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How to Swaddle Your Baby – Tips and Tricks

How Not to Swaddle

Don't Do This at Home Folks!

How Not to Swaddle

Don't Do This at Home Folks!

Every family I’ve ever worked with has bought a few swaddling blankets, learned about swaddling (most new baby books cover this nicely), and maybe even taken a newborn baby care class that covered baby swaddling. And this is BEFORE they actually give birth! Given that most of you have probably read one or five newborn care baby books and that the internet is awash in “how to swaddle your baby” articles I’m going to focus on what you probably DON’T know.

How to Swaddle Your Baby

You’ve done it correctly when they don’t pop out. Also, if you’re attaching them to a board of some sort (see pictured), please stop. We now know this can lead to hip dysplasia although I’ve never ever seen a parent do anything remotely like this and am assuming that you are not part of a nomadic tribe and thus won’t be strapping your swaddled child to your back for 14 hours a day.

Dr. Karp (Happiest Baby) suggests the “dudu” or down-up down-up method which does work well. If you’re interested Karp provides a nice PDF that walks through this method.

I’m also including two videos here that provide a nice visual of swaddling a newborn baby. I particularly like these because they show that MOST babies DO complain when being swaddled. Newborn babies especially dislike being placed on their back and will let you know it. So when you go to swaddle your (tired, hungry, gassy, cranky) baby they will fuss and complain about it.

Bottom Line: Whatever method of baby origami you prefer is fine as long as it works. If their arms are popping out or they are able to push the blanket up over their heads then it DOESN’T work and you need to find another method.

Baby Swaddling for Dummies

If you’re struggling with the baby origami I recommend you try one of the various velcro (or swaddling for dummies) alternatives. Frankly I love these and don’t understand why anybody would struggle with baby wrapping when there are nice inexpensive alternatives for exhausted brain-dead parents who have better things (like eating, sleeping, or maybe the occasional shower) to do with their time.

There are many good swaddle-for-dummy products but my top pics are:

  • Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe
  • Pros: Cheap and easy. You can leave their little feet OUT of the bottom of the swaddle blanket (recommended) for sleeping in swings, car seats, and for when its hot outside.

Cons: The velcro does seem to wear out with washing so if you find your little one popping out its time to buy a new one. It also helps if you wash them infrequently (only run them through when you really need to). Also they run LARGE – I can swaddle even a 20 lb baby in the small size blanket. Their large size swaddle blanket would be appropriate for a 10-year-old. Or maybe a golden retriever.

Pros: The Sleepsack is a great way to keep baby warm when they are too young (under 2 years old) for blankets. Also features velcro for the swaddling challenged among us.

Cons: You can’t use the sleepsack WITHOUT their feet being IN the sack. Thus it is impossible to use a sleepack in a swing, car seat, etc. As most babies sleep far better in the swing, this is a very limiting feature.

Pros: Even the most talented baby Houdinis seem stymied by the miracle blanket. Unlike most, the miracle blanket doesn’t use velcro and instead wraps repeatedly around their body making it almost impossible for arms to escape.

Cons: Like the Sleepsack, the miracle blanket doesn’t work well with their legs out. Also getting the miracle blanket on is a bit more involved than the simpler SwaddleMe option so if your baby gets REALLY angry at you when you swaddle them, you might want to hold off on a Miracle Blanket. Also it is a lot of fabric which can lead to overheating in the summer.

Swaddling Troubleshooting

Baby Hates the Swaddle

Every baby I (or the fantastic team I work with) have worked with has responded well to being swaddled even if they protested viciously at the point of actually BEING swaddled. When I met with Dr. Karp of Happiest Baby fame I asked him explicitly if there were just some babies who really shouldn’t be swaddled because they hated it. His answer was brief. “No – swaddling is almost universally good for babies.” Babies fight the swaddle but still are more readily soothed and sleep better when swaddled.

But if your heart of hearts screams at you that swaddling just isn’t right for your baby, then you need to go with that. But I would suggest you approach swaddling from the perspective of, “prove to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that this isn’t working.” Don’t swaddle a cranky baby 2-3 times and then shrug it off if it doesn’t seem to work as promised. It can be a very powerful tool to reduce crying and improve sleep and you don’t want to readily remove that sort of heavy artillery from your arsenal.

Swaddling Houdini Babies

You’ve just rocked your little one to sleep and are already savoring the delivery pizza on its way to your door and the promise the hot bath to follow, when the swaddle pops open and your beloved little angle and screaming at you. It’s a horrible feeling and we’ve all been there.

Keeping a squirmy baby swaddled securely is a real challenge. My first suggestion is to make sure that the arms are flush at the sides of their body. If the elbow is bent or they have wiggle room in there, they’re going to break free (or ineffectually fight the swaddle which defeats the purpose of using it in the first place).

