Swaddling: How to do it safely and when to stop

Newborn babies often sleep better when swaddled. But how babies are swaddled, and through what age, can make a difference in their long-term sleep patterns — and help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), said Rachelle Rigby, RN, pediatric medical and surgical services director at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.

Jade Elliott spoke with Rachelle Rigby, RN, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, about how to swaddle and when to stop.

“Newborn babies love to be snuggled up tight because that’s how they were developing inside mom, and they like that feeling,” Rigby said. “But parents should wean babies from swaddling around the third month, and make sure they’re swaddling correctly so their faces don’t end up covered by the blanket when the baby moves.”

Rigby recommends swaddling baby in one thin blanket, just below the neck area. Baby’s arms can be inside or outside the swaddling, largely depending on preference.

“If in every ultrasound the baby was seen with their arms up, leave their arms out of the swaddling blanket! They might like it better,” Rigby said.

To swaddle baby, place a thin blanket on a solid surface, and the baby on top. Fold one side over the baby, fold up the bottom, then fold the other side over the baby and tuck it in.

Be sure the blanket is below the neck to keep the blanket out of the face when the baby wiggles.

Using a thin blanket helps prevent overheating, which has been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Rigby said. Placing a fan in the room can help prevent overheating as well, she said. Babies also should sleep on a firm crib mattress or bassinet in a separate sleeping area in their parent’s bedroom, and never in the same bed as the parent.

“At three months, it’s good to start using footed pajamas or a sleep sack instead of swaddling. While this may disturb the baby’s sleep temporarily, this is also an opportunity for the baby to learn to self-soothe, which is a critical part of their development,” Rigby said. “Self-soothing skills will pay off in the long run for the baby, and help parents get the sleep they desperately need.”

More information: Primarychildrens.org

The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.