I remember sitting in my hospital room, watching in wonder as the nurse folded an ordinary blanket into a beautiful swaddle. By the end of our visit, she showed us how to swaddle a baby at least five times.
That said, my daughter broke out of every swaddle I tried.
During this time, I noticed an odd phenomenon: while my baby hates being swaddled, she needs it to sleep as well. In fact, I noticed that my baby slept around an hour longer with the swaddle! As I researched the topic, I discovered that my findings weren’t just anecdotal. Pediatricians and sleep consultants agree that swaddling can be an excellent technique for soothing and helping a baby sleep more.
If you’re scratching your head because your newborn doesn’t like their swaddle but obviously sleeps better with it, this post can help. We’re learning how to swaddle a baby that hates being swaddled. I’ll list out the very best swaddles I’ve used to wrangle my own Houdini baby and some effective techniques you can use on your baby that hates swaddles.
Welcome to the Baby Sleep Series
If you’re just tuning in, this is the third post in my Baby Sleep Series. If you’re preparing for your baby or in the mix of exhausted, sleepless nights, then this is for you!
Before we begin, here are the other posts:
- How to Get a Baby to Sleep Through the Night Faster: 5 Proven Tips!
- Baby Sleep Training 101: The Best Sleep Training Methods to Try
- Why Your Baby Won’t Sleep: 7 Surprising Things That Ruin a Baby’s Sleep
- How to Swaddle a Baby That Absolutely Hates Being Swaddled!
- Easy Tips for Sleep with a Breastfed Baby
- How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule
Swaddling 101: Why It’s Important & How to Do It
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of the links I will make a small commission at no charge to you. I only recommend what I trust. Blunders in Babyland does not offer medical, financial, or legal advice.
Before we get into how you can deal with a baby that hates being swaddled, we need to really commit to swaddling.
For your baby, your arms are the next greatest thing to the womb. 9 times out of 10, your baby would rather be in your arms than out of them. So, when we suddenly ask our babies to sleep in their crib (alone and without your steady heartbeat), it’s quite the transition.
Swaddling can give your baby the security he needs to make the jump from your womb or arms to the crib. Here are a few other reasons why you should really commit to swaddling:
Reasons for Swaddling a Baby
- Swaddling Contains the Startle Reflex: The startle reflex, or Moro reflex, is super common for young babies. It can be triggered by just about anything: a little noise, a change in temperature or light, a slight touch…literally just about anything. When your baby startles, many times, she will wake herself up. A swaddle can stifle this response or help her sleep through it.
- Swaddles Reduce Overstimulation: Every baby gets overstimulated at some point. Especially newborns. In my last post, I talked about the effects of melatonin and cortisol, the killer of sleep. When your baby is overstimulated, his body goes on cortisol overload. Swaddling removes the extra stimulation of your baby’s own movement and reduces his stress levels.
- Swaddling May Help with Colic: If you’re the mother of a baby with colic, I know that your number one priority is trying to get your baby to calm down. Sleep is almost a pleasant afterthought. When your baby is screaming his little lungs out, the last thing he needs to do is become overstimulated by his flailing arms. Once again, swaddling may reduce this overstimulation and provide a comfortable, predictable environment for your baby.
- Swaddling Might Reduce the Risk of SIDS: Just about every new mom wants to know: does swaddling prevent SIDS? Prevent it, no. However, some pediatricians theorize that it can help reduce the risk. Swaddling holds your baby in place and tends to stifle their need to roll around (namely onto their stomach). Having said that, once your baby begins to roll onto his stomach it is absolutely necessary to stop swaddling. At this point, it can become a serious hazard.
How to Swaddle Your Baby
Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that swaddling is a tremendous tool you need to master.
But, coming out the other side, I can say with absolute confidence that swaddling my daughter made a world of difference with her sleep. If you have a newborn hates the swaddle, don’t despair.
We’re going to figure out how we can get your Houdini baby swaddled up ASAP.
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already looked at your fair share of swaddling tutorials. So, I won’t waste your time too much before moving into advanced methods. However, just in case, the video above does an excellent job of going over basic swaddling techniques.
The Best Swaddles for a Baby that Hates Being Swaddled
|Triple flap design is hard to break, no uncomfortable zippers, cool material
|Several sizes, "hip healthy" design, cool material, zipper
|Zipper and velcro design, cotton or fleece material, "Hip Healthy"
|Love to Dream Swaddle
|Full swaddle or 50/50 design (arms out), zipper, cool material
|Inexpensive, velcro, cool material
If you’re short on time and would like to know which swaddles can hold their own against a Houdini baby, this section is for you. Below are the best swaddles I (and my mom friends) have used successfully.
However, I encourage you not to stop here. A good swaddle will only take you so far! In any case, here are my top 5 swaddles to try if your baby hates being swaddled.
The Miracle Blanket
Hands down, my favorite swaddle.
