Swaddling is an important part of the 5 S’s for soothing babies for a good reason: It works! Swaddling mimics the snug, but gentle hug babies experience in the womb. That cozy, nostalgic feeling can increase sleep by triggering a baby’s calming reflex. It also keeps your little one’s flailing arms from bonking them in the face and waking them up. The one snag? Sometimes little Houdini babies break out of the swaddle. That does not necessarily mean that they don’t like—or need—swaddling. Instead, it may simply mean that your swaddling technique needs adjusting. Follow these guidelines below to ensure that your baby won't break out of the swaddle!

Why Babies Break Out of The Swaddle

Most of the time, your baby fights the swaddle because your swaddling technique needs a slight adjustment. (Check out my guide for how to swaddle a baby using the DUDU method. These step-by-step instructions will show you my preferred approach for swaddling, so your baby can sleep comfy.) At the same time, your baby was born with a startle (aka Moro) reflex. This causes your little one to flail and stretch out their arms when they’re surprised by, say, a loud noise or a quick movement. That means, if the swaddle isn't secure, your baby can easily break free.

If Your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle…Try Tightening The Swaddle

The secret of a successful swaddle is keeping your baby’s arms snug, while leaving the blanket loose around the knees and hips so they can bend and open easily. You’ll know that your swaddle is perfectly taut if there’s just enough room to sneak a couple of fingers between the swaddle and your baby’s shoulders. This is very important for cozy and safe sleep, because if a loose swaddle blanket comes unwrapped, it could cover Baby's face and increase the risk of suffocation.

If Your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle…Swaddle With Straight Arms

It’s true that during the last month or two of pregnancy, a baby’s arms are always bent. Perhaps because of this, some experts insist that infants should be swaddled with their hands high up, which they say allows babies to can suck their fingers. But swaddling your baby with bent arms is usually a disaster! (Plus, within two weeks of birth, Baby’s arms naturally relax, becoming straighter during calm times and sleep.) Swaddling with bent arms not only allows their little hands to wiggle out, which makes babies cry more…this practice also makes it easy for the whole swaddle to unravel. And an unraveled swaddle makes it easy for your baby to fight the swaddle, it keeps them awake, and it’s very dangerous. The exception to the rule: Preemies can be wrapped with bent arms…until they get close to their due date.

If Your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle…Make a V With The Swaddle

When a swaddle blanket touches the cheek of a hungry baby…watch out! The sensation fools your little one into thinking it’s the breast or bottle. This can set off the rooting reflex and cause them to cry with frustration when they can’t find the nipple. (The rooting reflex is when Baby turns their head and opens their mouth as a reaction to something touching their cheek. This helps your bub find the breast or bottle to feed.) To avoid this frustration, make the swaddle look like a V-neck sweater. (Here’s a refresher on how to do that.)

If Your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle…Look for a Different Size Blanket

Too-small or too-big swaddle blankets tend to pop open and unravel easily. To avoid this, use a lightweight blanket that’s big enough to wrap all around your baby’s body—at least 44 inches square. Happiest Baby’s organic, breathable, muslin swaddle blanket is a perfect 47-inch square.

If Your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle…They May Be Hot

As a grownup, you can easily kick off your blanket or get up to turn on a fan if you get too hot overnight. Babies can’t! So, a hot baby may try to wiggle out of their swaddle to get some cooling relief. (Learn more signs that your baby might be overheating.) To prevent this from happening, keep your baby’s room between 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 22.2 degrees Celsius). And swaddle your baby in a lightweight muslin blanket or my organic cotton Sleepea swaddle that features breathable mesh panels at the shoulders and legs to keep babies cool and comfortable.

If Your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle…Try Sleepea

Sometimes dealing with a swaddle in the middle of the night is hard! That’s why I created Sleepea, our award-winning 100% organic cotton swaddle that takes all the guesswork out of swaddling. Its inner flaps are designed to keep mini escape artists securely wrapped, preventing wild arm movements and nose whacks that can wake a baby up. Sleepea is made from super-soft, all-seasons 100% organic cotton and it allows for safe arms-out swaddling, making it the perfect transitional swaddle for little ones who are almost ready to say goodbye to their swaddling days.

If Your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle…Keep Trying!

It sure can seem like some babies hate swaddling! They may fight and strain as soon as they’re enveloped. But remember, in the womb, babies are perfectly content…yet they have no freedom to move. If your little one struggles with a safe and snug swaddle, be sure to include the rest of the 5 S’s to your night-night routine, too: Shushing (white noise), Swinging, Sucking, and holding baby in the Side or Stomach position. All of these work to activate your baby’s innate calming reflex, which is like nature’s “on switch” for sleep and “off switch” for crying. Using them soothes babies quickly and helps them stay calm longer, and sleep better. (My award-winning SNOO Smart Sleeper taps three of the 5 S’s: Secure swaddling, which keeps Baby safely on the back for up to 6 months; shushing with all-night responsive white noise; and swinging thanks to SNOO’s safe rocking.)

If Your Baby Can Roll…Stop Swaddling!

For your baby’s safety, it’s imperative that you stop swaddling when your little one starts to roll. This can happen as early as 2 months! The reason: You baby may roll onto their belly, but not be able to roll back if their arms aren’t free, which increases the likelihood of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). That said, swaddling can actually help prevent rolling to the stomach (a SIDS risk factor), so you don't want to stop prematurely. The good news: Babies who sleep in SNOO can remain safely swaddled until they graduate out of SNOO and into a crib. That’s because SNOO’s built-in swaddle attaches to SNOO to keep babies sleeping on their backs. 

More on swaddling

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.