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What To Do if Your Baby Hates the Swaddle

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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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 to do to help, and what swaddles work best for babies who seem to hate the swaddle.

First Five Months Bundle

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My First Five Months Bundle gives you tools to help your newborn even if your baby seems to be a swaddle hater. I’ll teach you how to help your baby love the swaddle. You’ll also learn how to read your baby’s cues, calm your fussy baby, get longer stretches of sleep, and much more.

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Why does my baby fight the swaddle?anchor

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.

Signs your baby doesn’t want to be swaddledanchor

Let’s talk about signs that your baby is fighting the swaddle or doesn’t want to be swaddled.

  • Your baby is consistently breaking out of the swaddle. If your baby is able to get one or both arms out of the swaddle almost daily, first double check that your baby is swaddled safely and correctly. If your baby is still able to break out even after being swaddled correctly, it may be time to transition out of the swaddle. As babies get older and their strength and mobility increases, they often want to be able to move more freely in the crib. 

  • Your baby is really fussy every time you swaddle them. You can expect to see some fussiness at times when you swaddle, especially if it’s later in the day or if your baby is overtired. It’s often what comes after the swaddle that makes the biggest difference! (If you have the newborn class, Tip 1 will teach you step-by-step exactly what to do when your baby is swaddled.)

  • Your baby no longer has the Moro reflex. The Moro reflex typically lessens and eventually disappears between 3-6 months. This is also the time when your baby starts to move more independently. When the Moro reflex is no longer disruptive to sleep, your baby may be ready to drop the swaddle. 

If your baby is showing any of these signs, be sure that you check out my tips for how to help when your baby fights the swaddle

First Five Months Bundle

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In my newborn class, I’ll show you all of my best tips for swaddling, including what to do if it seems like your baby never wants to be swaddled. I’ll teach you how to calm your fussy baby, lay a healthy sleep foundation, and get longer stretches of sleep at night (with or without a swaddle) so you can love the newborn stage. If you already own the course, be sure to watch Tip 1 and check out the More Help section for even more support.

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What do I do if my newborn hates being swaddled?anchor

Swaddle them anyways. Let me explain: Babies who fight the swaddle are often the ones who need the snug feeling of the swaddle the most. Here's 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:anchor

  • 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.

How do I swaddle my baby? anchor

Swaddling correctly plays an important role in both seeing all of the calming benefits of the swaddle and ensuring that your baby is safe. Check out my blog “How do I swaddle my baby?” where I give you step-by-step guidance on how to swaddle, ways to be sure that your baby is swaddled safely, and recommendations for my favorite swaddles.

My newborn wants their hands out of the swaddle. Is this ok? anchor

I know it may seem like your newborn wants their hands out the swaddle or maybe even that your baby hates the swaddle, but swaddling with their arms in truly does provide a secure, comfortable feeling for your baby. Remember, it’s often what comes after swaddling that provides the full calming effect of the swaddle. 

However, if you’re concerned about whether it’s safe to continue swaddling with arms in, let me show you what to do if your baby is constantly trying to break out of the swaddle

Expert Tip: Still convinced that your baby would prefer to be swaddled with their arms out? There are options for swaddling with arms up like the Love to Dream Swaddle. I truly recommend trying an arms in swaddle first before this option. 

What is the best swaddle for newborns?anchor

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.

For more on choosing the right swaddle for your baby, read about all of my best swaddle recommendations.

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

These are my top recommendations for babies who seem to hate the swaddle:

  • Ollie: The Ollie is my most recommended swaddle. It's simple to use with a Velcro closure that allows for a snug fit. It also easily adjusts for size, so it will grow with your baby. The Ollie allows for quick diaper changes and is made of moisture-wicking fabric which helps prevent overheating. (Use code takingcarababies for 10% off.)

  • Norani Snugababe: The Norani is a great swaddle for any baby, but for those who seem to wriggle those little arms out of every other swaddle, the Norani is my top choice. It has unique arm inserts and Velcro fasteners that keep the arms securely inside the swaddle. With safety as our top priority, the Norani allows you to keep your little swaddle Houdini swaddled safely for longer. (Use code TakingCaraBabies)

For more on choosing the right swaddle for your baby, read about all of my best swaddle recommendations.

Need more swaddle or sleep help?anchor

Remember, a swaddle is a sleeping tool. When used correctly, it 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.

However, please know 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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