How to Fix a Bad or Loose Swaddle

Making sure you have the right cloth and the right technique is key to making sure a swaddled baby remains both tucked in tight and safe from suffocation.

The nurses in the pediatric ward make swaddling a child look exceptionally easy: The fluid motions they make, wrapping the cloth around an infant, are reminiscent of expert chefs making wontons or hastily crafting burritos. They’ve had swaddling practice. Lots of swaddling practice. Unfortunately, making a swaddle at home is far more difficult than it is in the hospital and having a lousy swaddle can be dangerous. All the more reason to approach swaddling strategically. How? Assume that your swaddle is sub-par and, instead of starting again, do the old nip and tuck.

Anyone’s swaddle game can be improved by correcting some of the more common issues that result in sloppy wrapping. All it takes are a few tweaks to get the kid tucked soundly into sleep.

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The Baby’s Arms are Busting Out of the Swaddle

The point of the swaddle is to keep everything contained. That’s partly for the purpose of mimicking the tightness of the womb and partly to keep the kids from waking themselves up during a mid-sleep, arm-flailing startle. So keeping those hands in is key.

The solution to keeping arms and hands inside the swaddle is to make sure the babies arms are straight against their sides when they are wrapped. This does require some dexterity. Though it can help when wrapping the first corner of the kid’s body, if a hand is kept on the body, towards their left side, to keep them from sweeping the arm up during the first wrap.

Also, remember that when the first fold is made, it only wraps around one arm before being tucked underneath their body. Wrapping both arms in the first fold allows the kid too much wiggle room and leverage to Hulk out of the swaddle.

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The Baby is Unwrapping the Swaddle Completely

If a baby is busting out of the swaddle completely, start by thinking about the babies age and developmental abilities. If they can roll over independently and are around 3-months of age, it’s likely that their newfound ability is what’s allowing them to get free. If this is the case, it’s time to stop swaddling.

If the kid is still unable to roll over and is under 3-months-old, it’s possible that the swaddle is too small. A swaddle should be a square cloth of at least 40 by 40 inches, folded into a triangle. A swaddle smaller than those dimensions may not have enough fabric to stay wrapped and tucked beneath a wiggly baby.

Also, it’s important to leave room around the legs and hips. Not only can tightly swaddled hips cause hip dysplasia, but a swaddle wrapped tightly around the feet can be dislodged by kicking. It may help to leave the legs unswaddled altogether, or make sure there is plenty of room in the cloth around the legs so that kicking doesn’t cause havoc.

Finally, the thicker and stretchier the swaddle fabric is, the looser it’s likely to be. Swaddling with thick, knit blankets, afghans, or other thick fabrics increase the chances the kid will escape. Not to mention those very blankets then become a suffocation hazard. Thin fabric without much stretch is the best bet.

Swaddle Creeps Up to the Baby’s Face

Parents should expect some movement in the swaddle as a baby wiggles prior to falling asleep. In order to keep the swaddle from creeping up to the baby’s face and creating a suffocation risk, it’s important to start the swaddle by positioning the top edge of the triangle at, or just below the babies shoulders. This will keep the kid from shrugging the fabric upwards.

The Baby Doesn’t Like the Swaddle

Some babies will get fussy when they’re placed in a swaddle. That said, if you give them time to relax into it, they will sleep much more soundly than being unswaddled. In order to help a baby relax, parents can help increase the womb-like nature of the swaddle by holding the swaddled baby, rocking and shushing.

The rocking will mimic the movement of a mother’s body. The shushing will recreate the white noise of body and organs working away around them. To keep from passing out from all the shushing, consider white noise, either via a machine specific to that purpose, or a radio tuned between stations.

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