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Tips For When Your Baby Hates the Swaddle

What’s a new mom to do if her baby hates the swaddle? Find out why your newborn resists being swaddled and what you can do to calm your baby and swaddle them up like the baby burrito they’re meant to be!

newborn baby swaddled

As a new mom, I remember feeling delirious in the hospital when the nurse swaddled our daughter for the first time. I was exhausted, giddy, and in no mood to take notes.

It didn’t even feel like I needed to take notes, because the nurse made it look so easy! She finished in about 10 seconds and handed me my very first deliciously cuddly baby-burrito. I was officially in snuggle mode, not study mode.

Later that night, my husband and I stood in shock over our very loud, very disgruntled daughter. She was thrashing around on top of a swaddle, which seemed unable to contain her or her rage. Yep, definitely should have taken notes.

I was convinced that the first swaddle was a fluke. Our baby must hate swaddling. She must be one of those babies who just refuses to tolerate it.

When you’ve got a baby screaming in your face, the power they hold in that moment can convince you of just about anything.

Thankfully we were able to get a couple repeat tutorials on swaddling from our nurses. If you think your baby hates the swaddle, here are some tips that worked for us during our swaddle struggles.

There are pros and cons to swaddling baby, but overall I highly recommend it for newborn sleep!

Learn How to Get your Newborn to Sleep!

newborn sleep program

Have a new baby or expecting one soon? Grab my Newborn Sleep Program. It’s 8 short videos and 25 cheat sheets of newborn sleep tips and tricks to get your new baby sleeping well. The Newborn Sleep Toolkit is full of graphics and easy-to-read info and is perfect for exhausted new parents! Get it here.

Why Does My Newborn Hate Being Swaddled?

what to do when baby hates swaddle

Chances are pretty high that your baby doesn’t hate being swaddled—they just don’t like how you’re doing it. Try not to take it personally!

You’re both still learning about each other. If your newborn breaks out of the swaddle, it might be time to try a new technique.

The whole purpose behind swaddling a newborn is to mimic the feel of your womb. The swaddle is warm and it reminds them of your touch. It also feels secure, and confines their limbs comfortably.

They don’t have much control over their bodies at this age, and the last thing you want is for them to accidentally smack themselves awake.

When we brought our daughter home and tried to swaddle her without the watchful eye of a nurse, she flailed so much that it felt like she had four arms and four legs. My husband and I figured out that tag-teaming made it easier—he was on limb duty and I was on folding duty.

No new parent (or even repeat parent!) knows how to swaddle instinctually—It takes practice!

I have found that the hardest way to practice swaddling is on a tired and grumpy baby. I recommend practicing on dolls, stuffed animals, or on your little one when they are calm and agreeable. This takes the pressure off and will help you feel prepared to successfully swaddle when it counts.

I know it can be so hard to watch your little one fuss while you’re trying to swaddle. The fact is, they don’t realize that they’re just seconds away from the cozy and secure swaddle-hug that they need.

The more you practice, the easier it becomes. Eventually it may not even be a battle at all!

how to swaddle baby

What Do I Do If My Baby Hates Being Swaddled?

Maybe your baby hates the swaddle, but startles themselves awake when they sleep or maybe your baby won’t sleep without it. Or maybe they fight you hard on the swaddle but once they’re in it, they sleep better.

If either is the case, there’s a good chance that your baby doesn’t completely hate the swaddle. They just haven’t met the right swaddle method yet.

We used Dr. Harvey Karp’s (author of Happiest Baby on the Block) “DUDU” method with our daughter. Not only did we have a good sleep-deprived giggle over saying the name, but the acronym was easy to remember: Down-Up-Down-Up.

mom swaddling baby

To swaddle using the DUDU method, follow these steps:

  1. Prep the swaddle: Place the swaddle blanket on a soft, flat, safe surface with a point facing up like a diamond. Fold the top point down (about halfway down between the top point and side points) and set your baby down with their neck centered on the fold.
  2. DOWN: Hold your baby’s right arm down and straight at their side and fold the left side of the blanket down and over their body to tuck the extra fabric behind their back. Gently but firmly pull the right point of the blanket to ensure this first tuck is snug over their body.
  3. UP: Hold your baby’s left arm down and straight at their side. Fold the bottom point of the blanket straight up and over their left shoulder and tuck the extra fabric behind them again.
  4. DOWN AGAIN: Take the blanket on the top right just above baby’s left shoulder and fold it down a little. Hold gently in place on baby’s chest.
  5. UP AGAIN: Pull the final corner away from the baby’s body to tighten. Bring the corner up and across their body and wrap it around them like a belt. Make sure both arms are still snug and down at their sides. Tuck any extra fabric into the belt.

