How do I swaddle my baby?

This article discusses swaddling - how to do it as well as the arguments for and against.

This article covers:

Why swaddle your baby?

How to swaddle a baby

Arguments against swaddling

Natural positioning

Keeping safe when swaddling

Further information

Swaddling describes the practice of wrapping babies, from the neck downwards, entirely in a cloth or thin blanket, with the aim of pacifying or calming them.

Why swaddle your baby?

Although not everyone agrees with swaddling babies, many cultures have used this practice throughout history, as it is thought that the feeling of being ‘contained’ or held within the blanket can help babies to feel settled or less fretful and can also help them to sleep. It is thought to have this effect because it in some way ‘recreates’ the restricted space of the womb and therefore stops the baby making its startle (Moro) reflex; however, it is not known what the long-term effects of swaddling a baby are.

If the purpose of swaddling your baby is simply to stop them thrashing around, then it may be best to use a muslin (particularly indoors), as it is important that your baby does not overheat.

How to swaddle a baby

Place a large cot blanket on the floor, and lay it in a diamond shape, folding the top point over to create a flat edge for your baby’s shoulders to lie among. Bring one top corner across to tuck under her bottom, and bring the bottom point up to tuck into this wrap. You can wrap the other top corner around her and tuck the corner in to secure in the material at her neck (this section has been copied from ‘Babycalming’ by Caroline Deacon, by agreement). The baby's legs should be able to move into a ‘frog position’, rather than being held straight (see Natural Positioning below).

 

Arguments against swaddling

Recently, some experts have reviewed studies on swaddled infants, and it has been suggested that swaddling could have implications for:

  • increased risk of cot death,
  • reduced breastfeeding at birth and/or
  • increased early weight loss

Additional concerns raised regarding swaddling have included increased incidences of developmental hip dysplasia, acute respiratory infections and overheating; however these may be circumvented by modifying the swaddling style used (see video above) and by avoiding extra bedding.

Natural positioning

Heavily swaddling a baby in order to breastfeed may feel easier, but allowing your baby freedom of movement with their hands leads to a more natural latch - babies naturally explore with their hands when breastfeeding. Your baby may also get very warm while breastfeeding, so it's safer not to have constrictive blankets.

An infant's natural hip position is 'frog' style – with legs drawn up and thighs roughly at right angles to the body. This helps the ball and socket joint develop properly in the hip. There is some evidence that excessive swaddling with legs 'straight down' prevents this joint developing properly (hip dysplasia or DDH). Babies’ legs need to be able to move in a more natural 'frog' position.

Keeping safe when swaddling

The Lullaby Trust (formerly FSID) makes the following recommendations:

  • Parents should be aware of the potential risks of swaddling their infant, particularly of the use of heavy materials for swaddling. 
  • Don't cover a baby's head, and only use thin materials for swaddling.
  • Infants must NEVER be placed on their stomach when swaddled. 

Other carers, such as grandparents, should also be made aware of your baby’s usual sleeping environment and practices.  

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

The Lullaby Trust (formerly FSID) has information on swaddling.

Babycalming by Caroline Deacon is available from NCT shop, along with a variety of swaddling blankets and a video describing safe swaddling.