How to Help Your Baby Sleep Better With Swaddling

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Swaddling baby is a great way to get great sleep for your newborn baby through older baby. Swaddling is great for newborns, 3 month olds, and beyond.

Swaddle baby

Swaddling can be a great thing to do for your baby to help them have better sleep.

Swaddling seems like it should just be easy, but parents have a lot of questions about it and it doesn’t always go smoothly.

Some things parents wonder about are:

  • Should I swaddle my newborn?
  • Should baby be swaddled for naps?
  • Should I swaddle my newborn for every nap?
  • When should I stop swaddling my baby for naps?
  • Is it safe to swaddle baby for sleep?
  • Will swaddling baby delay physical milestones?

Benefits of Swaddling Baby for Naps

Swaddling baby for naps has many great benefits.

It helps baby stay asleep longer. So swaddling your baby helps ensure she will be able to make 1.5-2.5 hours for her nap (depending on your routine).

It also helps a newborn fall asleep without startling herself awake. The moro reflex, or startle reflex, can often wake a newborn up and prevent her from falling or staying asleep.

Swaddling before each nap and before night sleep is a great part of a sleep routine to help baby recognize that sleep is coming up. Swaddling is a vital step in my favorite no-cry baby sleep training method.

Should All Newborns and Babies be Swaddled

Some babies won’t swaddle. Brayden wouldn’t. He fought it like crazy.

Kaitlyn did swaddle, and I think it made sleep training and sleeping much easier on her. Because of this, I was sure to swaddle my other two girls.

I would watch Brayden sometimes and he would fall asleep only to wake up after a couple of minutes because his arms went flying (Moro reflex strikes again).

With that said, if I had to do it all over again, I would definitely give more effort to trying to get Brayden to sleep while swaddled. Swaddling can really help a sleeping baby stay asleep. I had such success with my three daughters that I think swaddling could have helped my chronic 45 minute sleeper (Brayden) to sleep better.

So, if you are wondering if you should swaddle your baby for naps, my answer would be yes. Do it. Give it a solid effort.

Swaddling Tips

I recommend using a swaddle blanket to sawddle your baby.

With Kaitlyn, I swaddled with a blanket, but with McKenna and Brinley, I used swaddle blankets. Swaddle blankets were easier to use.

Another nice bonus is that other people could swaddle baby. Kaitlyn was pretty dependent on me because I did it perfectly. No one else could swaddle her the way she liked it.

There are many great swaddle blankets out there. If you ask a group of moms which is best, you will get a variety of answers.

The HALO sleep sack is a very popular one among parents. It is affordable and comes in a variety of colors and fabrics.

The Miracle Swaddle is another popular one. This one is often reported to be great for babies who are good at breaking out of swaddles. This is also affordable and comes in a varitey of colors.

The Love to Dream is another swaddle blanket people love. The great thing about this one is that it allows baby’s arms to be in an arms up positiion. This is how babies will more naturally sleep if left without a swaddle blanket, so it allows baby to sleep in this position and still prevent the reflex from waking baby. Again, affordable. They do also sell transition blankets.

The Woombie is another good option for babies who want to be able to move around a bit in the swaddle. This one is baby’s arms more across the tummy.

We used the SwaddleMe with all three girls. You can get a pack of three of these for a little more than one of the options above. I bought them with McKenna and used them with Brinley, also.

Weighted swaddles are newer to the market. Dreamland Baby has a popular weighted swaddle. Brinley has their weighted blanket and loves it.

Weighted swaddle blanket from Dreamland Baby

You will want at least a couple of blankets so you can use one while you wash one. Because we had success with SwaddleMe, I recommend starting there and then trying the other types of swaddle blankets if the SwaddleMe just doesn’t work for your baby.

You can also just use a blanket.

Harvy Karp has a method for swaddling that he calls the DUDU wrap. It is an acronym for Down-up-down-up. To do this, you need a square blanket. Chapter 8 is full of diagrams illustrating the wrap, but if this is something that is of interest to you, I would again suggest the DVD might be the better option.

