How to swaddle a baby

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Knowing how to swaddle a newborn baby is a great skill to have. When done right, swaddling is an effective way to calm and soothe a baby who is adapting to life outside the womb. At night, swaddling can also help to regulate a baby's sleep patterns, which is a win for everyone!

Why do we swaddle?

For a baby who has spent their entire life inside a snug, warm womb, getting used to the outside world can take a bit of time. Swaddling is aimed at helping your baby transition to a new environment by simulating the cosiness, warmth and security of being back inside mum.

What do I need to swaddle?

Choose a lightweight cotton or good quality flannel blanket. The dimensions you should aim for are roughly 100cm x 100cm.

A large flat surface area works best, like a table or bed.

How to swaddle

  1. Lay the blanket out and position it to make a diamond.
  2. Take the top corner and fold it over towards the centre of your diamond. Bigger babies will have a smaller fold, and smaller babies a bigger one.
  3. Lay your baby down so that they rest the top of their neck on the crease of the fold.
  4. Hold your baby's right arm by their side, then bring the left corner of the blanket over their body and tuck it snugly beneath their back.
  5. Bring the bottom corner up to enclose baby's legs in a little pouch. They should have enough room to kick up and out.
  6. Hold your baby's left arm down and bring the right corner over their body. Tuck the blanket snug beneath their back.
  7. If you have enough blanket left over, you can bring the corner all the way around baby and up to tuck it into the fold by their chin.

Tips to swaddle a baby

  • When laying your baby down, always place them on their back
  • Avoid using heavy knits or fleece, which can restrict breathing if they bunch up around your baby's face.
  • Try to limit swaddling to sleep times or night time. Babies need opportunities to move freely throughout the day to develop their motor skills.
  • Make sure to leave enough room for your baby to move their legs up and out. Too much restriction in this area can lead to poor development in the hips, a condition called hip dysplasia.
  • Loose blankets can be a SIDS risk, so make sure you swaddle safely. You might take a few times to get it right, but you'll soon get the hang of it.
  • There are a few ways to swaddle, and you'll find one that works best for you both. In the end your goals are to make sure your baby is snug, comfortable and safe.

When should I stop swaddling my baby?

Typically, swaddling should only be done for the first weeks of your baby's life. Look for the following signs to know when you might need to ditch the swaddle and let the limbs fly free:

  • Baby is fighting the swaddle or breaking free from it
  • Baby is showing the first signs of any rolling, in any direction
  • Swaddling is no longer working for you or baby for any reason.

Generally, babies start to show their first signs of rolling between 8-12 weeks - it's important you stop swaddling at this point, as if they accidentally roll while swaddled, they won't be able to prop themselves into a safe position using their arms.

Do all babies need to be swaddled?

No, swaddling is completely optional. Some babies are never swaddled to no ill effect. In fact, some pediatric physiotherapists recommend avoiding swaddles altogether if they don't suit your family, as it can delay the integration of newborn reflexes such as the Moro reflex.

Swaddling is a great tool to have in your toolkit to potentially help you soothe your tiny, new human. But like anything, when it comes to babies, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

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