Swaddling: Here’s What You Need To Know

swaddled baby

Swaddling is a time-honored practice that does a lot of the heavy lifting to keep your little one cozy, secure, and calm. And while it’s tempting to think it’s pure sorcery, the truth is, there’s some very real science behind swaddling. Ahead, Dr. Harvey Karp, aka The Baby Whisperer, and Cara Dumaplin, a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, walk us through the art of swaddling. Our pros tell us how to swaddle and explain why every parent may want to add this to their bringing-up baby toolkit. Plus, they share a few tips and best practices for a successful swaddle.

Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel your child may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately. 

Long Story Short

  • Swaddling is the practice of snugly wrapping an infant in a light blanket.
  • With the proper technique, swaddling mimics the confines of the womb and often makes babies feel secure and calm.
  • Parents should stop swaddling when their baby begins to show signs of rolling over.

What Is Swaddling? 

Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and FAAP, tells Sleepopolis that “swaddling is the age-old practice of snugly wrapping an infant in a light, breathable blanket to help them feel calm and secure so they’ll drift off to sleep.” 

For new parents, swaddling during the newborn stage to the three/four-month mark may be your best bet for getting even a modicum of shut-eye. And while some parents may be ready to sleep train by week two, sleep training probably won’t be an option until around the same time you may be finished swaddling, which is when your baby’s melatonin production kicks on and their circadian rhythms come online. (1)

Benefits of Swaddling

While being constrained to that extent may sound like nightmare fuel to most adults, Karp explains that babies tend to feel calmer and more secure in a swaddle because it closely “mimics the snug hug of the womb, which offers your baby a sense of safety, security, and familiarity.” He also notes that “swaddling is a key component to the 5 S’s for soothing babies which trigger their calming reflex — aka nature’s ‘off switch’ for fussing and ‘on switch’ for sleep.” (2

In case you were wondering, the other components of the 5 S’s are: 

  • Swinging 
  • Shushing 
  • Sucking 
  • Side/stomach position holds 

Please note: this says side and stomach HOLDS, not sleeping position. According to the AAP, “back is best” for sleep. More specifically, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be placed on their backs on a firm surface for sleeping. (3)

Cara Dumaplin, a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and NICU nurse, adds, “Swaddling is such a powerful tool, specifically for newborns.” While she highlights research showing that swaddling can improve motor organization, lead to better self-regulation, lessen crying in full-term infants, and soothe their pain, Dumaplin also notes that “swaddling can also help calm the Moro reflex — that sudden startling you often see when babies are placed on their backs. It keeps those little arms from flailing while babies try to sleep.” (4)(5

Karp lightheartedly adds that while swaddling may calm the Moro reflex, “it also helps prevent babies from accidentally bonking themselves in the face and waking up.”  

Is Swaddling Safe?

According to Karp, “Swaddling is safe as long as parents follow some basic rules.” 

Karp reminds parents that “loose blankets and bedding should never be used in an infant’s sleep space, as they increase the risk of suffocation. (6) Parents should “always place babies on their back to sleep in a crib or bassinet that’s free of any loose bedding, pillows, stuffed toys, positioners, and bumper pads. He notes, “swaddling is a good [option] because it’s a safe way to keep babies cozy while eliminating the need for loose blankets.” 

Dumaplin tells us that babies who are safely swaddled:

  • Are NOT at risk for having their mouth or noses covered by the swaddle
  • Have enough space to take deep breaths and move their hips freely
  • Are not sweating, flushed, or showing signs of overheating
  • Are safely on their backs

How to Swaddle Your Baby

If you aren’t using a pre-made swaddle, Karp offers the following instructions for swaddling, which he notes is the “best traditional method” he’s ever seen:

Step 1: Start With a Light Blanket 

Place a light cotton blanket on your bed with a point at the top. Fold the top point down so it reaches near the center of the blanket. Place your baby face-up on the blanket so their neck sits right above the edge of the fold.

Step 2: Pull Across and Tuck – Right Side 

Gently hold your baby’s right arm against their side. With your other hand, grab the section of the blanket closest to their right shoulder. Pull the blanket snugly down and across your baby’s body and tuck it under the left side of their bum. (It’ll look like half of a V-neck sweater.) 

Step 3: Remove any Slack

Next, grab the blanket beside your baby’s left shoulder. Tug it firmly — away from your baby’s body to remove any slack.

Step 4: Tuck the Bottom

While holding your baby’s left arm against their side, bring the bottom point of the blanket straight up and place it on your baby’s left shoulder. Tuck the edge snugly around the left arm. 

