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, the nurse showed us how to swaddle a baby at least five times and my daughter broke out of every swaddle I tried.
This would’ve been the end of our swaddling days for sure, but despite the fact that my baby hated being swaddled, she needed it to sleep as well. If you’re in the same boat, I’m glad you’re here.
In this post you’re going to learn 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:
- Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night – Introduction to From Sleepless to Slumbering Series
- Baby Sleep Training: Everything You Need to Know
- Why Your Baby Won’t Sleep: 7 Surprising Things That Kill 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
How to Swaddle a Baby That Hates Being Swaddled: The Best Swaddles and Techniques for Your Houdini Baby
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.
Why Learning How to Swaddle a Baby Needs to Be Your Top Priority
Before we get into how you can deal with a baby that hates being swaddled, we need to really commit to swaddling.
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.
Here are a few other reasons why you should really commit to swaddling:
- Swaddling can give your baby the security he needs to make the jump from your womb to the crib.
- Swaddles contain the startle reflex: The startle reflex, or Moro reflex, is super common for babies in their first few months. 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 and 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 helps him to chill out.
- 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.
The Best Swaddles for a Baby that Hates Being Swaddled: At-a-Glance
|Miracle Blanket||Triple flap design is hard to break, no uncomfortable zippers, cool material||4.4|
|Woombie||Several sizes, "hip healthy" design, cool material, zipper||4.0|
|HALO Sleepsack||Zipper and velcro design, cotton or fleece material, "Hip Healthy"||4.6|
|Love to Dream Swaddle||Full swaddle or 50/50 design (arms out), zipper, cool material||4.3|
|SwaddleMe||Inexpensive, velcro, cool material||4.4|
Swaddling Techniques and Tips: What to Do if Your Baby Hates Swaddles
Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that swaddling is a tremendous tool you need to master.
Unfortunately, sometimes swaddling doesn’t go as well as it should. Many new moms try to swaddle their babies with little success. Baby cries, screams, or breaks out of his swaddle. The conclusion many moms come to is that their baby hates being swaddled.
If this sounds like your situation, I get it. Your baby hates being swaddled but needs it to sleep. It’s a total nightmare scenario!
I went through the exact same thing with my daughter. She screamed and cried every time I put her in a swaddle. She actively fought being swaddled until the moment she fell asleep. But if she wasn’t swaddled, it was much, much worse.
The only solution was to find a swaddling technique and swaddle that could hold our Houdini baby.
Houdini Baby: (n) A baby that specializes in escaping from any swaddle known to man. Was most likely a cat burglar, magician, or escape artist in his past life.Get to the bottom of why your baby won’t sleep.
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 kiddo that hates being swaddled, don’t despair.
We’re going to figure out how we can get your Houdini baby swaddled up ASAP.
1. Find the Right Swaddle
Don’t get me wrong; blanket swaddles have their place. I’ve found that on the cold winter nights, babies appreciate the extra swaddle layer. However, as a primary swaddle, blankets just don’t cut it for Houdini babies.
Instead, invest in a heavy-duty straight-jacket type swaddle.
My top five swaddles were ( listed by effectiveness):
- The Miracle Blanket-- You still have to do a tiny bit of wrapping but I liked that this one could grow with my little girl. She never actually “outgrew” it…she started rolling first!
- Woombie-- Great for protecting your baby against hip dysplasia, which is one risk of swaddling. I included the link to the Woombie website rather than Amazon, because they currently have quite a few of their swaddles on clearance.
- HALO Swaddle-- We used this one for a long time, but eventually she became too strong for the velcro. We used the fleece but they also have muslin.
- Love to Dream Sleep Swaddle UP-- Great swaddle, but her hands turned out to be too much of a temptation as she grew older.
- SwaddleMe-- Pretty decent swaddle for the price. Had a 50-50 success rate for us so I always paired it with a swaddle blanket.
2. Do it at the Right Time
I think that part of the reason why many mommies are unsuccessful with learning how to swaddle a baby is simply 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 (whether that’s the nursery or your bedroom) 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!
3. Don’t Give Up
Watching my daughter break from her swaddle was the oddest phenomenon. 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. That’s why I purchased a hardcore swaddle like the Miracle Blanket.
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. You can also get a swaddle like the Woombie if you’re concerned about hip dysplasia.)
5. Choose the Right Material
In my previous post, 7 Things that Kill 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 (like the HALO).
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 a sample of the layering combos I did with my daughter:
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: Unless your baby’s hair is damp, never put a hat on a swaddled baby. This can easily lead to overheating.
6. Try Different Swaddles Shapes
The shape of your swaddle does matter.
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? I hate to say it, but you may waste 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!)
But once you find the one, it’ll all be worth it.
7. 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.
8. 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…
9. 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, it’s very rare that a baby legitimately hates it.
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 compromise with 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!
I hope this post gave you a couple light bulb moments for your feisty baby! If it did, would you consider taking my quick 1 minute survey? It will give your struggles as a new mom a voice and help me know how to best serve you!