If you are a visual person like me, this diagram is helpful as well as this video from Rumble:

Maybe the DUDU swaddle method feels like impossible origami to you. If that’s the case, consider using a swaddle that does some of the work for you. The following swaddles use fasteners, velcro, or shortcuts for an escape-proof fit:

  • The SleepingBaby Swaddle:I love these swaddles because they open at the bottom, making it easier to change your baby’s diaper in the middle of the night. Though you shouldn’t need to if you use these overnight diapers! They’re also designed to grow with your baby!
  • Sleepea: The 5-Second swaddle that is Houdini-proof! This one includes a double zipper that can zip from top or bottom and you can swaddle with arms out.
  • Aden + Anais Wrap Swaddle : Aden and Anais make some of the softest and highest-quality baby products out there! This easy-to-use swaddle is made of a muslin, breathable material.

The DUDU method was the most secure option for us, and our daughter didn’t often break free from it. It was also an easy method to modify. We started leaving one arm out of the swaddle once we realized our daughter had started self-soothing by sucking her fist.

If your baby is still fussy after properly being swaddled, continue to proceed with the 5 S’s:

  1. Swaddle
  2. Side/Stomach
  3. Shush
  4. Swing
  5. Suck

After swaddling baby and going through the 5 S’s, many babies tend to calm down.

Is It Okay to Swaddle My Newborn with Arms Out?

Although swaddling your baby with their arms down at their sides is often what feels most secure to them, someday your baby might want their hands out of the swaddle.

Our daughter was about three months old when she discovered a love for sucking her hands. I remember at first feeling frustrated when I’d find her unwrapped from her perfect swaddle, happily snacking on her fist. All that work gone to waste!

Eventually we realized that she was waking herself up because she was struggling to achieve that self-soothing maneuver. The hard work she had to put into freeing her arms was enough to wake her from the deepest sleeps.

baby swaddled with arms out

One night, we decided to swaddle her with one arm out. It took her a couple nights to adjust to this new freedom, but eventually she learned to self-soothe and get back to sleep much more quickly than she could when she completely broke out of the swaddle.

The beauty of swaddling is that there are ways to do it while still allowing for some movement, whether it’s one or two arms out, or even a leg! Try a few different methods and see how your baby reacts to each.

Keep in mind that as soon as your baby shows signs of being able to roll over, it’s time to stop swaddling. Consider using one of these swaddle transition items if you think your rolling baby could still benefit from the comfort of a swaddle:

  • Zipadee-Zip: The Zippadee-Zip is great as a transitional swaddle when your baby starts to show signs of rolling. It allows baby to have that snug swaddle feeling, while also being able to find their hands and self soothe.
  • Love To Dream Swaddle: This is a great swaddle if you want to swaddle your baby with their arms out. The wings zip off for a hands-free swaddle.
baby not swaddled for sleep

Is it Okay to Not Swaddle A Newborn?

If you feel like you’ve tried it all with your baby and the swaddle is still a no-go, that’s okay! Even if you’ve been striking out on this particular soothing method, eventually your baby can and will learn to sleep.

Now that the newborn phase is past us, it’s easier to see that even if our daughter hadn’t let us swaddle her, we all still would have survived. And we all still would have slept enough (well, she would have anyway!).

The truth is, the swaddling stage for babies is just a fraction of their lives! If you have a newborn who just won’t do it, look at it this way: they’re just starting the self-soothing learning process earlier than their peers.

If your baby hates the swaddle, there are other things you can do to signal sleep for them and keep your baby warm at night. The sooner your baby learns sleep associations, the easier it will be to put them to sleep consistently.

Aside from swaddling, other methods of building sleep associations and signals include setting bedtime rituals (yes, even for your newborn!), rocking or soothing movement, and using a white noise sound machine to help soothe them.

I know it can be frustrating when your baby hates the swaddle. Sometimes methods that the baby books or other parents consider “tried and true” just aren’t right for our little ones. I hope some of these tips will help!

Amy Motroni
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