Learn How to Swaddle a Baby: Avoid 10 Common Mistakes

How to swaddle a baby properly can be a beautiful art form, while providing comfort for your little one. As many parents experienced, this is not as easy as when they taught you how to swaddle a baby using a doll in parenting classes. Swaddling has been a common practice among parents for hundreds of years, but since the semi-recent changes in sleep recommendations for babies, it’s become even more popular.

When experts and doctors started the back-to-sleep initiative in the 1990s, parents went back to the age-old tradition of wrapping babies tightly in hopes of getting some shut-eye. And while most babies love a good swaddle, recent news stories have highlighted some of the issues with swaddling – issues that are easily fixed with the correct technique and knowledge of how to swaddle a baby.

How to Swaddle a Baby Properly

Swaddling Should be Snug, Not Too Tight

What’s cuter than a little baby all wrapped up into a little swaddle cocoon?! While a tight swaddle is a must to keep the baby feeling secure and sudden muscle reflexes at bay, many parents tend to think the tighter the swaddle the better. This isn’t necessarily the case, though.

Did you know that the International Hip Dysplasia Institute recommends that swaddles be loose from the hips down, allowing the baby to have room to bend his or her legs up and out at the hips? According to the institute, improper swaddling can cause hip dysplasia or developmental hip dysplasia. In the womb, a baby keeps their legs up, bent, and crossed toward the body. Once born, parents tend to swaddle the baby in a long swaddle, with the legs tightly wrapped straight, interfering with the baby’s natural development.

But, Swaddles Should Not Be Too Loose Either…

Learning how to swaddle a baby is a science. Too tight and you can cause hip problems. Too loose and you risk the baby becoming entangled in blankets, posing a suffocation risk. If a swaddle is too loose and the baby is able to unwrap himself, there is a chance (though probably a small chance) that the blankets can cover the baby’s face and airways. This is always why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be put to sleep with no blankets. A tightly wrapped swaddle, or a swaddle that features a velcro closure, like that of Nested Bean, minimizes the risk of little ones wiggling out and becoming entangled in the swaddle.

Most babies love being swaddled, while others prefer to have an arm or two free to move. The gentle wrap of a swaddle is enough to comfort some babies, but for most, the added touch of Mom or Dad is needed. This is why we love the Zen Swaddle from Nested Bean. Not only does the Zen Swaddle make learning how to swaddle a baby correctly incredibly easy with its velcro closures, but the addition of lightly weighted pouches on the chest and sides mimics the touch of Mom and Dad making for better sleep. The Zen Swaddle makes it easier to learn how to swaddle a baby.

READ MORE: Five Safety Tips For Sleeping Babies

The Zen Swaddle simulates light pressure on the baby’s chest just like the comforting touch of the palm of your hand, and the weighted sides provide a snug embrace. Another ideal aspect of the swaddle is that the baby’s arms can be swaddled in or out, allowing the swaddle to be used from 0 to 6 months – twice as long as most swaddles. The Zen Swaddle is toxin free and meets the International Hip Dysplasia Institute’s recommendation that swaddles be loose from the hips down, allowing full joint movement. The Zen Swaddle comes in 100 percent cotton or a cotton-bamboo blend for exceptional softness and breathability.

How to Swaddle a Baby – Arms Down, Not Crossed

When figuring out how to swaddle a baby, you with their down and to the side, rather than crossed on their chest. This is because it is less likely that a baby will wiggle out of the swaddle or bunch it up into their face if their arms are down to the sides. Studies also show that babies are more relaxed and sleep better with their arms down, most likely because the swaddle stifles the startle reflex – you know, when those tiny arms start swinging mid-nap.

Don’t Swaddle Too High on the Shoulders

When you see a tightly wrapped baby burrito, most often their entire body is wrapped from neck to toes. But when learning how to swaddle a baby, it’s not actually the same as wrapping a burrito. It is recommended that swaddling start just below the shoulders, not above. We all know babies are constantly wiggling around, even from day one. If the swaddle is too high on the baby’s body, it can easily come up over the face once the baby starts moving.

Do Not Swaddle 24/7

From the moment your baby is born, nurses teach eager and wary parents how to swaddle a baby. Its soothing embrace mimics the womb, so why not? As new parents, we take this tip to heart, swaddling baby around the clock, between diaper changes and feedings. But, it’s important to remember that babies need skin-to-skin contact, too.

