how to swaddle your baby

Throughout the centuries, babies have been swaddled in a blanket for security and warmth. It's one of the most iconic images we have of a newborn: tightly wrapped in a snug little wrap with only their tiny head peeking out!

Not everyone agrees with the practice of swaddling, but it’s a well-known way of wrapping young babies to help comfort and settle them. If you do decide to swaddle your baby, it’s important to only do it for the first three to four months and to wrap them in lightweight fabrics for good air circulation.

The belief among swaddling advocates is that it mimics the pressure they felt in the womb and helps them feel safe and comfortable during those early weeks. The choice is completely yours whether you choose to use this method or let their little arms wave freely. The most important thing is that you're comfortable with your decision. If you do opt for swaddling, here's how.

hang on, what is swaddling?

It is a funny old word. In Tudor times, long strips of linen – swaddling cloths – were used to criss-cross a baby from top to toe. Nowadays, we use a simple cloth or thin blanket. The baby is laid down diagonally, and the two corners are folded in to tuck the little arms up. The rest of the material is rolled around and tucked behind, not too tightly, but firmly enough not to come loose. The legs and hips are still free to move even though they are inside the cocoon.

You can buy specially designed swaddling blankets with separate pouches to encase the arms and hands, but it’s easy enough to get the knack of it.

why babies startle

Before babies learn to control their limbs, their arms have sudden little jerking movements, which then surprises them. If they were in the process of falling asleep, it can wake them with a jolt. Swaddling prevents this reflex, and it also means that baby can’t accidentally knock their face or scratch themselves. Being tucked up into a swaddle feels a bit like being held and cuddled, and this can be soothing and comforting for some tiny babies.

swaddling safety

Once you learn how to swaddle, there is no guarantee that your baby will love it. Some do and some don’t. They’ll soon let you know if they aren't keen! For those who take to it, there are a few do’s and don’t's:

  • always put your baby to sleep on their back
  • never place babies on their tummy
  • never cover your baby’s head
  • do not swaddle your baby’s hips too tightly
  • don't swaddle your baby at every sleep time
  • don't let them overheat (you can check this by feeling the back of their neck) or use a heavy blanket for swaddling
  • don’t keep swaddling older babies once they start wriggling and moving which is usually around three months, but look for the cues from your baby
  • swaddling is only intended for very young babies

when it’s time to wean from swaddling

Babies who have been swaddled for a while are going to notice the difference when you take it off. The trick is to establish a bedtime routine that is not entirely dependent on swaddling as a sleep trigger. At this stage you may want to consider using a baby sleeping bag instead as its cosy, warm and comfortable. A bath, a story and dim lighting are all comforting steps to take before that final feed of the night.