How many times have you heard it said that babies don’t come with a manual?
Sometimes when I swaddle a baby, the first-time parents make a comment like, “Look at how nice that swaddle looks! It’s like someone taught you.” Well, it might not have been a manual, but I was taught when I had my firstborn. I have taken many classes on newborn photography. I’ve got three kiddos of my own, and we host babies in our home with Safe Families for Children. I am not a baby wrapping wizard like some who photograph newborns full time, but I have swaddled many babies.
I’ve had many new moms and dads ask me how to do the basic swaddle that I do to start most of my newborn sessions. Here is your tutorial on my go-to swaddle!
Even older babies love being swaddled (and even my big kids love an occasional tight wrap in a blanket!), as it provides comfort and nice gentle pressure. My lovely model for this was 8 months old and so excited for the closeness with Mama as we wrapped her up.
Some of the photos do have an extra set of hands as I was teaching while photographing, but it can easily be done alone.
Starting tips: Always make sure baby is safe while preparing your wrap. This might be in someone’s arms or safely in a bassinet or on the floor.
Take a large swaddling blanket and lay it flat. Fold in one corner generously. A wide open space on the floor is the safest place, so baby cannot roll or fall off a raised surface. If your baby is not yet rolling and you have a large enough space, you can do this on a bed or a changing pad, making sure to always keep baby secure.
Lay baby on the blanket with the head just above the folded corner.
Take one arm and lay it next to the baby’s side, it can bend over their heart. For newborns, it is often easier to lay it next to their side, and the older the baby, the more likely they are to cross it over their belly. You can see in this picture, her arm is coming across her torso. This is fine.
Take the blanket and pull it over the top of the arm that is tucked in, and tuck it under the baby, nice and snug. Just use your fingers to shove it a few inches under that side of their back. You can gently roll baby to the side to get a nice snug tuck on that part of the blanket. When done, you should have a nice smooth line. If the little one is fussing a lot and pulling, just try again.
Next, if tucking in the toes, pull the bottom corner down and away to pull it snug.
Then, pull it up to the baby’s shoulder and tuck the corner over their shoulder. For babies of different ages, their desire/ability varies with size and mobility. Really tiny babies love to have their legs folded and then tucked like this and they are a tiny little bundle. Older babies like this less and less. My model preferred her legs out.
Then, the last part is where all that snug pulling is made worth it and is required. Lay the other arm down by their side, and firmly but gently wrap that side of the blanket across the front of the baby towards the first arm you tucked in.
Wrap any excess blanket around the back of the baby and you are ready to pick them up.
Note: Be sure to use wisdom on not wrapping too tightly, and making sure the temperature of the baby is considered, by not overwrapping/dressing baby.
Why swaddle? When I was a new mom, I was told all about how we need to swaddle our babies, and how it mimicks the comfort of being in the womb. It’s really incredible to watch a baby who is in total freak-out mode because they are overwhelmed become instantly calmed when they are wrapped gently but firmly by a trusted caregiver.
In decade since our oldest joined us earlier than planned for a stay in the NICU, the course our family’s journey has taken has filled us with a lot of training and experience with neural development, sensory processing disorder, parenting after trauma, and the like. Many adults and teens are learning they love a good weighted blanket or loving, snug hug, and it does the same thing a swaddle does for a little one.
Swaddling helps a newborn feel safe, physically and emotionally comforted, and provides a good deep pressure, which helps develop their proprioceptive senses. They also are less likely to wake from the startle reflex, so baby gets better rest. You can see, too, that his baby is able to get lots of good eye contact with Mama and feels really loved.