Assuming you already have that down, my second suggestion is to let the legs out. Baby’s legs don’t need to be swaddled, there is no benefit to it (other than warmth which can be addressed other ways). Having the legs out also enables you to put a swaddled baby in a car seat and more importantly, swaddle babies safely in the swing. But as it relates to Houdini babies, keeping the legs unswaddled removes the ability for kicking feet to dislodge, loosen, etc. the swaddling blanket. Even little baby legs can do a lot to mess up a quality baby wrap so and keeping the legs out of the swaddle removes this as an issue.

If you’re struggling with blankets you should definitely check out one (all?) of the swaddling-for-dummy options listed above. Velcro is less subject to user error and generally is pretty Houdini-proof. If even a new SwaddleMe blanket is insufficient to the task you may need to upgrade to a Miracle Blanket (although this is not an option for swing sleepers). If none of the commercial-grade products work for your extra clever baby you could discuss some off-label products with your pediatrician. Mine suggested we wrap ours up with ace bandages. You would be surprised with what sort of clever ideas those pediatricians have in their back pocket. After all, it’s not their first trip to the dance.

If your Houdini is slightly older (at least 4 months old) you could also try swaddling their body but leaving one or both arms free. Some babies respond really well to one arm in, which is still very soothing but removes 50% of their power to break free. Also for older babies who may have realized that hands make great sucking/chewing devices, this leave them free to do so (which is ALSO enormously soothing). Yes even having just the body swaddled with both arms out can be very soothing to slightly older babies.

Saying Sayonara to the Swaddle

Most babies need to be swaddled when they are upset or sleeping until they are at least 4  months of age. Some will need to be swaddled for as much as a year but most are done between 4-6 months. There is no issue of “weaning them off” the swaddle. You simply test the waters now and then to see if they are done. If they’re not done, they’re not. Wait a few weeks and then test again.

The swaddle test is simply this – pop an arm out when they go down to sleep and see what happens. If your 2 hour napper wakes up 30 minutes later, you’re not done. If however the nap proceeds without issue, stick with one arm out for a few days. Then test swaddling with both arms out (so his body is swaddled but both arms are free). If this also has no negative effect on sleeping than congratulations – you’re all done! Although don’t donate them to the pregnant neighbor yet, teething, sleep regressions, etc. can all have you scattering back for that swaddle. So give yourself a good month or two buffer to be sure that you’re REALLY done.

Swaddled Baby Flips Over

Swaddling is ONLY for babies sleeping on their backs. Never EVER put a swaddled baby down on their stomachs. Once your baby is capable of flipping over from their back to their stomach while swaddled you are DONE with the swaddle. This is non-negotiable. Absolutely no swaddled babies on their stomach for any reason. Ever.

Luckily this is unlikely to happen unless your baby is older than 6 months as flipping while swaddled requires some significant gross motor skill development. Thus it is likely that your baby will be done with the swaddle before this happens.

Got any other magic swaddle tips to share with other tired parents?

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113 Comments


  1. Thank you for your blog. We have a nearly 7 month old who cannot sleep for more than 30 minutes unless she is swaddled. She was a colicky newborn who was worn, swung, rocked, etc. The day we read the Happiest Baby on the Block saved us from hours of screaming (by her and us) and the 5 S’s were a lifesaver. She is now a happy wee girl who falls asleep peacefully and sleeps 12 hours a night with one feed in the middle. BUT… she has to be swaddled. She is the opposite of happy without her swaddle. She gets so angry! We use an old style cloth nappy to double swaddle her arms and then use a swaddle me over the top. In New Zealand they really push stopping the swaddle when baby starts rolling. Well, she is nearly crawling and rolls too. She has never so much as tried to roll in her swaddle. I was feeling like I was a bad mother for keeping her in her swaddle, but after reading your blog and enjoying our happy girl, I am keeping her swaddled until she decides she doesn’t need it. Thanks for all the tips and reassurance.

  2. Just wanted to share my success story thanks to Alexis. :]

    My daughter will be 9 months on the 10th and I honestly thought she would be swaddled past a year. I kept trying the one arm out thing and it would normally not go past me trying to even get her to sleep before I went back and fully swaddled. But finally I committed and even though trying to get her to sleep was a bit of a struggle it didn’t have a huge impact on her sleep. So I started with the one arm out deal for about three days and it went pretty smooth, and then we continued on with two. We had one pretty rough night that consisted of mom getting up to replace the pacifier because she must have felt out of place or something. But then it got better the next night. I gave that three days and then stopped wrapping her body and now we’re done. Mommy’s happy, baby’s happy, and we’re all sleeping well.

    My advice if you really feel baby is ready to be out of the swaddle commit to Alexis’ advice and go for it, don’t turn back.

    Now the pacifier battle … We’ll see how we get rid of that one and when.

