How to Swaddle a Baby (That Absolutely Hates Being Swaddled)
If you’ve visited any hospital in America, you’ve probably been told to swaddle your baby. I remember sitting in my own 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 by the end of our drive home, our new skill was completely forgotten. This would’ve been the end of our swaddling days for sure, if it wasn’t for the fact that our baby obviously slept better with one.
In the last post, we talked about how your baby’s own body can ruin her sleeping habits. The most effective solution for this is swaddling. But for some babies, this is easier said than done. Not only is an excellently wrapped swaddle a work of art, but some babies actively seek to destroy it. I call these babies…Houdini babies.
Our baby was like that. She would fight the swaddle as hard as she possibly could… but then, a magical thing would happen. Once she discovered that she truly couldn’t break it, she had amazing sleep. Whether you have a wiggly baby that hates being swaddled, or you’re a new mom hoping to figure out the easiest way for how to swaddle a baby, this post is for you.
From Sleepless to Slumber Baby Sleep Series
Hey, there! If you’re just tuning in, this is the third post in my new baby sleep series, From Sleepless to Slumber. Baby sleep is one of the most important (and scary) aspects of motherhood. 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
How to Swaddle a Baby (That Absolutely Hates Being Swaddled!)
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. It’s a super, duper, incredibly important component of getting your baby to sleep through the night. Swaddling can help your baby sleep longer and better.
Swaddles are a transitioning tool! I’m not just talking about the big jump from the tightness of the womb to the real world. Swaddling can be the key to getting your baby to sleep in her crib.
The first hardship I see my mommy friends struggle with is transitioning their baby into the crib. With some babies, it seems just about impossible. Even if these moms rock their baby until drowsiness, the instant the baby touches the crib, she starts crying. This can destroy a new mom’s heart. So, against their best intentions, these moms co-sleep instead. Now, co-sleeping isn’t bad, but when you don’t want to co-sleep and you’re doing it out of desperation…that’s bad.
There’s a common theme in these situations: many of these moms say that their baby “hates” being swaddled.
I tend to disagree. The fact is, babies come from a warm, cozy place. The transition to the exterior world is harsh and uncomfortable, especially when the little baby is expected to lay in a cold, hard crib by himself. Why would your baby instantly hate the one thing that reminds him of the happy world he just left?
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.
Top Reasons to Learn How to Swaddle a Baby
Swaddling can give your baby the security he needs to make the jump from your womb to the crib.
Swaddles contain the startle reflex: Have you woken up and feel like you’re falling? This, my friend, is 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. Newborns have a narrow sleep window and if you pass it, in all likelihood, your baby will get overtired. Not only that, your baby’s senses are easily overloaded. The dog, your voice, the TV, lights, too many voices–these things can overstimulate your baby.
In my last post, I talked about the effects of melatonin and cortisol. Cortisol is the killer of sleep. When your baby is overstimulated, his body goes on cortisol overload. The only cure for overstimulation is to help your baby unwind! 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. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you learn how to swaddle a baby STAT. When your baby is screaming his little lungs out, the last thing he needs to do is become overstimulated by his flailing arms.
Get to the bottom of why your baby won’t sleep.
10 Tips to Help You Learn How to Swaddle a Baby That HATES Being Swaddled
So, I hope I’ve helped you jump on board with the swaddling concept. Swaddling is an age-old, amazing practice that can help your baby (and you) find healthier, longer sleep. Unfortunately, even if you know how to swaddle a baby…that doesn’t mean that said baby will let you swaddle her. If you have a Houdini baby, believe me, I feel for you.
My baby loved being swaddled, but she actively tried to foil every attempt I made to actually do it. I went through six different swaddles before I found “the” swaddle.
(And that’s not including the crappy blanket ones I just had to put on my gift registry.)
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. Ditch the Blanket 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 Mistake Your Baby’s Dislike for a Particular Swaddle as Hatred for Swaddling
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. Pay Attention to Material
This was a huge one for me. Have you ever worn a fleece sweater somewhere, expecting it to be chilly, and only to roast alive? Like adults, some babies are very reactive to temperature and clothing. 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.
Swaddles are no different.
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. The biggest cue is sweat. 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.
Running short on time? Pin this post for later!
6. Swaddle Shape Does Matter
I think this is one major reason why many people believe their baby hates being swaddled and parents completely nix learning how to swaddle a baby.
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. Be Low-Key if Baby Breaks the Swaddle
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. Consistency is King
The absolute #1 killer of swaddles isn’t even the baby. Babies love swaddles. Parents, however, might not love learning how to swaddle a baby. If you’re in this category, please don’t feel bad. It’s totally understandable. When a baby acts like he hates a swaddle, you might 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.
The Baby Whisperer wrote a very good segment about babies that shouldn’t be swaddled. In her book, The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, she goes over baby personality types: Angel, Textbook, Spirited, Sensitive, and Grumpy. (For instance, if you have a Houdini baby, you might have a spirited baby!). She proposed that sometimes swaddles can heighten a baby’s distress, especially with grumpy babies and some spirited babies.
It can be confusing, figuring out if your baby truly dislikes a swaddle or if it’s simply the swaddling technique. If you can honestly say that your baby has these personality types and 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 them chill out. Even now, at 8 months, my daughter seems to enjoy her sleep sack more than traditional free-leg pajamas.
How to Swaddle a Baby That Absolutely 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.
For some parents, swaddling is easy. Others, like you and me, not so much. 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!
Subscribe and Download my ultimate Sleep Troubleshooting Worksheet!
I hope this post gave you a couple light bulb moments for your feisty baby! Most of all, I hope swaddling your baby gives you the rest you deserve!
If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to email me or comment below.
Until next time!