How to Swaddle a Baby

The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Sleeping swaddled infant

FatCamera / Getty Images

Learning how to swaddle your baby can help you get a little more sleep in the magical yet exhausting newborn phase. Swaddling is an ancient method of wrapping an infant snugly in a blanket to keep them feeling calm and secure.

If you have ever seen a baby bundled up like a little burrito, you have seen swaddling in action. This adorable method of wrapping babies reduces crying and helps your baby nap better and sleep during the night.

To swaddle a baby, you need to wrap them securely, but not too tightly. There is an art to getting it right, but with some practice and a step-by-step guide, you too can be a swaddle master. Here's what you need to know.

Why Babies Like to Be Swaddled

Swaddling works by suppressing the Moro reflex, also called the startle reflex, an involuntary motor response in infants. When babies experience this reflex, they suddenly startle and throw their arms out in front of them.

This protective response is brought on when infants feel like they are falling or when something alarms them. If a baby experiences the Moro reflex during the night, they often cry for a parent to come in and resettle them.

A properly wrapped and fitted swaddle will prevent the baby's arms from moving when the Moro reflex comes into play so that they're more likely to continue sleeping soundly (at least until they're hungry again).

Swaddles also keep babies feeling warm and snug, letting them rest better. According to Robert Hamilton, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, the swaddled-up feeling a baby experiences may be reminiscent of how they felt while in the womb.

"Swaddling helps comfort a baby by duplicating the tightness of the womb that a child just departed from," Dr. Hamilton explains. "Young babies 'recognize' this restriction of movement that swaddling creates and I find that this consoles and quiets a child."

Is It Safe to Swaddle a Baby?

Swaddling is generally safe when done correctly, but there are some risks to be aware of. Swaddling works by decreasing the baby's arousal so it's harder for the baby to wake up. There is evidence that decreased arousal may be one of the main reasons that babies die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Always make sure that you swaddle tightly enough so that the blanket can't come loose but not so tight that your baby is constricted, advises Dr. Hamilton. The blanket should be loose enough at the hips for freedom of movement.

Also, use a light blanket to avoid overheating. Most importantly, always follow the safe sleep guidelines when it comes to swaddling.

Safe Sleep Guidelines

Follow these safe sleep practices when swaddling:

  • Place your baby down to sleep on their back, for every sleep.
  • Refrain from using loose blankets and don't place anything in the crib other than the baby and a pacifier.
  • Stop swaddling as soon as your baby shows any signs of trying to roll over or at 2 months old (whichever comes first).
  • Avoid over-bundling your baby.

Types of Swaddles

The classic swaddle is a thin, muslin cotton receiving blanket, but there are a few other swaddle options. You can use whichever type works best for you.

For instance, a velcro swaddle can be easier to put on than a blanket. This type of swaddle may be useful, especially if getting that perfect fit eludes you or if you have a baby Houdini who always seems to wiggle out.

"Velcro swaddles are very firm and [this can prevent babies from] working their way out of them," Dr. Hamilton says. "Some children are able to get out of all constraints so no matter what the parents do."

Some babies prefer to be swaddled with their arms up, so a sack with little wings for their arms and hands may be a good choice. Still, others want a swaddle sack that lets them move their hands and arms around inside.

These types simply zip all the way up. The type of swaddle you use depends on what your baby responds best to. Fit is more important than type, Dr. Hamilton says.

"Too tight a swaddle and the child is miserable and will cry from discomfort. Too loose of swaddle results in baby 'swimming in the swaddle' and this is not effective," he explains.

Types of Swaddles

  • Classic receiving blanket
  • Velcro swaddle
  • Swaddle sack with wings
  • Swaddle sack that allows hands and arms to move around

How to Swaddle a Baby in a Blanket

Here is a step-by-step guide for swaddling a baby with a receiving blanket:

  1. Lay the blanket out flat and fold it into a triangle. A wide edge should be at the top and a corner at the bottom.
  2. Place the baby at the center, arms down by their sides, with the point of the triangle down. Baby's head and neck should be above the blanket, and their shoulders and below should be on the blanket.
  3. Take the top left corner and pull it diagonally down to the right, tucking it under the baby's right hip.
  4. Take the bottom corner and pull it diagonally up and over the right shoulder, tucking it behind.
  5. Pull the top right corner horizontally across to the left and around the back.

Swaddling With Their Arms Up

If your baby doesn't seem to like being swaddled, they may prefer a different arm position. Many babies prefer to be swaddled with their hands to their heart. In this position, follow the steps above but bring the baby's fists together at their chest instead of putting them down by the baby's sides.

