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 is 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
Experts recommend swaddling only until your baby reaches 2 months old. 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.
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
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. Always place your baby on her back to sleep, especially when swaddled. Stop swaddling once she starts rolling on her own.
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 tight around the top, 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.
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 be a sanity saver. 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.