The Best Swaddle: What to Look for in a Baby Swaddle
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There are so many baby swaddles out there, each one claiming to be the best swaddle, which makes choosing the best swaddle for Baby really tricky for new and expecting parents. For help keeping unsafe swaddles out of your baby’s crib and help narrowing down your perfect pick—check out our step-by-step swaddle buying guide. Here, what to look for in a baby swaddle—plus, why swaddles are a must-add to every baby registry.
Why swaddle a baby?
The age-old practice of swaddling—aka wrapping your baby like a burrito—offers babies a sense of comfort, familiarity, and security. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that, when done correctly, swaddling can effectively help calm infants and promote sleep. That’s also why nurses and midwives always swaddle newborns! Here’s what swaddling can do for your baby:
Swaddling turns on the calming reflex. Swaddling an integral part of the 5 S’s for soothing babies, which are a collection of womb-like sensations (swaddling, swinging, shushing, sucking, and holding baby in the side/stomach position) that trigger a baby's calming reflex—aka nature’s “off switch” for fussing and “on switch” for sleep. (Learn all about the science behind the 5 S’s.)
Swaddling prevents startling. Arms-down swaddling helps counteract your baby’s Moro reflex, also called the startle reflex. That means a swaddle helps keep babies from feeling as though they’re falling when you place them in the bassinet. It prevents babies from accidentally bonking themselves in the face with their naturally jerky arm movements.
Swaddling is a safe alternative to blankets. Swaddling eliminates the need for loose blankets in your baby’s sleep space. Loose blankets and bedding should never be used in an infant's crib or bassinet, as they increase a baby’s chance of suffocation. (Learn about more items to keep out of your infant’s sleep space.)
When to Swaddle Your Baby
You should swaddle your baby for naps and nighttime sleep from the start…and continue doing so throughout your baby’s missing fourth trimester. This is a period of three to four months after birth when your newborn’s still-developing brain and nervous system remain reliant on the womb-like sensations of the 5 S’s for sleep and comfort.
Your baby should be mostly unswaddled during awake time, but if they’re especially fussy and need extra help settling down, pediatrician and leading swaddling expert, Dr. Harvey Karp, says that swaddling outside of sleepytime can help.
Dr. Karp also notes that while babies often do best when swaddled until 4 to 5 months old, swaddling must stop once your baby can roll. (A swaddled baby may roll onto their tummy and then get stuck in that position because their hands aren’t free, which is dangerous.) The exception: SNOO babies can be safely swaddled for up to 6 months, thanks to SNOO’s built-in swaddle. (SNOO is the only medical device to receive De Novo Authorization from the FDA for its ability to keep sleeping babies safely on their backs. For important safety info visit www.happiestbaby.com/fda.)
What are the different types of baby swaddles?
Not all swaddle blankets are the same! Here’s a breakdown of the types of swaddles you’ll find in store or available to put on your baby registry:
Traditional Swaddle Blanket: These thin blankets made of soft muslin or cotton are usually about a 47-inch square. They’re meant to be manually folded around your baby to create a snug wrap. Nurses and midwives most-often wrap newborns in these types of swaddles after birth. (Here’s how to fold a traditional swaddle.)
Cocoon or Guided Swaddle: These swaddle blankets are designed without any fasteners, like zippers or Velcro. Instead, they rely upon well-placed pouches and “wings” to secure your baby.
Velcro Swaddle: These “ready-made” and easy-to-execute swaddle blankets secure your baby’s body inside of a sack that’s outfitted with Velcro “wings” that securely wrap your baby’s arms. (The multi-award winning Sleepea swaddle also features a Velcro leg flap and a two-way zipper, adding to the safe and secure fit.)
Pouch Swaddle: Here, your baby is held snug inside a zippered or Velcro pouch or sack, but their arms are not secured with any additional features.
What’s the difference between a newborn swaddle and a sleep sack?
A newborn swaddle is meant to mimic the snug hug of the womb, holding a baby’s arms against their body. Unless your baby is securely swaddled in SNOO, a swaddle blanket is only meant for infants who are not yet able to roll. A sleep sack is a wearable blanket where a baby or toddler’s arms are free. This is another way to keep children warm during sleepytime without the danger of loose blankets.
What’s a transitional swaddle?
A transitional swaddle allows for arms-out sleeping and is meant for babies who are just about ready to graduate from a baby swaddle to a sleep sack. Some transitional swaddles still contain a baby’s arms in loose fabric, while others allow for one- and two-arm free sleeping. Sleepea, for instance, is not only a Velcro baby swaddle, but a transitional swaddle as well. Each Sleepea has snaps at both shoulders that can be opened to allow your little one to get used to arms-free snoozing, which is likely why Good Housekeeping voted Sleepea the Best Transitional Swaddle.