READ MORE: 25+ Ways To Calm A Baby When Mom Needs A Break

A baby cannot regulate his own body temperature. Interestingly enough, your body temperature will adjust up or down while holding your baby to help regulate his body temperature. Skin-to-skin contact also regulates the baby’s heart rate, breathing, and the ever-so-important bond between parent and child.

How to Swaddle a Baby to Soothe

While yes, swaddling may certainly calm a new baby that is used to the comfort of a womb, it tends to be our natural go-to (just please stop crying!) before we go through the checklist: Has he had a full feeding recently? Has he been burped? Diaper changed? All of these questions (and probably more) should be answered before swaddling to soothe. If your baby is swaddled to fall asleep, parents may miss important hunger cues. Again, swaddling should only be used once all of the baby’s needs have been met.

Swaddling Baby in Thick Blankets?

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Baby blankets are a hot baby shower item – especially from great-grandmas with wicked knitting skills. While these blankets are precious, tuck them away in a safe spot until the baby is much older. Wrapping a new baby in a thick blanket is a no-no, mostly because a baby cannot regulate its own temperature just yet and is susceptible to overheating, but also because they are not breathable should it somehow come up around the face. Instead, swaddles should be 100 percent cotton to keep the baby from overheating and allowing breathability.

Swaddling and Laying Baby Down on His Stomach – NO

When learning how to swaddle a baby you will discover that laying a swaddled baby on their stomach is a huge No-No! It’s widely recommended that babies always be put to sleep on their backs. And, when swaddling, it’s absolutely important that a baby is laying on his back to reduce the risk of SIDS. Tummy time is important for development, but make sure that it’s done safely with a parent watching and that all of the baby’s limbs are free to move.

How to Swaddle a Baby Who Is Mobile

Once a baby starts rolling, it’s time to stop swaddling. Safety first! There are plenty of options for swaddling older babies that need access to move their arms, such as Nested Bean’s Zen Sack. While allowing a full range of motion of the arms, the sack still allows the baby to feel comforted and warm throughout the night. Once a baby starts rolling, it’s hard to find a way to keep the baby comforted at night without adding the risk that extra blankets carry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby’s crib should be free of blankets, bumpers, or stuffed animals (anything that could be a suffocation hazard).

READ MORE: 5 Rules For Safe Co-Sleeping

Like the Zen Swaddle, the Zen Sack includes a lightly weighted pouch on the chest (in the shape of an adorable egg), but snaps at the shoulders, allowing baby full range of motion of the arms without the risk of the swaddle riding up over the baby’s face.

The sack also provides extra warmth and comfort with a light plush upper fabric, while still allowing some room for the hips and legs to move in the toxin-free lower sack. The Zen Sack grows with a baby with two sets of adjustable shoulder tabs and a two-way zipper for easy diaper changes. The Zen Sack comes in either 100 percent cotton or a cotton-bamboo blend for exceptional softness and breathability, as well.

How to Swaddle a Baby in a Car Seat? Again, NO!

This is obvious, no? How would one even get a swaddled baby into the car seat harness correctly? A baby should never be swaddled in a car seat. A baby also shouldn’t be swaddled and laid in an infant swing or any type of chair that requires a safety harness, especially once the infant becomes more active. Just don’t do it. If warmth is in question, there are car seat covers specially designed to allow a baby to be properly fastened while still covered from the elements.


Learning how to swaddle a baby makes life with a little one so much easier. The comforting hug of a swaddle keeps the baby safe, and secure while sleeping. Learning how to swaddle a baby is at the top of the task list for new parents. The science keeps the baby safe, and the soft swaddle accents your beautiful sleeping baby.

WANT TO READ MORE?
For tips on how YOU can get better sleep, check out 6 Ways to Get Better Sleep!

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Stephanie High
Stephanie High
Stephanie is a military wife, currently residing in North Carolina, and mama of two exceptionally curious little ones; a rugged pint-size princess and a mini Evel Knievel-in-training. When she isn't exploring the family's newest dwellings, running trails, and playgrounds, she spends her down time working from home, feverishly correcting "textspeak" in her college students' essays as an adjunct English instructor for a local community college. Her passion for writing and photography can be found on her personal blog Living Our High Life.

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