Karp lists things that can interfere with the success of a swaddle (pages 118-119):

  • Swaddling too loosely
  • Swaddling with bent arms
  • Letting the blanket touch baby’s cheek
  • Allowing finished swaddle to pop back open

The swaddle blanket really helps prevent that.

If you want a blanket, the Mebie Baby Stretch Swaddle is nice and stretchy. aden + anais is another super popular swaddle blanket.

Swaddling Concerns

In Chapter 8 of Happiest Baby on the Block, Harvey Karp discusses common worries parents have when it comes to swaddling. One of those is that baby will become dependent on it.

He says that by four months, the baby won’t need to be swaddled anymore (page 112). This is a good average to be aware of, but all babies are different. I will point out that Brinley, my youngest, was swaddled until 5-6 months old, so don’t feel pressured to drop the swaddle sooner than baby is ready.

For us, swaddling Kaitlyn was something she was done with around three-four months old. It wasn’t hard to stop the swaddle at this time, and she actually slept better once we stopped (though I believe it did help her sleep better when she was younger).

Another concern mentioned in the book is that swaddling prevents baby from being able to reach her hands

Karp says your baby doesn’t have the ability to do this until three-four months old (page 113). Kaitlyn wanted one hand out at a rather young age (I think somewhere around 4-6 weeks), and it was so she could suck those fingers. He does say it is fine to leave a hand out if your baby is happy that way (page 112).

So, since baby likely won’t have the motor control to get to her hands before she is able to drop the swaddle anyway, it doesn’t need to be a concern.

Parents wonder if it is safe to swaddle a baby for sleep. A blanket that is snug around your baby resembles the womb and helps soothe baby for sleep. You just want to make sure the swaddle isn’t coming loose and leaving loose blankets in the bed with baby.

Another concern parents have is if swaddling will delay physical milestones. They worry that the time spent swaddled prevents baby from being free to try to develop gross motor skills.

Baby is only swaddled for sleep. During baby’s awake time, make sure baby has time on the floor (such as tummy time) and time to just move about as best she can.

It is impossible to know if swaddling delays something like the ability to roll over. If baby is given time to play on the floor, it will not prevent baby from meeting the milestone in the age range that is normal.

Swaddling Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to questions parents commonly have about swaddling.

  • Calm babies might not need to be swaddled at all. If your baby hates to be swaddled and sleeps 1.5-2 hours, you do not need to fight it. But if baby doesn’t sleep well, work on swaddling. Find a blanket that works for your baby.
  • You can start swaddling any time during the first three months. So if baby starts off sleeping fine without the swaddle, then starts waking frequently at 2 months old, you can try a swaddle blanket.
  • To determine if your baby is too hot, “…feel her ears and fingers. If they’re hot, red, and sweaty, she’s overwrapped. However, if they’re only slightly warm and she’s not sweaty, her temperature is probably perfect” (page 122).

Dropping the Swaddle

Despite the benefits of swaddling, the day does come that you have to stop swaddling.

The exact age depends on your baby.

Some moms swaddle up to about a year old. Others stop the swaddle closer to the 2-3 month mark. The age is for you to decide.

>>>Read: Everything You Need to Know About Dropping the Swaddle for a full breakdown on dropping the swaddle

Many people like to work on dropping the swaddle at three months old.

A friend of mine who swaddled her son made the comment that she stopped swaddling at 3 months because there are so many things they work on developmentally while in the crib.

This is very true (often to the frustration of the parents!).

My youngest was swaddled even past six months old, though, and she didn’t suffer any developmental delays, so do not let fear of delays cause you to drop the swaddle earlier than you would otherwise.

Karp suggests at two-three months you try swaddling with one arm out.

If she gets fussier, continue wrapping for a few weeks. If she stays happy, she doesn’t need it anymore. Kaitlyn, however, was ready for one arm out long before she was ready for both. 

Karp says most babies are ready to be weaned by three-four months, though some like to be swaddled up to a year old.

