Everything You Need to Know About Swaddling
Swaddling is a traditional practice of wrapping a baby up gently in a light, breathable blanket to help them feel calm and sleepy. It’s a common practice around the world. Not all babies, though, like to be swaddled. Nor is it necessary. You can decide whether to swaddle your baby or not.
There are many potential benefits of swaddling a young infant, including limiting your baby’s startle reflex when they are sleeping, comforting your baby when they are upset or during something that may be uncomfortable, or simply to calm them down. Some studies have found that swaddling results in babies waking less often.1 So some families swaddle their baby to help them sleep better.
How to swaddle your baby
Most parents use a soft baby blanket, such as a receiving blanket, to swaddle their baby. Choose a blanket that is made from a breathable natural material, such as cotton, cotton blend, or muslin. To swaddle your baby using a blanket:
- Lay the blanket flat on a safe surface so that it looks like a diamond.
- Fold the top point down.
- Place your baby face up on the blanket with their head over the folded corner.
- Wrap one corner over her and tuck it under them.
- Bring the bottom corner up over their feet.
- Wrap the other corner over her and tuck it under their other side.
While there are many swaddling products that may be appropriate, such as wraps and sleep sacks, it is important to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that using a weighted swaddle for sleep is not safe and not recommended.2 The added weight can potentially constrict chest movement. In addition, the weight may help a baby roll into an unsafe sleep position and be unable to roll back to a safe position.
There is no evidence that swaddling reduces the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). When your baby is swaddled:
- Be sure to always place your baby on their back to sleep when swaddled, do not place baby on their stomach while being swaddled.
- Make sure your baby is swaddled securely, but not too tightly. Be sure that your baby can breathe easily and it’s not tight around their hips. Swaddling too tightly around their hips can cause developmental dysplasia of the hips. Therefore, the swaddle should allow them to have movement around their hips and knees.
- Make sure that your baby doesn’t get overheated. They shouldn’t look flushed or be sweating. Your baby will not need another blanket when swaddled.
When to stop swaddling your baby
Stop swaddling once your baby can roll over or looks like they are trying to roll over. Some babies roll over as early as 2 months, but most around 3 to 4 months. Swaddling at this point is no longer appropriate and can become a safety risk. It can increase the risk of suffocation or strangulation if your baby rolls onto their stomach when swaddled, or breaks loose from the swaddle.3,4
How to stop swaddling your baby
When it’s time to stop swaddling your baby, you can take one of several approaches. One way is to do it all at once. Simply stop swaddling your baby.
Another approach is to do it more gradually. If you swaddle for your baby’s sleep times, you can start by keeping one arm out for a few nights, then both arms for a few nights, and finally stop swaddling altogether. You can do this only at bedtime to start. Continue to swaddle your baby at night after they wake up. Once your baby is able to fall asleep relatively easily at bedtime, you can then stop swaddling at naptime and throughout the night. If you swaddle during other times of the day, you can use the same approach and slowly wean your baby from their swaddle over several days.
When it’s time to give up swaddling, many babies are totally fine with simply stopping.
Other babies may take some time to get used to it.
Remember, though, if your baby is showing signs of rolling, it is recommended that you stop using the swaddle as soon as possible.
Please check with your pediatrician if you have any questions.
- Franco, P., et al. (2005). "Influence of Swaddling on Sleep and Arousal Characteristics of Healthy Infants." Pediatrics 115(5): 1307-1311.