How to Swaddle a Baby

Should I Swaddle My Baby?

When I had my son back in 2016, I suddenly found myself pondering a huge number of questions in my new role as a mum. Is he feeding often enough? Is he awake often enough? Is he too hot? Is he too cold? Is the colour of that poo normal?! (I’m sure all parents can relate to that one!)

The list of questions feels endless when you’re in the thick of that sleep-deprived, new-baby fug. But an area I found especially tricky to navigate was the subject of safe sleeping and one question in particular: to swaddle or not to swaddle?

Like most new parents, I found myself bombarded with well-meaning but unsolicited advice from everyone from my boss to a random lady in Waitrose. But, having been gifted a set of muslin swaddles (and having absolutely no clue how to use them), I was keen to learn about the pros and cons of swaddling from some truly credible sources (no offence, lady in Waitrose). I was especially keen to find out if it was, as many people seemed to claim, a magical pathway to more shuteye for both me and my sleep-resistant baby!

I did a LOT of scrolling and reading and quickly realised that, while there isn’t much evidence-backed research out there, parents and medical professionals generally fall into two camps when it comes to swaddling: for or against. With no concrete answer to my question, it really came down to what felt right for me, as so many parenting decisions do. And so, we gave it a try.

If you’re pregnant or a new parent and are considering swaddling your baby, I hope you’ll find this article a useful summary of the pros and cons, as well as a handy guide to achieving that adorably wrapped bundle of joy. You’ll find lots more detailed advice on swaddling and safe sleeping on the NCT and Lullaby Trust websites, and I’ve included some links at the end of this piece.

What Exactly Is Swaddling?

Swaddling is a traditional practice that is thought to have originated thousands of years ago. It involves wrapping a newborn baby in a light, breathable blanket that covers their body and arms (never their neck or head) to create a snug and cosy cocoon.

What Are the Benefits of Swaddling?

The theory is that swaddling helps baby adjust to life on the outside, giving them a feeling of safety and security that emulates how they’d have felt in the womb. Those in favour of swaddling usually wax lyrical about the following benefits:

  • Baby is calmer and more settled.
  • Baby falls asleep more easily and stays asleep for longer.
  • The chances of baby being woken up by their startle reflex are reduced, because their arms and legs are gently contained within the swaddle.
  • Baby is kept comfortably warm while they sleep.

What Are the Risks of Swaddling?

The main risks of swaddling result from a baby not being swaddled safely. There’s some evidence that swaddling a baby too tightly can lead to hip dysplasia, while swaddling too loosely could put them in danger if they become unwrapped and get tangled in the blanket.

Swaddling a baby for too long has been linked to a greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), because once they’re able to roll onto their tummy a swaddled baby is less likely to be able to lift and turn their head to avoid suffocation. It’s therefore important to stop swaddling as soon as baby shows signs of rolling over.

Is it Safe to Swaddle My Baby?

The NCT states that swaddling a baby is safe “if you follow safe sleeping and safe and hip-friendly swaddling guidance for babies”. The general dos and don’ts for safe swaddling are as follows:

  • Do use thin, breathable blankets, like a cotton-muslin blanket.
  • Do follow advice to lay baby down on their back to sleep.
  • Do ensure the bottom of the swaddle is loose enough for baby’s legs to fall naturally in the ‘frog-leg’ position.
  • Do check that baby can move their hips and knees freely.
  • Do check baby’s temperature regularly to ensure they don’t overheat.
  • Do stop swaddling as soon as your baby starts trying to roll over.
  • Don’t swaddle your baby too tightly.
  • Don’t swaddle above baby’s shoulders.
  • Don’t put a swaddled baby to sleep on their front or side.
  • Don’t use too many layers.
  • Don’t swaddle while breastfeeding, as this can affect natural positioning and latch.

Swaddling: A Step-by-Step Guide

So, you’ve read about the pros and cons of swaddling and maybe you’ve decided to give it a go. But you might still have one burning question (I certainly did): how on earth do I transform my wriggly, flaily-limbed newborn into a perfect little cocoon?

It’s one of those things that gets easier the more you practice, but there is definitely a technique to it. This how-to guide is based on the NCT’s step-by-step guide to swaddling a baby:

  • Step 1: Lay your swaddling blanket on a flat surface. The floor is ideal!
  • Step 2: Arrange the blanket in a flat diamond shape. Turn the top point of the diamond down and smooth it out.
  • Step 3: Place your baby on top of the blanket, lying on their back.
How to Swaddle a Baby - Step 1

  • Step 4: Place your baby’s right arm down gently by their side. Wrap that side of the blanket up over their right arm and across their front over to the left. Tuck the blanket snugly (but not too tightly) beneath baby’s left side.
How to Swaddle a Baby - Step 2

  • Step 5: Bring the bottom corner of the blanket straight up and fold it upwards towards your baby’s shoulders, keeping it safely away from baby’s neck and face. Remember to ensure their legs can rest in a natural position.
How to Swaddle a Baby - Step 3

  • Step 6: Place your baby’s left arm gently down by their side. Wrap the blanket up over their left arm across their front. Tuck the blanket snugly (but not too tightly) behind their right side.
How to Swaddle a Baby - Step 4

What If Swaddling Doesn’t Work for Me?

If your baby isn’t a fan of swaddling, don’t worry. Sometimes persevering with different variations can help you figure out a method that your baby likes, for example leaving one or both of their arms free. But some babies are just too wriggly or simply prefer to feel unrestricted, and there are plenty of other ways to help them feel comforted, safe and warm while they sleep. You could try a baby sleeping bag, for example, or an all-in-one sleepsuit and one or more blankets – just be sure to choose breathable fabric, like cotton-muslin blankets, and add or remove layers as needed to ensure your baby doesn’t get too cold or overheat.

As it happens, swaddling wasn’t the magic solution I’d hoped it would be for me and my son. It just wasn’t for him, and he certainly made his feelings on the matter abundantly clear! Nevertheless, I’m really glad we tried it, not least because it introduced me to the wonder of muslin and inspired me to launch Pattie & Co.

Before becoming a parent, I’d breezed through life pretty much unaware of the existence of muslin cloth. Fast forward a month into motherhood and I suddenly found myself unable to live without the set of muslin swaddles we’d been given. And even though we didn’t use them for swaddling in the end, I quickly discovered they can be used for a whole host of other things from comforting to covering, wiping, shading, burping, photo backdropping and even peek-a-booing!

Our extra-large swaddle blankets come in a choice of vibrant designs, all printed onto 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton to deliver comfort and softness to babies and a huge dose of practicality and joy to parents.

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The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice.
Sources

NCT:
www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/slings-and-swaddling/mini-guide-how-swaddle-baby-safely
www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/slings-and-swaddling/swaddling-baby-benefits-risks-and-seven-safety-tips
www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/emotional-and-social-development/what-fourth-trimester

Lullaby Trust:
www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/swaddling-slings/

International Hip Dysplasia Institute:
https://hipdysplasia.org/infant-child/hip-healthy-swaddling/

NHS:
www.nhs.uk/conditions/sudden-infant-death-syndrome-sids/