The Miracle Blanket is basically a hybrid between a pre-folded swaddle and a blanket. It is the only thing that could consistently hold my daughter in. I loved how lightweight it was was (so, perfect for winter or summer babies), and you don’t need to be a master craftsman to figure out how it works.
I also loved that it was loose around the hips and tight around the arms. Incidentally, hip dysplasia can be a concern for perpetual swaddling, so it’s essential to make sure you find a safe swaddle.
This is a zipper swaddle that is great for encasing your babies arms without compromising his shoulder or hip health. The Woombie reigns supreme with OPTIONS. Here are just a few:
- Original Swaddle: Standard bean swaddle that is usually best for newborns.
- Grow With Me: Has a zipper on the side that allows for your baby’s growth
- The Convertible Swaddle: Turns into a sleep sack later on
- Soothie Swaddle: Has a pacifier attached
Honestly, the list goes on. Woombie has a ton of patterns and designs as well.
The Halo Swaddle
This swaddle was actually given to us by the hospital and it was the first velcro swaddle we used. It lasted us for about a month (?), at which point our daughter became too strong for the velcro. Our baby was crazy though, so yours might be fine.
Because of its velcro flaps, this swaddle is extremely easy to use. Like the Miracle Blanket, it is loose around the hips. Keep in mind, you can get the Halo Swaddle in fleece or in a lightweight muslin.
Love to Dream -Swaddle Up
If you discover that your baby likes to sleep with her hands near her face, the Swaddle Up is an excellent swaddle to try. It’s not as hardcore as the Miracle Blanket or Woombie, but it is a great option if your baby likes to sleep with his hands by his head. Finally, I loved that it was so lightweight, even more lightweight than the Miracle Blanket.
This seems to be the go-to swaddle for most new parents. They’re very inexpensive and much easier to use than a swaddle blanket. Like the Halo, this swaddle uses velcro but much less expensive (they usually come in 3-packs). It’s very lightweight and offers a host of designs.
I liked these swaddles a lot, but it was also the easiest for my daughter to break out of. I think the SwaddleMe is perfect if your baby hates being swaddled but startles. It’s lightweight, not extremely restrictive, but just strong enough to curtail the Moro reflex.
Swaddling Techniques and Tips: What to Do if Your Baby Hates Swaddles
Now that we’ve gone over some of the best swaddles for a baby that hates to be swaddled, let’s talk techniques. I truly believe that your technique for swaddling is EVERYTHING. You can buy a straight-jacket and still be unsuccessful with swaddling if you don’t pay attention to your baby’s subtle, individual needs.
Below are a few of the best techniques I used that might be helpful for your newborn that doesn’t like swaddles.
1. Find the Right Swaddle for YOUR Baby
Spoiler alert, you’re probably going to go through a few swaddles before you land on the right one.
In our situation, the Miracle Blanket was the best swaddle. However, it might not be the best swaddle for you. Maybe the Woombie is. There’s no way you can tell. As you can see, I ordered quite a few before we found “the one.”
Keep in mind, if you buy a swaddle that legitimately makes your baby uncomfortable, he’ll let you know. He won’t sleep well in it, he’ll break through more often, and it just won’t work out.
Some babies like their hands closer to their heads, others prefer mummy-style, and some need their arms at their sides.
Does this sound confusing? Or maybe a little bit expensive? You may spend a little money on swaddles your baby hates before you find one that he loves. (You have to kiss a couple frogs before you find a prince, I guess!)
I don’t view it as a waste of money, though. There’s a good chance your baby will have a blowout and another swaddle type will do in a pinch. Or, you might be able to use the other swaddles with your next kid.
2. Do it at the Right Time
I think that part of the reason why many newborns hate their swaddles is because of timing. If you don’t swaddle when your baby is in the right mood, there’s a good chance she’s going to scream and scream.
Try to swaddle your baby after you’ve taken her to her sleep room and have already begun the sleep ritual. You’ll give her the opportunity to cool down and begin producing that melatonin.
The one exception here is when your baby is overstimulated. If you’ve already passed into overstimulation land, she’ll most likely cry no matter what. Just remember, swaddling is exactly what that poor baby needs to calm down.
3. Don’t Give Up
Watching my daughter break from her swaddle was oddly entertaining. She would shift and wiggle until she broke one arm out, and then wail because she succeeded. This kind of behavior continued throughout the first couple weeks of her life. If I hadn’t known that she slept better with a swaddle then I would have probably given up.
Instead, I realized that while I knew how to swaddle a baby, I had no idea how to swaddle my baby. Ordinary swaddling techniques wouldn’t fulfill her needs. I couldn’t tell you why my daughter likes pushing the envelope (literally), but she does. Once I figured how to contain her, she felt secure and content.
If your baby actively tries to get out of every swaddle you put him in, don’t mistake his natural feistiness for dislike. Remember, if you’re dealing with a very young baby, why would he hate something that reminds him of the coziness of the womb?