Alternatively, you can swaddle them with their arms completely out, following the steps above but with the top of the blanket lined up below the arms. In this method, you also need to adjust step 4 and bring the corner of the blanket around the back instead of up and over the shoulder.

Deciding whether to swaddle with the arms up or down is completely up to you. You can always try both positions to see which works best for your baby.

"Some nurses and pediatricians prefer to have the elbows extended at the side of the child when they are swaddled. Other practitioners feel equally happy with arms that are allowed to be flexed at the elbow," Dr. Hamilton says.

Swaddling with the arms out helps some babies self-soothe but for others, it makes sleep harder. With the arms out, the Moro reflex is more likely to wake a sleeping baby.

Swaddling Frequency

There is no rule that says you have to swaddle all of the time, but consistency is generally best.

"You don't have to swaddle your baby for every nap, especially if you are already keeping your baby close to you by holding your them," says Heather Wallace, a certified pediatric sleep consultant. "However, if your baby is struggling with napping, swaddling can help tremendously, as it inhibits the startle reflex. Baby can go through each stage of sleep without being jolted awake."

Whether you swaddle all of the time of just sometimes is completely up to you, your baby may protest when you don't because they want the comfort they are used to.

When to Stop Swaddling a Baby

Swaddling should be discontinued before your baby can roll from front to back. Babies generally learn to roll from back to front before they can roll from front to back. A swaddled baby who rolls onto their stomach while sleeping is at an increased risk of SIDS or suffocation.

Because we can't predict the first time baby will roll, it's important to stop swaddling when they show signs of trying to roll or at 2 months of age, whichever comes first.

Although you may be hesitant to take away your baby's sleep aid, their safety is more important, and ultimately, they will sleep better without the swaddle. Swaddling also doesn't work after a certain age anyway.

"[When older], the child is more robust and more difficult to get into a swaddle and also, I find that the constricting effect, that works so well when they are young, doesn’t seem to have the same value," Dr. Hamilton notes.

How to Transition Out of a Swaddle

When it's time to drop the swaddle, transition to a sleep sack. A sleep sack is a wearable blanket that usually zips up the front. There are a few different options out there to choose from. Babies under age 1 should not have loose blankets or pillows in the crib, so a sleep sack is your safest bet when moving on from the swaddle.

"If you start this transition early enough, you can take a slower approach to weaning, so that you don't have to remove the swaddle cold turkey," Wallace says. "I suggest trying to swaddle baby with one arm out around 7 weeks old. After your baby has adjusted to this small change, try removing the other arm. If you start early enough, you have plenty of time to try new ways of soothing your baby, before they need to be completely swaddle-free."

If your baby is still having trouble sleeping without the swaddle after about a week of dropping it, Wallace suggests working on independent sleep skills with your baby. Resist the urge to try a bunch of new gadgets, because your baby will eventually need to be weaned from these aids as well.

Sleep Without a Swaddle

There is no rule that says you have to swaddle a newborn, and some parents choose not to do it at all. Whether your baby just doesn't like it or you're uncomfortable with the small risk associated with swaddling, it's perfectly fine to put your baby down without one. Just remember that the only bedding your baby needs is a tight-fitting sheet over the mattress.

Your baby may wake more frequently if not swaddled because the Moro reflex is strongest during the first 12 weeks of life. However, because swaddling is no longer safe after 8 weeks of age (or when an infant first attempts rolling), weaning can be difficult.

Some parents prefer to let their baby learn to sleep without a swaddle from the get-go rather than attempt to take one away while this reflex is still strong.

"You also can help your baby feel secure by offering a firm but gentle touch, shushing rhythmically, and even briefly picking your baby up and putting them back down awake," Wallace says. "With newborn sleep, it's all about practice. The more you practice putting your newborn down awake and alert the more proficient your baby will be at falling asleep independently."

Sometimes babies who aren't in swaddles begin to self-soothe by sucking their fingers because they can reach them. Depending on the baby, being able to bring the hands to the mouth can have a more positive impact on sleep consolidation.

A Word From Verywell

Swaddling can be a sleep aid that helps you get through those early months of parenting without losing your mind. When done correctly, swaddling is a safe way to improve and extend infant sleep.

If your new baby's sleep habits are exhausting, it's OK to ask for help. Maybe your partner, a family member, or a friend can help out while you rest or you could hire a night nurse.

You also can consider investing in a sleep consultant or just giving yourself permission to nap whenever your baby does. If sleep deprivation has you feeling depressed or anxious, reach out to your doctor.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Parmelee AH. A critical evaluation of the moro reflexPediatrics. 1964;33(5):773-788.

  2. Parmelee AH. A critical evaluation of the moro reflexPediatrics. 1964;33(5):773-788.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Swaddling: Is it safe? Updated August 17, 2020.