    PS I still rock my baby girl normally as soon as she closes her eyes she’s ok to be put down, it’s just something I enjoy doing for her and I won’t be able to do it her whole life so why not? She already fights me sometimes and would much rather lay in her crib and fall asleep on her own, it makes me kind of sad!

    Any who… Thank you so much for site Alexis… You rock!!

  3. I discovered this site in the middle of the night in the early weeks with our newborn when my husband and I didn’t think we would survive the exhaustion (now I find myself rereading posts often). At that time we often only got 40 minutes of sleep between our baby waking and were delirious. We thought our daughter didn’t like the swaddle but decided to try it again out of desperation around 8 weeks and finally started getting some sleep- she needed it! We implemented all of the suggestions for a newborn (white noise etc.) By three months she was occasionally sleeping through the night- yay us! We were even so brazen as to brag to family members about it, then….
    She is 4 months old now and waking as often as she did when she was a newborn. She is an extremely alert and active baby, and rolled over right at 3 months and is on her way to a commando crawl. She is also an extremely restless sleeper. She loved to practice rolling in the middle of the night so we had to stop swaddling, and just use a sleep sack. Since then sleep has completely deteriorated. She has a crazy startle reflex and goes to sleep okay then her whole body jumps and she wakes herself up crying. This repeats about every 40 minutes or so all night long. We know she is exhausted, she goes right back to sleep once we settle her. She used to sleep so peacefully in the bassinet next to our bed. We have since moved in the pack n play but because of this waking we are now in a bed sharing situation out of need which happens somewhere between 2-3 am after getting up for the 8th time, (I sleep with my arm across her to keep her from startling herself awake). She is sleeping better in our bed but I am not, but we don’t know what else to do! We would swaddle but know it wouldn’t be safe with our restless sleeper. Oh and when she rolls on her stomach at night she cries, she can’t settle in that position so between startling and flipping her back on to her back we get no sleep. Any suggestions? Or is it one of those things we have to ride out?

    • It sounds like she is really not ready to be done with the swaddle. I remember sleeping with my arm over my son’s arms for this exact reason until I put two and two together and figured out to swaddle–ha! Could you put her in a rock-and-play or swing, something with buckle, to keep her from flipping while swaddled? If you use the Miracle Blanket or Halo sleep sacks, you can just keep her feet out so that you can buckle her in. This would prevent her from rolling and allow you to swaddle longer!

  4. I love your website! Thanks for all of the articles and advice in your blogs. My issue is that my 2 month old son can only be swaddled if he is totally sleep otherwise he fights you tooth and nail. Then he wakes up anywhere from after a few minutes to a couple of hours and spends his time grunting and trying to break free. Should I continue swaddling him? Is it worth it? Any advice?

  5. Alexis, I would really like your thoughts on whether letting a 6 month or older baby cry it out while swaddled is a good idea. If they can’t roll over or access their hands bc they’re strapped down, what other self-soothing methods do they have?

    Our 5 month old Houdini son still needs his double swaddle. He hasn’t started rolling over while swaddled yet. I’ve periodically tried one arm out or the zipadeezip with no success yet. He doesn’t like his arms free and with the zippy he rolls over to his tummy and gets mad and doesn’t roll back over or settle.

    At 3 months, he was going down at 8pm and only waking once at 4 or 5 to eat and then right back to sleep until 8am. He would even sleep til 7am without a peep sometimes. It was some wonderful sleep for me especially since I have a 2.5 year old also. Then 4 months hit. For the past month, he wakes up 3-5 times between 11pm and 6am.

    We have been working toward putting him down awake and have been doing it gradually since he was born bc we rocked our daughter to sleep and that blew up on us big time so we weren’t about to make that mistake again.

    His naps are pretty good and he seems to get enough rest during the day on most days. He seems to fall asleep fine on his own at bedtime. His bedtime routine is bottle, bath, pjs, and then rocking and singing before swaddling and putting him down. We use white noise and his room his dark. The only thing that could be hurting us is he does fall asleep with a pacifier. When he wakes up, simply replacing it does not do the trick. It requires us picking him up, some rocking and bouncing and then putting him back down. My husband goes in and does this in usually 5 min or less before 2am and after that point it requires a feeding to get him to go back to sleep. So we’ve basically added back another feeding we had dropped like 2 months ago. One other kind of potential and odd sleep assoc I may have created is that after I swaddle him, I give him some gas drops. It has just become a habit since he struggled with gas a lot as a newborn. I only give them to him again at night after the times he wakes to feed.

    He has a strong sucking need so I feel bad taking away the paci at this point since his arms are tucked away in the swaddle. With these multiple night wakings over the past month seemingly not getting any better, I’m afraid we are headed toward CIO for when he wakes up at night? But if he still requires the swaddle and we end up having to remove the paci as a potential sleep assoc problem, will he be able to CIO effectively and self soothe? Any other suggestions for getting him to stay asleep?

    Thank you! Anne

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