How To Swaddle a Baby
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Wrapping a baby in a little burrito-like swaddle may seem easy…but when you’re a bleary-eyed new parent facing a crying newborn at 2am, “easy” is not the word that comes to mind! What is easy? My DUDU swaddle method—and my award-winning Sleepea 5-Second Swaddle! Both make the seemingly difficult task of swaddling a baby simple to master. Here’s how to do it—plus, all the reasons why you should swaddle your little one.
What are the benefits of swaddling a baby?
Swaddling is similar to being carried in a sling or cuddled skin to skin, but swaddling’s big advantage is that it envelops your little one’s body with a soft caress that can soothe for hours when you can’t hold them in your arms. At the same time, swaddling…
Mimics the snug hug of the womb: This copycat womb-like feel offers your baby a sense of safety, security, and familiarity.
Prevents spiraling out of control: Before birth, your baby’s snug fit in the uterus kept their arms from spinning like a windmill and bonking them in the face. But without those soft walls stopping your little one’s flailing arms, small upsets can quickly escalate.
Provides a safe alternative to using loose blankets: Loose blankets and bedding should never be used in a baby’s sleep space, as they increase a baby’s chance of suffocation.
Allows babies to pay attention to soothing: Crying can set off a domino effect of upsets for babies, with each jerk and startle setting off another alarm. All those rapid-fire jolts cause such chaos that your infant may not even notice your attempts at comforting. But swaddling reduces those distractions and offers a reassuring embrace that says “It’s okay. I’m taking over now.”
Activate your baby’s calming reflex: Swaddling is the first S of the 5 S’s for calming babies, which reminds babies of the sensations of the womb. The 5 S’s (swaddling, shushing, swinging, sucking, and holding your baby in the side or stomach position) activate a baby’s innate calming reflex, a neurological response that develops deep in a baby’s brain months before they’re born. When the calming reflex is enabled, it’s like flipping off your baby’s internal switch for crying and flipping on their switch for sleep.
How to Swaddle Your Newborn: The DUDU Swaddle Method
The best swaddling method I’ve ever learned is an easy, four-step approach that a wonderful midwife once showed me. I call it the DUDU swaddle to help parents remember the steps: Down-Up-Down-Up.
Below you’ll find a step-by-step guide for swaddling your baby.
Step 1: The First D - DOWN: Place a light cotton blanket on your bed (again, a 47-inch by 47-inch square is best) and orient it like a diamond, with a point at the top. Fold that top point down so that it reaches near the center of the blanket.
Place your baby face-up on the swaddle blanket so that their neck sits right above the edge of the top fold.
Gently hold Baby’s right arm against their side and with your other hand grab the section of the swaddle blanket closest to their right shoulder. Then, pull the blanket snugly down and across Baby’s body and tuck it under the left side of their bum. (It will look like half of a V-neck sweater.) Next, grab the blanket beside Baby’s left shoulder. Tug it firmly—away from Baby’s body—to remove any slack.
This first DOWN is the key to successful swaddling! Do it snugly...or the whole swaddle can unravel!
Step 2: The First U - UP: Now, holding your baby’s left arm against their side, bring the point at the bottom of the swaddle blanket straight up and place it on Baby’s left shoulder. Next, tuck the blanket edge snugly around the left arm. Again, grab the blanket next to Baby’s shoulder and give it a nice pull, straight out—away from the body—to remove any slack. Be sure that the swaddle blanket is loose around Baby’s legs, but their arms are snug and straight. (Bent arms allow babies to wiggle out...and that makes them cry even more.)
Step 3: The Second D - DOWN: Grab hold of the part of the swaddle blanket next to Baby’s left shoulder and pull it down—just a smidge. The small flap should come down to your baby’s upper chest to form the other half of the V-neck. Lightly press that small flap against Baby’s breastbone, like you’re holding down a ribbon while making a bow. Don’t bring this fold all the way down to your baby’s feet! It should just be brought down to the chest.