Swaddled baby

You will have some sleep re-learning to do once you stop swaddling. You can make it easier on you and your baby if you do some things:

  • Really pay attention to your child and listen to your intuition. When Kaitlyn was 9 weeks, I tried stopping the swaddle. Prior to this she did not cry for naps. The first two naps of no swaddling, she cried over 30 minutes before falling asleep. I decided she wasn’t ready. I waited until she was a little older than 3 months old. This time there was no crying and no problems. She was ready.
  • You might be able to slowly wean from swaddling. At six weeks, I took one arm out of the swaddle for Kaitlyn. After I stopped the swaddle, I still wrapped the trunk of her body for a couple of weeks.
  • Something to watch for is improved arm and hand control. Swaddling helps prevent the jerky arm movements that wake a child up. Once they have better control over their movements, swaddling is unnecessary and can even start to get in the way of physical skills they work on while in their beds. Once I thought Kaitlyn was getting close to this step, I made sure she had a lot of opportunity to play at her gym where she could practice those skills. The age when improved arm and hand control happens of course depends on the baby, but I would say between 2 and 3 months old, and likely closer to 3 months.
  • It is not unusual for a baby to take 3-5 days to learn to sleep without a swaddle. So if you feel like it is time to drop it, give it about 5 days before giving up (unless you really feel like you made the wrong move immediately).

What To Use After a Swaddle

Once your baby is done with swaddling, use a sleep sack or wrap a blanket around baby’s torso if baby needs a blanket for warmth. If not, you can just have baby sleep in her pajamas!

Conclusion

Swaddling is a great tool to help baby sleep better. Give it a try and see if your baby gets better sleep.

Other Swaddling Posts

Swaddling Tips from Moms

sara said…
Hey Valerie,
Just a little trick that I learned with baby number two – I swaddle her in two blankets and she never gets out! She was constantly breaking out of her swaddle during the first few days, so my husband suggested the double swaddle. I use two thin receiving blankets so she doesn’t get overheated and it works like a charm, and is way cheaper than buying special blankets. Thought I’d share that cause I know alot of people say their baby doesn’t like to be swaddled when really they just can’t keep them wrapped up.
Plowmanators said…
Thanks Sara! Great tip!

Amanda said…
Interesting that he says a baby cannot reach their hands before 4 months old. I have a picture on the Babywise group on babycenter.com of my son sucking his thumb at 9 weeks old. And he’d been doing it for several weeks at that point, basically whenever his pacifier fell out the thumb went in. He was an excellent self-soother, and I’m sure doing Babywise from the start helped that.

Jenny said…
Glad to see posts regarding Dr. Karp. I purchased this book and thought it was great. I can say that swaddling helped us tremendously in getting our LO calmed down. I was nervous to stop swaddling for fear she would start waking up. But she did not. We stopped a couple of weeks ago when she turned 5 months. She too liked one arm out to suck her thumb. Thanks for the post…

Abby’s Mom said…
Swaddling worked wonders for us! Abby slept so much better swaddled. We swaddled her at night and for naps until she was 10 months old!!

Reader Swaddling Questions

Lindsay said…
This blog is SO great! I have a random question about bundling, if any of you have any info or thoughts… Is it fine to bundle baby as long as he/she likes? My babe is 4 months and still has to be bundled. Last week he took all of his naps unbundled and slept fine–but so far this week he has had to be bundled or he won’t fall asleep. How do you know when to stop bundling? Will I run into sleep problems later if I keep bundling him now? Or do they just grow out of it?
Lindsay said…
OK, thanks- you have already answered my question in a November post. I just didn’t see it!
Plowmanators said…
I am glad you saw it–I was just going to link it for you.

