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Ask the Baby Gear Expert: Swaddles
Updated on
September 11, 2023

Ask the Baby Gear Expert: Swaddles

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Ask the Baby Gear Expert: Swaddles.
Ask the Baby Gear Expert: Swaddles

Ever wish you had a baby gear expert by your side to answer all of your questions and help you build your baby registry every step of the way?

Welcome to Ask the Expert, a new series where I answer real questions from real Babylist users and parents just like you. Who am I? I’m Jen LaBracio, Babylist’s Gear Editor, a role that perfectly combines my love of (obsessive) research with my love of all things baby gear.

If you’ve seen a photo of a peaceful, sleeping baby wrapped up like a tiny burrito then you already know what swaddling looks like. But what you may not know is things like how to do it, when to start and stop and all of the different types of swaddle choices out there.

We asked you, our awesome Babylist users, what you wanted to know about swaddles and swaddling and received lots of great questions. Here are the answers!

What is swaddling?

Swaddling is a way of wrapping a blanket around your baby tight enough so they can’t wriggle out. There are a few main benefits:

  • Newborns have an innate reflex, called the Moro reflex, that causes them to extend their arms and legs out when startled. A swaddle prevents this startle reflex from waking them up by keeping their arms tight to their sides.
  • Swaddles help your newborn feel comforted and calm by recreating a womb-like environment.
  • Swaddling is a safe way to keep your baby warm while they sleep without using any loose blankets, which can be a suffocation hazard.

There are two different types of swaddles: traditional swaddles and two-in-ones.

  • A traditional swaddle is a large, thin blanket, usually made of soft, stretchy fabric like muslin, cotton or bamboo.
  • A two-in-one swaddle lets you wrap up your baby snugly or leave their arms up, down, in or out depending on the product. They often come with features like zippers, snaps or Velcro that help make swaddling easier and ensure the swaddle stays secure.

Is swaddling safe?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), when done correctly, yes, swaddling your baby is safe and can be an effective way to calm your baby and promote sleep. Your baby should always be placed on their back every time you put them down to sleep, but this is even more important when your baby is swaddled.

Be sure to check out the AAP’s safe sleep recommendations to learn more about how to keep your baby safe during sleep.

Do I have to swaddle my baby?

Nope, definitely not. While some babies love being swaddled, others don’t, so if your baby falls into the latter category you can feel free to skip.

Before you jump over swaddling altogether, though, remember that it may take a few tries or testing out a few different types of swaddle blankets to figure out what’s right. Swaddling can be a really effective tool for calming a fussy baby so it’s worth a little time and effort (and money) on your part to try to make it work.

You will want to check in with your pediatrician about swaddling, though, if your little one has hip dysplasia (a general term for infant hip instability, dislocation or shallowness that occurs in about one in ten infants after birth) or other hip issues that may be aggravated by swaddling.

How many swaddles (and what different kinds of swaddles) should I add to my registry?

Believe it or not, your baby will most likely have a strong preference as to what type of swaddle they prefer. I recommend adding one of each type of swaddle—one traditional swaddle and one two-in-one—to your registry pre-baby. That way you can take each for a test drive, see which one your baby likes best, and stock up from there.

Another great option is the Babylist Swaddle Box. (And I promise I’m not just saying that because I work here!) The box features four different bestselling swaddle styles so you can try out each one and find a favorite.

Check out my Best Swaddles guide for a full list of my favorites.

Do you need to swaddle your baby every time you put them to sleep?

This one comes down to a matter of personal preference. No, it’s definitely not necessary to swaddle your baby every time they go to sleep—but many people do. A big part of setting up your baby (and you) for successful sleep is creating a consistent, predictable bedtime routine. Swaddling is a great step to add to this routine. Consistently swaddling your baby signals to them that it’s time to chill, relax and (hopefully!) sleep, whether it’s for naps or nighttime. So while there’s certainly no harm in skipping the swaddle, being consistent with one can definitely have its pluses.

How do you dress a baby under a swaddle?

Great question. The answer depends on what type of swaddle you’re using, what type of climate you live in and how warm or cool your baby’s sleep space is.

Babies, especially newborns and premature babies with less body fat, can’t regulate their temperatures all that well. According to the AAP, a general rule of thumb is to dress your baby in one more layer of clothing that you are wearing to be comfortable in the same environment. This holds true for both day and nighttime.

In most cases, you’ll want to dress your baby in one light layer beneath a swaddle. If you’re in a colder climate or keep your baby’s sleep space on the cooler side, think something like a long sleeve footie. For hotter climates or a warmer sleep space, a bodysuit (either short or long sleeve) will probably do the trick. You’ll also want to keep in mind that the ideal temperature for your baby’s nursery or sleep space should be between about 68 and 72 degrees.