Step 5: Remove any Slack (Again)

Again, grab the blanket at your baby’s shoulder and pull it straight out — away from the body to remove any slack. Be sure that the blanket is loose around the legs but that your baby’s arms are snug and straight.

Step 6: Pull Across and Tuck – Left Side

Grab hold of the blanket at your baby’s left shoulder and pull it down —just a little. The small flap should end your baby’s upper chest, forming the other half of the V-neck. Lightly press that small flap against your bub’s breastbone, like you’re holding down a ribbon to make a bow.

Hold the flap on your baby’s chest. Grab the last free corner of the blanket and pull it straight out, away from your baby’s body. Then, lift that corner up and straight across your little one’s forearms, essentially forming a belt. Ideally, the blanket should be big enough so this part can make its way around the body. And finally, pull that last piece snug and tuck it into the front of the “belt.”

Tips and Best Practices for Swaddling 

Swaddling may not always be intuitive, especially for new parents, so it may take a few tries before you finally nail it. To help parents who are still unsure of their technique, our experts offer the following tips and best practices. 

Use the Right Blanket or Swaddle 

“If you’re using a traditional swaddle blanket, make sure it’s lightweight and breathable to help prevent overheating,” says Karp. “Your swaddle blanket should be 44 to 47 inches square. If it’s bigger or smaller, it can more easily unravel and become a safety concern.” 

Assess Your Baby’s Dress

“Be sure your baby is dressed appropriately to remain comfortable and avoid overheating,” says Dumaplin. “If your baby is sweating or has flushed cheeks, consider removing a layer. This may mean they’re wearing a light onesie or even just a diaper underneath the swaddle. On the other hand, if your baby’s chest or back feels cool or clammy, you may need to add an extra layer. This may look like a onesie, socks, and footed pajamas underneath the swaddle.”

Check the Snugness of the Swaddle 

“Swaddles should be snug along the torso and arms and looser at the hips and legs to keep babies safely wrapped and to prevent hip dysplasia,” says Karp. “You should be able to fit two fingers at the top of the swaddle, between the blanket and your baby’s chest.” 

When to Stop Swaddling 

“You’ll want to stop swaddling when your baby shows signs of rolling, says Dumaplin. (3) “For many babies, this happens between 3 to 5 months of age. Once your baby can get onto their tummy, their hands need to be free to push up from the mattress.” 

Common signs of rolling include: 

  • Controlled lifting of head and shoulders during tummy time
  • Ability to get their body fully up on the shoulder
  • Kicking their legs to scoot in a circle when on their back
  • Rolling the hips side to side
  • Using legs to lift the hips


What if my baby doesn’t like to be swaddled?

If your baby doesn’t like to be swaddled, then don’t force the issue. If they kick, scream, and try to free themselves, they could end up getting tangled in the blanket, which, of course, is a huge safety risk.

The Last Word From Sleepopolis 

Backed by science, swaddling may be one the greatest parenting hacks of all time. Parents everywhere are on track for a win (and maybe even a few solid hours of shut-eye) by sticking to the proper technique and following the safe sleep guidelines.


  1. Biran V, Decobert F, Bednarek N, et al. Melatonin Levels in Preterm and Term Infants and Their Mothers. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(9):2077. Published 2019 Apr 27. doi:10.3390/ijms20092077
  2. Möller EL, de Vente W, Rodenburg R. Infant crying and the calming response: Parental versus mechanical soothing using swaddling, sound, and movement. PLoS One. 2019;14(4):e0214548. Published 2019 Apr 24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0214548
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics Updates Safe Sleep Recommendations: Back is best (no date) Home. Available at: https://www.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2022/american-academy-of-pediatrics-updates-safe-sleep-recommendations-back-is-best/ (Accessed: 22 September 2024). 
  4. Erkut Z, Yildiz S. The Effect of Swaddling on Pain, Vital Signs, and Crying Duration during Heel Lance in Newborns. Pain Manag Nurs. 2017;18(5):328-336. doi:10.1016/j.pmn.2017.05.007
  5. Edwards CW, Al Khalili Y. Moro Reflex. [Updated 2024 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542173/
  6. Rachel Y. Moon, Rebecca F. Carlin, Ivan Hand, THE TASK FORCE ON SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME AND THE COMMITTEE ON FETUS AND NEWBORN; Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2022 Recommendations for Reducing Infant Deaths in the Sleep Environment. Pediatrics July 2022; 150 (1): e2022057990. 10.1542/peds.2022-057990

          Karp, Harvey. Personal Interview. September 20, 2024.

         Dumaplin, Cara. Personal Interview. September 21, 2024.

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in health and beauty, parenting, and of course, all things sleep. Sharon’s work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.

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