Ashley said…
This blog really is great! I’m always reading and re-reading things! I have always swaddled my 9 week old, but I find it to be a pain. Would you suggest keeping out one arm to ease her into not being swaddled any longer? Or should I wait until she is 3-4 mos. old?
Plowmanators said…
Ashley, at that age, Kaitlyn had one arm out. I would say it is worth a try. Try it and see if she is okay with it. If not, go back to a full swaddle and try again later. If so, you are one step closer 🙂

Rhea said…
Hi, I loved Happiest Baby on the Block and my son, Noah, really took to all of the techniques – especially the swaddle. We have not been doing CIO and I’m starting to feel drained as we near the 12 week mark. Dr. Karp says to begin to teach them to self-soothe at this age and putting them to bed slightly awake. I’ve been trying to do that, but it’s not really working for me. I want to start to let Noah CIO, but almost every time he fusses really hard he gets out of his swaddle and it ends up covering his face with his legs out. I can’t imagine that I would be advised to leave him like that so I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried leaving him unswaddled and I just don’t think he’s ready – he can’t seem to keep himself to sleep for very long. The only thing I can think to do is to continue to reswaddle until he falls asleep. Has anyone else had any experience with this struggle – if so, any advice?
Plowmanators said…
Rhea, what are you swaddling with? I would suggest you try a swaddling blanket if you aren’t. There are lots of brands out there. If he is super strong, you might like the miracle blanket or the woombie.

Zasha said… Hi there,It’s me Zasha again (with a 4 week old son)Thanks for giving me this link. It is a relief to know that there are other babies who cry for 2 hours when put down for a nap and not just mine!What’s your take on swaddling for naps ad night sleep? Do you think it would help my baby to self-settle better? I notice that his arms/hands are constantly moving when he’s crying it out! His eyes are shut while he’s crying but he seems to be disturbed by his own (arms/hands) muscle movements. What do you think? I could be wrong. Thank you again!
Plowmanators said… Hi Zasha, I swaddled my daughter, and most people do swaddle for at least a short time. I think if your baby will tolerate swaddling, do it. You are right that the “startle” reflex wakes them up. The swaddle helps prevent that.

Lauren said… My son has always slept swaddled, and I know it helped him sleep better. He is 5 1/2 months now, and his sleep is frequently disrupted when he comes out of the swaddle, both and night and during naps. I think we’re ready to wean. I’ve experimented with leaving one arm out, then the other, and even both arms. I don’t know if any makes the difference. I think it’s just going to take some CIO. I know it is also interfering with night sleep, so do you think I should still only do naps first, or just drop it altogether? When CIO, he can and often does cry through the entire nap. We’re on the 4 hour shedule, so that is a long time. Also, it seems like if he ever does eventually tire enough to fall asleep after crying, it ends up being very close to time for the next feeding and then I absolutely hate waking him when he’s only rested for such a short time. I have been known to go 4 1/2 to 5 hours when this has happened just to allow him to get that sleep he so desperately needs. Is this what you would do, or go ahead and wake him, even if he’s only just fallen asleep?
BabywiseMom said…I might drop night first since he would be more tired anyway. Either way is acceptable; you will just have to decide what you think is best for him.

With the 4 hour schedule, I think I would let him nap one transisition that wake him. That means you would wake him after sleeping about 45 minutes. It is just too hard to make up that time to fit all of your feedings in when you are on a four hour schedule. Be sure to check out the blog label CIO for help through the process.

Lana said…

I am curious as to what you use when you no longer swaddle. Do you use a sleep bag or something else? Also, I just started using the Kippopatamus Swaddle Me as you suggested and was wondering if you find it’s better to take them out at night to feed them (I breastfeed) or leave them swaddled? Also at what age did you move your kids up to the large size of the Swaddle Me. Thanks so much and God bless!
BabywiseMom said…When I stopped swaddling Kaitlyn, I still wrapped the blanket around her torso. It really was for my peace of mind more than anything. Eventually, I went to those sleep bags that have long sleeves and zip up made by Carters for nighttime and nothing special for naps. When I stop swaddling McKenna, I plan to go straight to the bags and will likely use them for naps because she absolutel does not like to feel a chill on her skin. She is like me 🙂

How to swaddle baby for sleep pinnable image

This post originally appeared on this blog in November 2007

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