How To Swaddle A Baby: Tips, Techniques, Safety, And More

How To Swaddle — And Why Going To Bed Burrito-Style Might Help Baby Sleep

November 24, 2020 Updated June 1, 2021

swaddled-baby (1)
Photo by Isaac Taylor from Pexels

Learning how to swaddle a baby is a veritable rite of passage when it comes to parenting. Sure, they go over it in birthing classes prior to the big day — but we all know it’s a lot different wrapping your real-life little one as opposed to a doll. And since research shows that swaddling can make baby feel warm and secure, as if they’re still in mama’s belly, it’s definitely a technique that can come in handy when you’re trying to get your sweet little bundle to bed.

However, it’s imperative to get swaddling right. You want your baby to feel calm enough to get a few solid hours of sleep, but you obviously also want them to be safe. With that said, let’s walk through the basics of (safely) turning your newborn into a cute little burrito baby.

How do you swaddle a baby step by step?

According to Registered Nurse Natalie Vanderzee of the baby unit at UPMC, only a few simple steps stand between you and baby swaddling nirvana:

  • Fold down one corner of your swaddling blanket.
  • Align your little one’s shoulders along the fold.
  • Bring baby’s hands down toward their middle and, holding the arms down, pull the left corner of the swaddling blanket across baby’s body (as far over as you can).
  • Take the corner and tuck it under the opposite shoulder from where you pulled.
  • Pull the bottom of the blanket over baby’s feet and tuck behind baby’s shoulder.
  • Finally, wrap the last corner across baby’s chest and tuck under their back.

Still have questions about the process? Watch UPMC’s quick and easy video tutorial below.

Is it OK to swaddle a newborn at night?

Swaddling can be effective at calming infants down and promoting sleep, both of which are clearly desirable. But you want to be certain you’re doing it correctly — some studies suggest an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, and accidental suffocation in babies who are swaddled and placed on their stomach to sleep (or if they roll onto their stomach while swaddled).

“If babies are swaddled, they should be placed only on their back and monitored so they don’t accidentally roll over,” says Dr. Rachel Moon, FD, FAAP, who helped author the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) safe sleep recommendations for babies. Swaddling, Moon explains, may make it more difficult to wake baby up. “That is why parents like swaddling — the baby sleeps longer and doesn’t wake up as easily. But we know that decreased arousal can be a problem and may be one of the main reasons babies die of SIDS.”

Are there any other issues associated with swaddling?

Per the AAP, studies have linked swaddling a baby too tightly with hip issues such as hip dislocation or hip dysplasia. To avoid any such potential problems, make sure that your baby can still move their hips when swaddled. Babies’ legs should be able to bend “up and out.”

What are the benefits of swaddling?

Babies love to be swaddled for a number of reasons. One, it reminds them of being inside of your belly where they were wrapped in warmth and cocooned in safety. It also a great way to get your baby to sleep longer. 

  • Babies are also very sensitive to noise and excitement, and being swaddled helps alleviate any stress or anxiety they may feel. For some babies, it makes them feel as though they’re being held. 
  • Blankets can be harmful to your baby, so instead of covering them with it, swaddling them in one helps prevent accidental suffocation.
  • For some reason, babies are born with talon-sharp nails and sometimes unfortunately leave marks on their face or body. Swaddling helps keep their little arms in place and from scratching in their sleep.

How else do you practice safety when swaddling baby?

To minimize safety risks, always make sure you place your baby on their back to sleep when swaddled. Placing them to sleep in their own crib or bassinet is preferable, and you’ll want to make sure to monitor them for signs they might be ready to roll over. Don’t swaddle too tightly — you should be able to slide two to three fingers between the swaddle and baby’s chest — and check for signs that the swaddle might be causing baby to overheat.

How long do you swaddle a baby after birth?

The AAP recommends giving up swaddling as soon as you notice your baby is trying to roll over. For a lot of babies, this happens around two months old. However, remember that all babies are different and may hit baby milestones at different times. The important takeaway is just to keep an eye on your little one. If they seem like they’re ready to start rolling, it’s probably safest to move past swaddling.

What are some baby soothing tips?

If your baby isn’t feeling the burrito, there are other ways to calm your nugget without swaddling them. 

  • When putting your baby to sleep, always lay them on their back because it’s the safest sleeping position for infants. However, if you want to soothe your baby, sometimes putting them on their back can make them angrier. Place your baby on their stomach and rub their back. Once they’ve chilled out, you can flip them back over.
  • When holding your baby, place them on their left side. This helps with digestion and tummy flow.
  • Try not to overfeed your baby, especially before bed. This can lead to a lot of gas and discomfort, which makes it harder to put baby to sleep.
  • Depending on how old your baby is, avoid letting them oversleep. If you find your newborn is taking too many naps, or sleeping more than the suggested amount, keep them awake and stimulated until their next nap.