Step 4: The Second U - UP: Hold the flap on Baby’s chest and grab the last free blanket corner and pull it straight out—away from your baby’s body—to remove any slack. Then, in one smooth motion, lift that corner up and straight across Baby’s forearms...like a belt. The blanket should be big enough so that this part goes all the way around the body. Then, pull it snug and tuck it into the front of the “belt.”
Remember, this last step is not straight up...it’s up and across. Baby’s arms will be held snug and straight, but their legs should be loose enough to bend at the knee and open at the hips.
Can I swaddle my baby with their arms up?
Even though your baby’s arms were bent during the last month or so of pregnancy, it’s recommended that you swaddle your newborn with their arms down and to their sides. Swaddling with bent arms allows Baby’s hands to wiggle out, making them cry more and making the swaddle very easy to unravel, which is dangerous. The exception: Preemies can be wrapped with bent arms…until they get close to their due date. (Learn more about caring for your preemie at home.)
Swaddling for Sleep
According to research and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), when done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep, particularly for infants with colic and babies who hate sleeping on their back. That’s because swaddling activates a baby’s “off switch” for fussing and “on switch” for sleep. Plus, new babies have very little control over their arms, which means they can easily startle themselves awake with their flailing limbs and even whack themselves in the face, getting even more upset. Swaddling helps prevent that, ensuring calmer sleep. Finally, once swaddled, your baby can better pay attention to—and be soothed by—the other S’s, like white noise.
When should I swaddle my baby?
You can safely start swaddling your newborn from day one! Do it for naps and nighttime sleep—and if your baby is especially fussy outside of sleepytime and needs help calming down. But your baby should be mostly unswaddled during awake time, saving swaddling for sleep.
Should I swaddle before or after breastfeeding?
In general, I like to swaddle Baby first, if that’s possible. But every baby is different! Some babies get so cozy and sleepy when swaddled that they fall asleep while feeding and don’t get enough to eat. For others, swaddling after a feeding might agitate them so much that they struggle to fall asleep. So, the best answer is: You have to see what your baby does best with. (Learn breastfeeding tips for better sleep.)
Things to Know Before You Swaddle a Newborn
When you’re just learning to swaddle a baby, it’s best to practice when your little one is calm or already asleep. Also…
Get the right swaddle blanket. Swaddle blankets can easily be too big, too small, or too heavy, leading to dangerous unwrapping and/or overheating. The ideal swaddle blanket needs to be light and breathable, made of 100% organic cotton or muslin, and measuring roughly 47 inches by 47 inches.
Avoid weighted swaddles. The AAP urges parents not to use weighted swaddles or blankets, since they can place too much pressure on a little one’s chest and lungs.
Keep Baby’s hips loose. Swaddling babies’ legs too tightly can lead to hip dislocation or dysplasia, where a baby’s hip joints are not properly held in the socket. (Sleepea and SNOO Sack are both certified hip-safe by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.)
Hug your baby first. The first step to calming a fussy baby is to give them a cozy hug. That’s exactly what swaddling does...and it's the best way to begin before you lay your little one atop a swaddling blanket!
Know your baby may cry. Don’t be surprised—and don’t worry—if your bub’s cries escalate when you start swaddling. You are not hurting them! Your baby simply doesn’t yet realize that they’re only seconds away from happiness.
Practice swaddling your newborn.
Many parents say that the first time they tried swaddling their baby was a disaster! The baby struggled, they were sweating, the hospital nurse frowned. Swaddling a frantic baby feels…wrong, like you’re forcing your poor, sweet newborn to do something they hate! But I strongly encourage you not to give up. Swaddling a baby with snug wrapping is such a helpful tool for peaceful naps and restful nights. While safe swaddling may be tricky at first, especially if your baby is upset, it’s important to give yourself some grace. The first 10 or so times you practice swaddling, be sure to do it when your baby is calm or asleep—not when they’re fussy and thrashing. After that, swaddling will become as easy as changing a diaper.
Is swaddling safe for babies?
