How to Swaddle a Newborn? Super Simple Swaddle Guide

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Published On
04 Aug, 2020
Read Time
4 minutes

Bringing your newborn home from the hospital can be daunting, especially if you're a new parent. One of the biggest challenges you'll face is getting your baby to sleep soundly and safely. That's where swaddling comes in.

According to NCT, one in five babies in the UK are swaddled within the first few weeks of their life, but if you're new to swaddling, it can be a bit intimidating. That's why we've put together this comprehensive guide to walk you through everything you need to know about swaddling your newborn.

From the benefits of swaddling to step-by-step instructions on how to swaddle your baby, we've got you covered.

What is swaddling?

Swaddling is simply wrapping a baby gently so they can’t move their arms. It has been used in variations all over the world since 4000 BC.

To a baby, being swaddled can replicate the feeling they had of being in the womb. It gives babies a sense of comfort and security and has been proven to improve the quality of sleep in young babies. It helps to reduce the startle or Moro reflex that can disturb your baby’s sleep.

What can be used to swaddle a newborn?

Let's look at the different ways to swaddle a baby.

  • Swaddle blanket: You can use a light cotton material such as a swaddle blanket to swaddle your baby.
  • Swaddle bag: You can use a specially designed swaddle bag. Tommee Tippee swaddle bags are specially designed for safe swaddling and are acknowledged as 'hip healthy' by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI) when used as directed. Their design helps to ensure that the baby's legs are in a natural froggy-legged position when sleeping.

How to swaddle your baby safely

The safest way to swaddle a baby is to do it from birth rather than suddenly introducing swaddling at the vulnerable age of three months when the SIDS risk is highest. If you do decide to give swaddling a go, you should follow these guidelines to keep your newborn safe:

  • Make sure that the swaddling finishes at shoulder height. When swaddling, you should only wrap the baby's body and not their neck or head.
  • Never place your baby on their tummy to sleep – especially when they are swaddled.
  • Use hip-healthy swaddling techniques that let your baby's hips and knees move freely to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia. Your baby's legs should be able to fall into a natural position (like frog legs).
  • Check your baby’s temperature regularly to make sure they don’t get too hot or overheat. Check they’re wearing suitable clothes for the weather too.

Is swaddling safe?

Yes, swaddling is safe if you follow safe sleeping and hip-friendly swaddling guidance for babies. Safe baby sleeping advice is to always lay your little one down to sleep on their back and avoid front or side positions for sleep, especially if your baby is swaddled.

You should stop swaddling your baby when they show the first signs of rolling over.

Should newborns be swaddled?

No necessarily, the choice to swaddle or not is very personal and there's no right or wrong path. Some babies love being swaddled while they sleep and find it soothing, while others prefer to have their arms out loose.

Swaddling can be helpful if your baby:

  • Is startling themselves awake: You might have noticed as your baby is falling asleep, they suddenly twitch or jerk and wake up. These sleep starts or jerks are perfectly normal, but in some babies, they can delay the onset of sleep and make the whole process of drifting off a real struggle. Being swaddled prevents the flailing of your baby’s arms which tends to wake them up.
  • Has eczema or other itches: By containing a baby’s hands, swaddling prevents them from scratching or rubbing as they go to sleep and during sleep itself. Lots of little ones scratch or rub as they fall asleep, and due to the itch, scratch, itch cycle, we know that preventing the scratching will also prevent the itching and will lead to better quality sleep.
  • Is fretful and unsettled: There are many reasons why some babies are more unsettled than others – discomfort and hunger are the most obvious, but sometimes, they just want a cuddle. It would be lovely if they could be held all day and night, but there are times when you must put them down, and swaddling will help to give them a feeling of security.

When is it time to stop swaddling?

Every baby is different and there's no set time when you should stop swaddling. Many babies enjoy being swaddled for several months, while others will become frustrated by their restricted movement from as early as two or three months of age.

The most important factor to consider is safety and your baby's movement. Swaddled babies should not sleep on their front, so when your baby can roll onto their front, you should stop swaddling. You should be especially cautious when they're not yet able to roll back onto their back.

Should you swaddle a baby in summer?

Yes, it is safe to swaddle babies during the warmer summer months, but you should swaddle them in a lightweight, breathable fabric to prevent overheating. Our 1.0 and 0.2 togs are perfect for swaddling in warmer months.

How to transition baby out of a swaddle

Your baby might struggle to go to sleep when you first stop swaddling them. It will understandably feel strange to them if they're used to falling asleep easily with it on.

The main key to helping your baby sleep without a swaddle is not to have the process of being swaddled as your baby’s only sleep trigger. From an early age, you should introduce some other sleep signifiers at bedtime to let them know that sleepy time is coming. These will help them to settle even though the swaddle has gone. Sleep triggers can include:

  • a similar bedtime routine using familiar phrases, stories, lullabies etc…
  • a nightly bath
  • a pre-sleep feed with a dim light on to prevent your baby from falling asleep during the feed
  • being put into the cot awake but sleepy to settle for the night

For a few days before planning to remove the swaddle completely, you should stop swaddling your baby’s arms and just wrap their legs and body up to chest height. At the same time, you should gradually loosen the tension of the swaddling.

If you feel that your baby misses the feeling of pressure from the swaddle, you place your arm gently across their upper body. As they start to settle, you can then take your arm away. And although you might have a night or two of less settled sleep, your baby will soon get used to the change.

How to wash your baby swaddle

All Tommee Tippee swaddle bags can be machine washed at 40°C. They can be hung out to dry or tumble-dried on a low setting. As with all cotton goods, we have designed our swaddles to allow for up to 5% shrinkage. If your child has any allergies and you wish to wash your swaddle at 60°C, you should allow for a little more shrinkage.

We recommend that you wash dark colours separately for the first few washes. We also recommend that you wash your swaddle with a detergent that's free from bleaching agents to retain the original colours.

How do I swaddle with muslin wrap?

If you don’t have a specially designed swaddle bag, you can swaddle your baby using a muslin cloth.

  1. Look for a lightweight, breathable muslin that's specifically designed for swaddling: Avoid heavy blankets, as they can cause your baby to overheat.
  2. Lay the blanket flat: Lay the muslin on a flat surface, with one corner folded down.
  3. Place your baby on the blanket: Place your baby on their back in the centre of the blanket, with their head above the folded corner.
  4. Tuck in one side: Take the left side of the blanket and wrap it snugly around your baby's arm and torso. Tuck the excess fabric under their back.
  5. Fold the bottom up: Fold the bottom of the blanket up and over your baby's feet, tucking the fabric under their chin.
  6. Secure the other side: Take the right side of the blanket and wrap it snugly around your baby's arm and torso. Tuck the excess fabric under their back.
  7. Make sure it's snug, but not too tight: The swaddle should be snug enough to keep your baby's arms secure, but not so tight that it restricts their breathing or movement.

As soon as your baby shows signs that they're learning to roll over or they can already roll over, you should transition them away from swaddling.