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! It makes the seemingly difficult task of swaddling baby simple to master. Here’s how to do it.

What are the benefits of swaddling a baby?

Swaddling is the first S of the 5 Ss for calming babies, which reminds babies of the sensations of the womb. The 5 S’s (swaddling, shushing, swinging, sucking, and holding 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 your baby’s internal switch for crying off and their switch for sleep on.

At the same time, new babies have very little control over their arms, which means they can easily startle themselves awake with their flailing arms and even whack themselves in the face, getting even more upset. Swaddling helps prevent all of that, ensuring calmer sleep. Plus, once swaddled, a baby can better pay attention and be soothed by the other S’s. In short, swaddling is great for babies because…

  • Swaddling limits Baby’s startle reflex, which can wake up snoozing little ones.

  • Swaddling mimicking the snug hug of the womb, offering a sense of safety, security, and familiarity.

  • Swaddling helps keep babies calm by activating their “off switch” for fussing and “on switch” for sleep. Research has shown that swaddling does, in fact, calm infants and promote sleep.

  • Swaddling is 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.

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. According to research in The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, swaddling is totally safe. Simply be sure to follow these safe swaddling rules:

  • Make sure your swaddle is secure! A swaddle that can easily come loose is dangerous.

  • Avoiding overheating. Lightweight, breathable swaddles reduce the chance that your baby will become too hot while swaddled.

  • 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.

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.

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, ideally made of 100% organic cotton or muslin and measuring roughly 47 inches by 47 inches.

  • Avoid weighted swaddles. The American Academy of Pediatrics 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 Baby’s hip joints are not properly held in the socket.

  • 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!

  • Your baby may cry. Don’t be surprised if your bub’s cries escalate when you start swaddling. Don’t worry, you are not hurting them! Your baby simply doesn’t yet realize that they’re only seconds away from happiness.

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.

 

DUDU-swaddle-method-harvey-karp

 

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.

Practice swaddling your newborn.

Even though millions of swaddle blankets are sold each year, many parents never learn to swaddle a newborn correctly. That worries me because incorrect swaddling may accidentally worsen crying or pose a health hazard. Fortunately, while safe swaddling may be tricky at first especially if your baby is upset, it’s not rocket science! Give yourself some grace. After five or ten tries, swaddling will become as easy as changing a diaper.

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 can 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 cotton and breathable mesh panels, 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.

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 prevents rolling, which means your little one can remain safely swaddled for up to 6 months. (Learn more about the right time to stop swaddling.)

 

More info on swaddling your baby:

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.