Yes, swaddling is safe for babies! Remember, swaddling your baby reminds them of being in the womb and it’s an effective way to calm infants and promote sleep. Just be sure to follow these safe swaddling rules:
Make sure your swaddle is secure! Choosing the right size swaddle blanket helps ensure a secure fit. A swaddle that can easily come loose is dangerous. Shoot for a swaddle blanket that’s about a 47-inch square.
Avoid overheating. Lightweight, breathable swaddles reduce the chance that your baby will become too hot while swaddled.
Allow hips to be flexed and open. A hip-safe swaddle means babies can sleep with their hips and legs open in a frog-like position, not straight like a cigar!
Lay your baby to sleep on their back. All babies, including swaddled babies, must be placed on their backs on a firm, flat, and empty surface to sleep.
Know when to stop swaddling. It’s very important to stop swaddling your baby once they show signs of rolling over. Of note: Babies who sleep in my SNOO Smart Sleeper can remain safely swaddled until they graduate to the crib.
Does swaddling cause SIDS?
No. When swaddling is done properly, it does not increase a baby’s chances of SIDS. The Journal of Pediatrics published the most comprehensive study of swaddling-related sleep deaths ever done in the U.S., reviewing eight years of all swaddle-related deaths reported to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Their conclusion: Reports of SIDS in swaddled infants are rare. While another well-publicized report seemingly linked swaddling to SIDS, it in fact showed that the risk of SIDS was much greater when babies were swaddled and placed on their sides or tummies. (Learn more about why side and stomach sleeping is dangerous.) In short, swaddling your baby and placing them to sleep on their back, on a flat, firm surface—like a crib or bassinet—free of loose soft bedding, is very safe.
Is it dangerous to swaddle a baby?
It is not dangerous to swaddle a baby if you place your baby on their back, follow all the safe-sleep rules, and stop swaddling when your little one can roll. (Again, rolling babies can safely sleep in SNOO until they graduate to the crib.) Think about it like this: New parents are often first taught to swaddle from the nurses in the hospital where the baby was born. Would they teach you to do something they thought was dangerous? Of course not!
When do I stop swaddling my baby?
Swaddling needs to stop once your baby can roll. That’s because a baby who can roll onto their tummy needs their hands free to help them return to their back. A swaddled baby may roll onto their stomach and then become stuck in that position, which is dangerous. The good news for SNOO babies? SNOO has a built-in swaddle that keeps babies on their backs, which means your little one can remain safely swaddled for up to 6 months. (Learn more about the right time to stop swaddling.)
Is there an easier way to swaddle a baby?
No time to DUDU? No worries! That’s why I created Sleepea, the award-winning 5-Second Swaddle, which takes all the guesswork out of swaddling your baby. Instead of folding a blanket, you simply place your little one inside the Sleepea sack, secure the inner arm bands and leg flap, zip up and—voila!—your sweet pea is securely swaddled each and every time. (Because Sleepea features organic cottons, your baby will remain cool and comfy all sleep long.) Unlike most baby swaddles, Sleepea allows for safe arms-out swaddling, making it the perfect transitional swaddle for babies who are almost ready to end their swaddling days. Learn more about Sleepea.
Final Thoughts on Swaddling
Swaddling is a fantastic tool to help babies feel comforted, safe, and sleeping well. Parents and caregivers simply need to learn how to do it properly…just as new parents need to learn how to correctly install car seats to avoid serious injury. Practice the DUDU swaddle method on a baby doll before your little one arrives and once your baby is on the scene, swaddle them when they’re calm or already snoozing. And I highly recommend taking the stress and guesswork out of swaddling and simply reaching for Sleepea. This way, you know that your baby is always getting a safe and snug swaddle. And don’t forget: Always place a sleeping baby—swaddled or not—on their back and in their own flat, firm, and bare sleep space.
More info on swaddling your baby:
- What to Do If Your Baby Breaks Out of the Swaddle
- SNOO: For a Safe Swaddle Every Time!
- Swaddling and Hip Dysplasia
- Four Ways Swaddling Helps Keep Babies Safe
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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.