Remember: If your baby is rolling (and not sleeping in SNOO), a transitional swaddle or sleep sack is a safety must! Once your little one can roll onto their belly, it’s no longer safe for them to be swaddled. They need to be able to use their hands to push up from the mattress.
Best Baby Swaddle Must: Simple to Use
Swaddling is not always an easy task. In fact, new-parent nerves plus sleep deprivation can make swaddling feel downright impossible. That means, parents might, 1) give up on swaddling too soon, or 2) improperly wrap their baby, so that the swaddle comes loose, unravels, or rides up over a baby’s mouth and nose, putting their little one in danger. That’s why it’s important to select a swaddle that makes it easy-peasy to get right. One to consider: The Sleepea 5-Second Swaddle, which was voted Best Easy Swaddle by Babylist, Easiest Swaddle to Use by What to Expect, and reviewers for New York Magazine’s The Strategist simply note that Sleepea is “magic.”
Best Baby Swaddle Must: AAP-approved
In 2022, the AAP released an update of their safe sleep recommendations, which included a warning against weighted swaddles, stating that they’re “not safe and not recommended.” The nonprofit organization made up of 67,000 children’s physicians went on to warn that weighted swaddles can lead to lower oxygen levels, which if sustained, may be harmful to your infant’s developing brain. Plus, weighted swaddles may also impair a baby’s arousal, potentially contributing to their risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
In short, always opt for a non-weighted swaddle, always lay your swaddled baby on their back, and always make sure that their crib or bassinet is free of all loose bedding, bumper pads, pillows, stuffed toys, sleep positioners, loungers, and wedges.
Best Baby Swaddle Must: Breathability
To help keep your baby cool and comfortable all sleep long, look for swaddles made of breathable natural fabrics, like cotton. (Avoid manmade fabrics, like fleece, that trap heat.) Your choice of fabric is important because your little one’s body temperature rises much faster than yours—and they sweat less—making babies especially vulnerable to overheating, which is an uncomfortable sleep-sapper and can raise a baby’s risk of SIDS.
For even more breathability, go for a 100% GOTS certified organic cotton swaddle. The Sleep Foundation notes that organic cotton tends to be more breathable than regular cotton. And the National Eczema Association reports that it’s best to choose organic cotton whenever possible. Happiest Baby’s Sleepea 5-Second Swaddle, voted Best Swaddle by The New York Times is not only made of 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton, but many feature mesh panels at Baby’s shoulders and knees that allows for even more breathability.
Best Baby Swaddle Must: Hip-Safe
When babies are swaddled with their legs straight, it can impair proper hip development and cause hip dysplasia. With hip dysplasia, the ball and socket that ensure your baby’s hips can move freely, no longer fit together perfectly. Instead, the socket becomes too shallow, so the ball keeps popping out. To help keep little hips healthy look for a swaddle blanket that is snug around the arms, but loose around the hips and legs that allows your little one to bend, flex, and open their hips easily, like a frog. Unsure if your swaddle of choice has the perfect mix of snug up top, loose at the bottom? Check to see if the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI) has labeled your swaddle pick hip-healthy. (PS: Sleepea, Sleepea Comforter Sack, plus SNOO Sack have all been deemed a hip-healthy choice by IHDI.)
Best Baby Swaddle Must: Easy Diaper Changes
Middle-of-the-night diaper changes are a guarantee with babies, so your swaddle needs to allow for the easiest diaper swap-outs possible. To do that, you’ll want to avoid complicated swaddle blankets that need to be fully removed and rewrapped each diaper change. Opt for a swaddle that features an easy-access double-sided zipper and/or extra quiet Velcro fasteners, so your baby won’t startle awake or become fussy during a diaper change. Here’s another place where Happiest Baby’s Sleepea 5-Second Swaddle stands out. Insider calls Sleepea’s Velcro-zipper combo “whisper-quiet,” while USA Today’s Reviewed not only awarded Sleepea its top prize for Best Overall Swaddle, they noted that the Happiest Baby swaddle is a “game changer” when it comes to easy diaper checks and changes.
Best Baby Swaddle Must: Proper Fit
You know how you may be one size jeans at your favorite store and a totally different size at another store? The same holds true for baby items. Before purchasing any baby swaddles, check the size chart (which should include pounds) and scan the online reviews to see if parents note a swaddle runs small, large, or just-right. You know your baby is in the ideal swaddle size if you can place two to three fingers between your baby’s chest and the swaddle. Also, make sure the swaddle snug at the arms and loose at the hips. (You baby should be able to easily move their legs.)
More on Swaddling:
- How To Dress a Baby Under a Swaddle
- What to Do If Your Baby Breaks Out of the Swaddle
- What Do TOG Ratings on Swaddles Mean?
- Should I Swaddle Before or After Breastfeeding?
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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.