***Note***If you have an older baby, (I’d say after 2 months-ish), then your baby is probably used to the freedom of movement and genuinely hates being swaddled now. ***
4. Leave One Arm Out
Once again, it’s easy to learn how to swaddle a baby, but you really need to figure out how to swaddle your baby. Aaand, like us, some babies just feel more comfortable with one limb outside the covers.
The “leave one arm out technique” is great for two things: transitioning out of a swaddle and swaddling babies that have already found their thumbs.
If you’re having a difficult time swaddling your baby, try this method out. A typical swaddle may not work well here (that includes the Miracle Blanket and Woombie). I would try the Swaddle UP with the removable arms and see what happens.
(Bonus Tip: Don’t forget the legs! If your baby is a weirdo like mine, she may like her legs tightly bound too. Just be careful about the hips. It’s a good idea to unbind your baby for every feeding to ensure that you’re not inhibiting her development.)
5. Choose the Right Material
In my previous post, 7 Things that Ruin a Baby’s Sleep, I talked about temperature and clothing and how it can destroy your baby’s sleep.
Some swaddle materials can overheat your baby very quickly. Others don’t provide enough warmth. The end result is that your baby will fight the swaddle, thus making you believe that your baby hates being swaddled.
An overheated baby is decently easy to spot.
Check out the areas that are being brunched up by the swaddle, particularly his chest, arms, and back. If you notice some dampness, that’s a big clue that he has too many layers or the material itself is overheating him.
I’ve found this to be the case with fleece swaddles in particular.
Figuring out if your baby is cold is a little trickier. Some babies just have naturally cold skin, especially their feet (my daughter always has cold feet and hands, just like her mama). I used her legs and chest to gauge if the swaddle wasn’t warm enough. If her chest felt cool and her legs were cold, I knew she needed another layer.
Here’s an example of the layering combos I did with my daughter.
Possible Layering Combinations for a Baby:
Summer (with the air-conditioning)
- HALO (that’s the only swaddle I had at the time) + Just Diaper
- Any other swaddle + Onesie T-Shirt
- Swaddle + Swaddle Blanket
- Swaddle + Onesie T-Shirt+ Swaddle Blanket
- Swaddle + Onesie T-Shirt+ Swaddle Blanket
- (After she became more mobile) Swaddle + Onesie Pajamas.
Do you notice how I never put on a long-sleeve onesie?
The swaddles I used would make my daughter’s arms sweat if I used a long sleeve onesie. When we had to switch to a onesie pajamas, it got very tricky. Her legs would be the perfect temperature, but her arms would be warm. Luckily, this was about the time we finally did away with the swaddle anyway.
Bonus Tip: Never put a hat on a swaddled baby. This can easily lead to overheating.
6. Re-wrap Baby Quietly
For being immobile, babies are crafty little things. If you have a Houdini baby, chances are he will break through just about any swaddle occasionally. When he does, be super low-key about it. Go in, rewrap him, and get the heck out of there. Don’t take it as a sign that your baby’s naptime is over.
However, be conscientious of how often your baby is breaking the swaddle. If this is a frequently recurring event, this could be a sign that it’s either time to stop swaddling (if you have an older baby) or you need to experiment with a different swaddle.
7. Be Consistent
When a baby likes to break out of his swaddle, you might be tempted to give up out of guilt (oh, this seems so cruel!), frustration, or the simple belief that your baby hates being swaddled.
The other side of it is, you might try swaddling out of desperation, and when it doesn’t instantly solve your baby’s sleep issues or your baby doesn’t take to swaddling right away…well, what’s the point, right?
If you’re going to try swaddling, try to keep with it for at least three days. Give your baby a chance to adjust. Give yourself a chance to get better at it. Then, if you’re still not getting anywhere, consider trying a different swaddle.
If that still doesn’t work…
8. Accept that Your Baby Hates Being Swaddled
“Aha!” you might say, “So, some babies don’t like to be swaddled.”
Well, yes…but as I’ve said before, several sleep consultants agree that it is very rare that a baby hates a swaddle legitimately.
It can be confusing, figuring out if your baby truly dislikes a swaddle or if it’s simply the swaddling technique. If you’ve tried every technique and swaddle known to man… you may want to find alternatives to swaddles, like a sleep sack.
Sleep sacks ensure that your baby is warm and restricts their leg movement just enough to help with the Moro Reflex.
Do You Still Think Your Baby Hates Being Swaddled?
In the beginning, babies are instinctive, primitive, little cuddle-balls.
They just want to feel warm and secure. If you don’t want to co-sleep, learning how to swaddle a baby effectively can satisfy that need and boost your success in training your baby how to sleep independently.
If your baby hates being swaddled, don’t give up. Finding the right swaddle and swaddling technique can take some work, but the benefits make it so worth it!