The Ins and Outs of Swaddling Your Baby Safely
Swaddling your newborn is a simple parenting skill that makes your life so much easier. Wrap up your new bundle of joy like a little burrito, and you may revolutionize baby sleep in your household. But all good things must come to an end, including your secret trick for calming your baby. Knowing when to stop swaddling is an important part of baby sleep safety.
Swaddling refers to a specific way of tightly wrapping your baby in a blanket with arms and legs tucked inside the soft, warm cocoon. Babies love the coziness of being swaddled. It feels a bit like the womb with a warm, secure environment that helps soothe and calm many babies. Swaddling can also prevent your little peanut from startling while sleeping, which can mean longer stretches between waking.
When done correctly, swaddling can be a safe way to soothe newborns. Follow these steps to swaddle your baby safely:
- Position a thin, square blanket on the floor or another flat surface with the blanket at an angle, so it looks like a diamond to you.
- Fold over a bit of the top corner toward the center to create a straight edge.
- Lay your baby gently on the blanket face up with her neck lining up with the top straight edge.
- Press baby's right arm (meaning the arm on the right as you face the baby) gently down to the right side, so the arm is straight. Lift the right corner of the blanket, and wrap it across your baby's body so that the blanket covers the right shoulder but not the face. Tuck the blanket corner underneath her left side around the torso area.
- Lift up the bottom corner of the blanket to cover your newborn's feet, and tuck in the corner behind the left shoulder. You want to leave the legs a little loose, so your baby can still bend her knees and move her legs slightly.
- Bring your baby's left arm down toward the left side of the body. Pull the left corner of the blanket across her body, tucking it in on the left side to keep her snug.
When You Should Stop Swaddling
Infants typically start rolling intentionally around 4 months old, although some babies meet the milestone earlier or later. If your baby starts rolling early, stop swaddling immediately. Rolling while swaddled is very dangerous, so you want to transition your little one away from swaddling long before rolling begins.
Stop swaddling once your baby starts exhibiting signs of attempting to roll over.
As newborns get older, the startle reflex that can often wake them up begins to diminish until it disappears between 3 and 6 months of age. By around 2 months, your baby's startle reflex is likely weaker than it was as a newborn, so swaddling isn't as necessary to prevent those startle wake-ups. Two months is also around the time babies learn to start self-soothing, which makes it easier to fall asleep without the security of swaddling.
Keeping Baby Safe When Swaddling
It should be noted that there is no evidence to recommend swaddling as a strategy to reduce the risk of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, so decisions about swaddling should be made on an individual basis depending on the physiological needs of the infant.
With this in mind, swaddling comes with some potential risks for your little one. If your baby rolls over while swaddled, her face can press against the bed and make it difficult or impossible for her to breathe. With her body tucked tightly inside the blanket, she can't move to roll back over on her back, which can cause suffocation. For your baby's safety, the following is strongly recommended:
- Always place your infant on her back (supine position) to sleep, especially when swaddled.
- Place your infant on a firm sleeping surface, such as a non-memory foam mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered with a fitted sheet.
- Never place your infant with other bedding or soft objects, to reduce the risk of suffocation.
Swaddling can also cause hip dysplasia if you wrap your baby's legs too tightly. You can avoid developmental problems in the hip joints by letting your little one's legs bend naturally while swaddling rather than straightening them. You want the blanket to be snug around the chest, so it doesn't loosen and cover your baby's face, but the bottom should be loose enough to let her legs move.
Overheating is another potential issue with swaddling. Use a lightweight blanket to keep your baby cool enough. Fewer clothing layers underneath and a fan in the room can also help your little one stay cool enough while swaddled.
Pay close attention to signs of overheating, such as your baby sweating or your baby's chest feeling hot to the touch. Avoid covering your infant's head for warmth.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is not recommended for your baby to wear greater than one layer more than what an adult would wear to be comfortable in the same environment.
Alternative Soothing Methods
If your little one loves the cocoon-like coziness of swaddling, having a bag of tricks to help soothe your baby at bedtime can improve both her and your ability to sleep. Try these tips:
- Offer a pacifier during naps and bedtime.
- Keep the nursery a comfortable temperature that isn't too cold or too hot.
- Give your baby a warm bath before bedtime for a calming effect.
- Dress your little one in comfortable pajamas.
- Change her diaper right before bedtime, so she is dry and comfortable.
- Stick to a sleep schedule with a consistent routine that lets your baby know it's time to sleep.
- Use calming, soothing techniques, such as rocking or singing lullabies, at bedtime.
- Block sounds that could wake your baby with a white-noise machine.