How can you tell if your baby is too hot or too cold? Touch their ears or neck. If their ears are red and hot and their neck is sweaty, your baby is too warm; if they’re feeling cold, it may be time to add an extra layer.

Best swaddle for babies who hate having their arms bound down?

There are definitely babies who like the close comfort a swaddle provides but seem to fight having their arms pinned down. Luckily, there’s a solution for this! Some swaddles resemble zip-up sacks with fabric wings and give babies the ability to raise their arms even while swaddled inside. Others have an adjustable design that lets you keep your baby’s arms in or out of the swaddle, depending on what they prefer.

Here are two of my favorites in this category:

I heard sleep sacks with wings are better for babies than swaddle wrap. Is that true?

Nope. As long as you’re swaddling your baby safely, there’s no “better” way to do it. The swaddle style you end up using will usually be determined by your baby!

I read you can swaddle your baby until they show “signs of rolling over.” When is that and what does that even mean?

Figuring out when to stop swaddling (and how, which I’ll talk about more below) is one of the most common questions I hear from new parents. It’s important to know the answer since you want to be extra safety-cautious when it comes to anything baby + sleep.

As soon as you notice any signs that your baby is trying to roll over, it’s time to ditch the swaddle. That’s because a swaddled baby won’t have their arms free and will end up in a very unsafe sleep position if they roll over while swaddled.

When does this usually happen? Rolling happens at different times for different babies, but anywhere between about two to four months of age is about the average.

And in terms of “signs of rolling over,” here’s what to look for:

  • Your baby continuously breaking out of their swaddle during naps or overnight, including a free arm, leg or even entire body.
  • Your baby is waking up in a completely different position than they were in when you put them to sleep.
  • Your little one suddenly appears extra frustrated, uncomfortable or unhappy in their swaddle.

Can you swaddle with arms out even when baby is showing signs of rolling over?

Nope. Not safe; time to move on.

You can, however, swaddle your baby with their arms out before they show signs of rolling over if you’d like to start breaking their reliance on swaddling. More on that below.

How do you transition out of a swaddle?

Transitioning out of the swaddle can feel daunting, especially if your baby is giving you long periods of sleep. But it’s definitely doable if you follow a few simple steps.

If you want to transition out of the swaddle before your baby starts showing signs of rolling over, use a two-in-one swaddle like the Halo I mentioned above and start by swaddling with one arm out for a few days. A few days later, try two arms out, and give that a try for a few nights. By then you should be ready to move on from the swaddle altogether. (You can also try swaddling overnight only instead of both for night and naps, or swaddling every other night instead of every night.)

Another popular option for a pre-rolling baby are transitional swaddles like Love to Dream’s Swaddle UP Transition Bag or the popular Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit. The Merlin is a zip-up suit with extra-thick layers that provide just enough security to prevent baby’s startle reflex and keep them feeling comfy and secure. It will also make your baby look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, a big bonus in my book.

Most parents choose to use a sleep sack after leaving the swaddling days behind. See the next question to learn more about sleep sacks.

Swaddle vs. sleep sack: what’s the difference and when do I use them?

This is another really common question—and I totally understand why. So let’s review the basics.

As mentioned above, a swaddle is either one large blanket that you wrap snugly around your baby or a two-in-one style that can go arms in or out. Swaddles are used in the newborn period only and need to be left in the dust as soon as your baby shows signs of rolling over.

A sleep sack is like a mini sleeping bag for your baby. Sleep sacks can be used from day one well through the toddler years. (Just note that since sleep sacks aren’t as restrictive as swaddles, they don’t mimic the womb-like environment that a swaddle does—so they won’t always do the trick when it comes to soothing younger babies.) Sometimes also called a wearable blanket, a sleep sack is another alternative for keeping your little one warm without using loose blankets in the crib. Sleep sacks are generally made from cotton, wool or fleece and feature zippers and snaps for easy on and off.

Most parents decide to transition to a sleep sack as soon as their baby is ready to leave the swaddle behind. For more information swaddles versus sleep sacks, check out this article.

Do I need to add both a sleep sack and a swaddle to my registry?

Nope, although you can if you’d like. Personally, I think adding a few swaddles to your registry is more important than adding a sleep sack or two, so if you are trying to choose between the two I’d go with those first. (You’ll use them sooner and I’m all for anything that possibly gets you more sleep in the newborn days.)

If you do want to add a sleep sack or two as well, I’d go for something popular and affordable like this one from Halo or this organic option from Burt’s Bees and then reassess your needs and options once your baby is a bit older.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.