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What To Do if Your Baby Hates the Swaddle

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Cara Dumaplin

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I love swaddles for newborns. They can be a powerful tool to help a newborn sleep better at night. But what if your baby hates the swaddle? Let's talk about why your baby is fighting the swaddle, what’s the best swaddle to use, and my other swaddle recommendations.

What do I do if my newborn hates being swaddled?

Babies who fight the swaddle are often the ones who need the snug feeling of the swaddle the most. Let me share why I recommend swaddling, even for swaddle haters.

Newborns are used to the snug, compact feeling of the womb. Swaddling provides the same feeling of security and comfort to your baby as when you were carrying them. 

Swaddling also helps with the Moro reflex. Some people refer to the Moro reflex as the startle reflex because it looks like your baby is being startled. Have you seen your baby fling out their arms as if they are falling? This is the Moro reflex. Swaddling helps calm this reflex and allows for a more restful sleep.

Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study that found swaddling truly provides a comforting, secure feeling to newborns. The study stated that full-term infants cried less when swaddled compared to other soothing techniques, and that “swaddling can soothe pain in infants.” For premature infants, swaddling results in “improved neuromuscular development, less physiologic distress, better motor organization, and more self-regulatory ability.” Did you catch that? Swaddling calms babies, soothes pain, and actually supports their development.

Tips for when babies fight the swaddle:

  • Start swaddling when both you and your baby are calm. It will make it easier for you both since your baby can pick up on any nervous, anxious energy.

  • Consider trying a different swaddle. Different babies prefer different swaddle styles. You as a parent may find some easier to use than others. 

  • Keep practicing with your baby. Sometimes it takes a bit of time before you get it right. 

  • Take my newborn class. I’ll show you my best tips for calming a fussy baby, including those babies who fight the swaddle and so much more. Sometimes, it really is what comes AFTER the swaddle that makes the biggest difference. 

Expert tip: If you have stopped swaddling because your newborn seemed to hate it, it’s okay to go back to swaddling as long as your baby isn’t showing signs of rolling.

Why does my baby fight the swaddle?

Fighting or breaking free from the swaddle is often a sign of very active sleep. This is completely normal for newborns. 

Newborns go through two different sleep cycles: quiet sleep and active sleep. Active sleep for newborns is similar to REM sleep for adults, but there is one big difference. For adults, our skeletal muscles are paralyzed during REM sleep. This is not the case for newborns. Swaddling helps limit flailing so they won’t startle themselves awake.

Your baby could also be fighting the swaddle because they’re overtired. Pay attention to your baby’s sleepy cues and wake windows to prevent your baby from being overtired.

How do I swaddle my baby? 

Start with a product that is designed for swaddling. I don’t recommend using a swaddle blanket since your baby can easily break out of the swaddle if it isn't done correctly and it can be trickier to make sure that it secured safely.

To swaddle your baby, lie them on their back. Then place their arms on their tummy or at their midline. Swaddling your baby with their arms down decreases the likelihood of them breaking out of their swaddle or the swaddle shifting towards their face or nose.

You want the swaddle to be snug but not tight. Snug means your baby can still take deep breaths (You should be able to tuck your hand in between the swaddle and your baby’s chest.) and move their hips up and out. If they can’t do either of these things, this is a sign the swaddle is too tight.

How do I make sure that the swaddle is safe?

I have a whole blog devoted to talking about whether swaddling is safe. But here are some basic questions to ask yourself to assess the safety of your baby’s swaddle:

  1. Is your baby showing signs of rolling? It’s time to transition out of the swaddle. The current AAP recommendation for swaddling says “Parents should stop swaddling as soon as their baby shows any signs of trying to roll over.”

  2. Does the swaddle shift or move? Make sure the swaddle you’re using can’t slide up and cover your baby’s mouth or nose. 

  3. Is your baby breaking out of their swaddle? If this happens, the swaddle can become loose bedding and be a safety risk for your baby. So make sure it’s the right fit and snugness.

  4. Is your baby dressed appropriately for the temperature at night? You don’t want your baby to overheat, so pay attention to how your baby looks and feels while swaddled.

How many swaddles do I need?

Many families like to have between 2 and 4 swaddles. This makes laundry a bit easier while you have a newborn in the house. 

You may also find you need more swaddles initially as you figure out which design, size, and other swaddle features work best for you and your baby.

What is the best swaddle for newborns?

There are so many options out there, and it can get a bit overwhelming. Here are a few tips for picking out a swaddle:

  • Start with a product specifically designed for swaddling.

  • Look for one that has a Velcro or zipper closure.

  • Make sure you select the correct size by using the manufacturer’s guidelines based on your baby’s current weight and height.

  • Choose a swaddle with a fabric that is appropriate for the temperature of your home.

  • Pick out a swaddle that is easy for you to put on and use during diaper changes.

What is the best swaddle for babies who hate the swaddle?

These are my top recommendations:

  • Ollie: This one is very easy to use and has a Velcro closure that allows for a snug fit. It also has an elastic tie that allows you to adjust for size, so it’ll grow with your baby. The Ollie is great for diaper changes and made of moisture-wicking fabric that will help prevent overheating.

  • Swaddle Sleeves Pod: This swaddle is easy to use with an “inner batwing band” and turns into a swaddle transition option. (CARA10 saves you 10%)

  • Halo Sleepsack Swaddle: The Halo swaddle allows for arms in or out, comes in a variety of materials (heavier for winter and lighter for summer), and is often easy to find in stores. 

What is the best swaddle for when a baby's arms get out?

I recommend the Swaddlou or the Swaddle Sleeves Pod. Both of these have a hands-down design that makes it more difficult to roll, keeping your baby safely on their back and preventing loose bedding. 

Double-check that your baby is in the correct size for their height and weight. As babies grow out of swaddles, it can be easier for them to break out of the swaddle.

What is the best swaddle for summer or warmer climates?

The key to swaddling during summer or in warmer climates is to avoid overheating. To set an ideal environment for swaddling in warmer temperatures, here are a few guidelines:

  1. Aim for a temperature in your home of 68-72 degrees.

  2. If possible, use a fan to circulate the air.

  3. Dress your baby in a short sleeve onesie or just a diaper.

There are a few swaddles I recommend that are ideal for the hotter months:

  • Embe: This one is designed with a fabric that dissipates heat and allows for your baby’s legs to be both in or out of the swaddle.

  • Anna & Eve Swaddle Strap: This swaddle is a strap that goes around your baby’s upper body and keeps their legs free, so you don’t have to worry about overheating.

What is the best swaddle for babies with hip dysplasia or babies in a harness?

Babies with hip dysplasia may still be able to be swaddled, but first, get your pediatrician’s approval.

It’s important that whatever swaddle you use allows your baby’s hips to move freely to remove the risk of hip dysplasia. I recommend the Anna & Eve Swaddle Strap or the Embe for complete free movement of the hips and legs.

Need more swaddle or sleep help?

Remember, a swaddle is a sleeping tool. When used correctly, can be a great tool to help provide you and your baby with better sleep. That’s why I recommend its use in my newborn class.

If it’s not working for you and your baby, you don’t have to use it. I would never recommend you go outside what is comfortable for you or your baby. I just want to give you the tools you need to navigate newborn sleep and beyond.

So if you’re struggling with sleep problems and are (or aren’t) using a swaddle, check out my newborn class. We talk about wake windows, sleeping environment setups, daytime routines, understanding naps, how to get longer sleeping stretches at night, and more! 

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