When you hear the story of Jesus’ birth, do you wonder “what are swaddling clothes?” Most new parents haven’t ever seen a baby swaddled or even heard the word “swaddle” outside of Christmas Bible readings. But swaddling babies pre-dates the birth of Jesus by about 4,000 years.
Anthropologists have early evidence of swaddling as early as 4000 BC in central Asia, and written records as well as art depict swaddled babies throughout ancient Greece and Rome, Europe and South America.
Why have mothers swaddled their babies throughout history?
Swaddling helps new babies transition from the womb—where they’ve been tightly snug and cocooned in warmth—into the big, wide world. Swaddling soothes babies and helps them stay calm and feel secure.
When to swaddle your baby
Start swaddling your newborn within an hour after birth, after you’ve had some skin-to-skin contact and established nursing.
Swaddling is great for babies from birth through about 3 or 4 months.
You can swaddle baby during the day, and while nursing, but definitely give swaddling your baby a try for night-time.
Swaddling is a great way to calm a fussy baby, too.
How to swaddle your baby
Every new parent needs practice swaddling, so don’t expect to make the perfect swaddle on your first try. It takes practice until you get the right balance between tightness and looseness.
- Lay the blanket down on the bed or floor in a diamond. Fold down the top corner into the body of the blanket to create a flat top edge.
- Lay baby on the center of the blanket, with his shoulders just at the flat edge.
- Take the right corner of the blanket and cross it, left, over the baby’s body. As you do this, you want baby’s right arm to be at his side, not completely straight, but with a little bend. Lift baby’s left arm over the top of the corner you’re bringing over. Tuck the corner tightly under baby’s back. You want the tuck to be snug, so baby’s arms can’t move and come out of the tuck.
- Now take the bottom corner of the blanket and bring it up, across baby’s left shoulder. You want his legs to be able to move, but you don’t want a lot of room. Make sure baby’s left arm is now at his side, again, with a little bend to it. Tuck this corner over baby’s left shoulder and behind his neck into the back of the blanket. If your swaddle is appropriately snug, these tucks will hold well. If you’ve made your tucks too loose, they’ll come untucked and fall apart. This is what takes practice!
- Take the left corner of the blanket and bring it across baby’s chest to make a v angle on the front of his chest. Take the lower left bunch of blanket that’s hanging and bring it up over the opposite shoulder and behind baby. You should have enough blanket here that you can bring it completely around baby’s back and up to the front v-neck and tuck it inside the front.
TIP #1 – For the best swaddle, you need a good sized swaddling blanket. Look for ones that measure at least 40″ square. 42″-46″ square is better. The best blanket textures that hold a swaddle are brushed cotton flannel blankets and soft cotton muslin blankets. Fleece and acrylics aren’t breathable enough for baby and they won’t hold a tuck very well.
TIP #2 – Swaddle babies in their natural position, with legs slightly pulled to the torso and arms at their side or across their chest.
TIP #3 – Watch swaddling videos to get help and ask the nurses in the hospital to show you how to swaddle before you go home.
Benefits of swaddling your baby
- Swaddling your baby will help him learn to soothe himself.
- Swaddled babies have less colic and fussiness.
- Swaddling babies helps them to manage external stimulation and process their environment better.
- Keeping baby’s arms by her side, and securely wrapped in a swaddle, prevents her startle reflex from waking her up when she’s sleeping.
When to stop swaddling
Babies are ready to transition out of the swaddle and into a sleep sack at around 3-4 months, or when she’s getting her arms free or expressing dislike for having her arms restrained.