baby’s body, and tuck it behind the right side.
That’s it! You now know how to swaddle your baby. Wearable blankets, also known as swaddle wraps, will no doubt have a different methodology and will come with their own instructions.
The Benefits of Swaddling Your Baby
Reduced risk of SIDS
Harvard University Baby Lab found that swaddling infants helped reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) during sleep by almost half for regular sleepers and about a third for those who appeared to move them too much. The use of a swaddle keeps babies’ arms and legs in one place, stopping them from rolling onto their tummy and pulling on their hands or legs in the process.
Reduced risk of rolling onto their tummy
Swaddling helps babies to stay asleep on their backs, preventing them from rolling onto their tummies and pulling on their hands or legs in the process.
Reduced risk of overstimulation
Swaddling enables calm infants to feel secure and get the rest they need, preventing them from waking up. It also helps them to relax, so they don’t overreact to noises or stimuli in the environment.
Better sleep for parents
Swaddling your baby will allow you to sleep long, deep and uninterrupted hours which is great for your body and mood.
Reduced risk of colic
A study conducted by the London School of Medicine in 2010 found that infants who were swaddled while sleeping had fewer colic episodes than those who were not swaddled.
Swaddling babies will help them get the rest they need and improve their moods. A 2006 study from the University of Alabama found that swaddled babies were less irritable than unswaddled ones.
Improved motor development
A study by the University Hospital in Toulouse, France, found an association between early motor development and swaddling. It suggests that swaddling may promote the transitional movements between wakefulness and sleep in newborns as well as improving their muscle tone.
Swaddling enables babies to feel secure, enabling them to bond before sleeping time during the first months of life.
Increases sleeping time
If a baby is kept in a certain position while they sleep, they are less likely to wake up, resulting in longer periods of sleep. This is typical of babies being disturbed by their own startle reflex.
Most parents have fun swaddling their baby, making it a great family activity, especially when younger siblings are included in the process.
It prevents overuse of the pacifier
Swaddling babies will help them sleep better, and night feeding may be reduced. Perhaps swaddle your baby in the evening to encourage them to fall asleep rather than use a pacifier for comfort.
Protection from self-injury
Babies can hurt themselves in their sleep, particularly if they are overtired or if their sleep is broken. Swaddling babies helps reduce this risk by keeping them calm and preventing them from overstimulating themselves.
Safe Swaddling Tips
Here are some tips from baby experts to help make the most out of your swaddling experience:
- Make sure your baby is adequately covered. Using a light blanket to keep them warm while they’re swaddled will help prevent cold drafts and the need for more warmth. Swaddling won’t work if your baby is too hot or too cold, so make sure they’re dressed appropriately to help regulate their body temperature.
- If you notice damp hair, heat rash, flushed cheeks or rapid breathing, the chances are baby is too hot. Remove the swaddling blanket and let them cool down, or take out baby’s feet at the very least to help them cool down. Perhaps try a thin cotton sheet or different swaddle product going forwards.
- Don’t be afraid to remove the swaddle. It is OK to take them out of the swaddle at night if necessary or if your baby has reflux, or develops acid reflux (GERD). If your baby looks like they need a nappy change, or you think they’re uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to unwrap them.
- If you swaddle your baby during naps for longer than usual or your baby naps for longer than usual, remember that this will affect their sleep pattern and their need for sleep at night.
- You can swaddle a baby in their crib or carrycot whilst shopping, for example. If you are going to do this, try not to overdo it, particularly if the environment is stressful for a baby.
- Trying not to swaddle too often will reduce the risk of swaddling becoming a habit for babies. This will take a little getting used to, but if you find yourself doing it regularly because baby just loves it, then try and resist that urge. Otherwise, you could find yourself with an overly-swaddled baby, and that would become a problem later on.
- If your swaddled baby wakes up from sleep more often than others, don’t worry about this – it may be normal. Try to identify the reason they are waking up during sleep. A study in the Journal of Perinatal Medicine found that babies who had proper sleeping positions (where their heads didn’t move) would be less likely to wake up, which is typical of a swaddled baby.
- Don’t be afraid of trying different techniques – there’s no harm in trying different swaddling methods and finding what works best for your baby.
- The “no swaddle” rule is a myth! There is no evidence that swaddling babies before they sleep causes them to have disturbed sleep or sleep-related infant problems like colic, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or over-tiredness.
When you first start swaddling it can be a really fun and bonding activity, but it takes a bit of getting used to. It is worth taking your time and trying a few different methods to see which works best for you. Babies are soft, squishy and adorable little beings, so you should feel confident that they will tolerate the swaddle if it’s done in the ways shown in this post.
If you’ve tried any of the methods or tips above, let us know in the comments section below.
Sources and References
Sophie is a former primary school teacher and passionate about parenting. She enjoys writing, reading, cooking, and making memories with her family.