What’s a new mom to do if your 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.
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 new 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 as new parents during our swaddle struggles.
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Table of contents
- Should I Swaddle My Newborn?
- Why Does My Newborn Fight the Swaddle?
- Why Does My Newborn Hate Being Swaddled?
- How Do You Know if A Baby Doesn’t Like to Be Swaddled?
- Is it Normal for a Baby to Not Like Being Swaddled?
- What Do I Do If My Baby Hates Being Swaddled?
- 5 Tips If your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle
- Is It Okay to Swaddle My Newborn with Arms Out?
- Is it Okay to Not Swaddle A Newborn?
Should I Swaddle My Newborn?
I’ve worked with plenty of families who say swaddling has made all the difference in helping their baby sleep.
There’s a reason swaddling is one of the first things the nurse does in the hospital with your baby!
For most babies, swaddling is super comforting and familiar. It mimics the environment in which they’ve just spent the past nine months.
Done correctly, swaddling keeps babies warm and secure (without too much constricting). It reminds them of the tight and warm quarters of the womb.
The secure, hugging feel of swaddling is particularly helpful in the newborn phase, because your baby will still have their startle reflex (aka the Moro reflex) up until about 2 months old.
Your baby’s startle reflex causes them to involuntarily throw out their legs and arms when they are unexpectedly stimulated, usually by some sort of sound.
As you can imagine, this jerking movement can totally disrupt their sleep! The swaddle can help your baby sleep for longer stretches, uninterrupted by the startle.
Even more importantly, loose blankets aren’t safe in your newborn’s sleep space. The swaddle is a great way to keep your baby warm while following the abcs of safe sleep.
While I really love what the swaddle has to offer newborn babies, I also understand that not all babies go for it, especially not initially.
Why Does My Newborn Fight the Swaddle?
If your newborn doesn’t like the swaddle, there are some things to troubleshoot. Even though swaddling mimics the womb, it’s definitely different, and that may not sit well with your baby at first.
There’s also a chance that the way you’re swaddling them doesn’t feel quite right. They might not like your method of swaddling or the particular swaddle you’re using.
When it comes to the swaddle itself, look out for scratchy fabric or tags that might be irritating your baby’s sensitive skin. Here are some of the best swaddles for newborns.
Another common mistake is that you’re swaddling a little too tightly. Try to loosen things up a bit and see if that helps.
It’s also possible that your newborn is feeling too warm in the swaddle. Figuring out how to dress your baby for sleep can be tricky, but I’ve got you covered.
Why Does My Newborn Hate Being Swaddled?
Chances are pretty high that your baby doesn’t hate being swaddled—they just don’t like how or when 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 fussy 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 Do You Know if A Baby Doesn’t Like to Be Swaddled?
Have you tried switching up your swaddle and your swaddling method, but nothing seems to help?
If your baby is continually fighting the swaddle—to the point that it’s a battle every time you put them down to sleep—the swaddle just may not be for them.
It happens! Don’t take it as a failure, I promise you it’s okay for your newborn to sleep unswaddled.
There are actually plenty of other reasons why your baby may be fighting sleep, and it could have absolutely nothing to do with the swaddle.
The bottom line is that, while swaddling can be a useful soothing tool, it’s not developmentally necessary. Your newborn won’t be missing out on anything if you don’t swaddle them.
In fact, if your baby doesn’t rely on the swaddle to sleep, it just means that they will start developing alternative self-soothing methods sooner. You can start introducing other sleep associations to assist their independent sleep habits.
If you’re beginning to wonder if the swaddle is just not for your baby, there are some signs you can look for.
Signs Baby Doesn’t Want to Be Swaddled
Here are some signs your baby might show you to let you know that the swaddle just isn’t working for them:
- They are squirming and struggling against the swaddle tightness to get their limbs free.
- They consistently break out the swaddle every time (before you give up, see if a different swaddle method or a swaddle with a zipper or velcro works better.)
- Your baby loves sucking on their hands to self-soothe, and the swaddle keeps them from it (before you give up, consider swaddling with one arm out.)
- They cry for a prolonged period of time after swaddling, not showing any signs of settling down.
- You start to see signs that your baby is working on rolling over (it’s no longer safe to swaddle once your baby is rolling,)
Is it Normal for a Baby to Not Like Being Swaddled?
It’s normal for newborns to not like a lot of things—being born is quite a shock!
Your newborn is getting used to all sorts of new sensations, and it can be an uncomfortable process. There are so many new sounds, smells, textures, and brightness to contend with outside of the womb.
It’s also completely natural for your newborn to fuss. Crying is their only way to communicate.
If your baby seems to not like being swaddled early on, they might need a little time to get used to the feeling. You might also need to go through some trial and error to find the best swaddle and swaddling method for your little one.
I prescribe heaps of patience in these early days, and cutting yourself some major slack.
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 (author of Happiest Baby on the Block) “DUDU” swaddling technique 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.
To swaddle using the DUDU method, follow these step-by-step instructions:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 of baby’s 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. We started leaving one arm out of the swaddle once we realized our daughter had started self-soothing by sucking her fist—one of the benefits of thumb sucking!
5 Tips If your Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle
1. Swaddle them before they’re too tired
You may be swaddling your baby too late. Make sure to be aware of your newborn’s wake windows and swaddle them before they reach an overtired state. Once your baby is overtired, it’s going to be much harder for them to relax and embrace the swaddle.
2. Double Check the Tightness
Often when a newborn doesn’t like to be swaddled, it’s because the swaddle is too tight or not tight enough. Create a just-right tight swaddle by wrapping the swaddle tightly around their arms and chest but allowing their legs and hips to be looser. You should be able to put two fingers between the swaddle and your baby’s chest.
3. Make sure baby isn’t too hot while swaddled
4. Double check the size and material of the swaddle
Make sure the swaddle fits your baby appropriately. You don’t want any fabric covering baby’s face. Choose a swaddle with soft and breathable fabric to make sure it isn’t irritating baby’s skin.
5. Only swaddle baby for sleep
Make sure to give your baby plenty of time to stretch out while they’re awake. Reserve the swaddle for naps and night sleep and make sure to unswaddle them the rest of the time.
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:
- Kyte Baby Sleep Bag Swaddler: This swaddle opens up at the bottom, making middle of the night diaper changes so easy. It also doubles as a sleep sack / sleep bag, making the transition from swaddle to sleep sack an easy one.
- 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.
If your baby is still fussy after properly being swaddled, continue to proceed with the 5 S’s:
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 of age 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.
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. 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. This is one of the best sleep sacks if your baby likes that snug fit.
- Love To Dream Swaddle: This is one of the best transition swaddles if you want to swaddle your baby with their arms out. The wings zip off for a hands-free swaddle.
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 (like use white noise and a consistent bedtime routine.)
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.
What Age Do Babies Not Want to Be Swaddled?
A baby can decide they don’t like to be swaddled at any point, even as early as the first week or two that you’re home from the hospital.
However, from a development standpoint, swaddling becomes less necessary after your baby’s startle reflex has faded. This usually happens around the 8 week mark.
There is a point at which swaddling becomes dangerous, though, and that’s when your baby begins to show signs of rolling, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). There’s a huge age range when this can happen, anywhere between 8 to 24 weeks old.
As soon as you start to see signs of rolling during tummy time, I recommend you start looking into transition swaddles or moving to a sleep sack.
If your baby hasn’t been a consistent fan of the swaddle since the beginning, there’s not much reason to keep trying to push it on them past the 2 month mark.
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 can help!
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