When Your Baby HATES to be Swaddled...


So you have a new baby. Congrats! You're suddenly immersed in snuggles and sweetness and ooey-gooey adorable baby sounds and smells..... oh, and probably also seemingly constant fussiness and your baby's desire to sleep only when held, am I right?!

"My baby won't sleep unless I'm holding her" is something we hear from SO many new parents. It's a hard phase to go through, but those babies are just so darn used to being snug as a bug at all times before being born they simply can't help it. So one of our jobs as postpartum doulas is to help new parents help their babies adjust to life on the outside, and ONE of those tools can be a swaddle.

However.... Getting a Fussy baby in a swaddle isn't always as easy as it sounds! 

"Just swaddle the baby" is advice almost every new parent has heard, but lots of parents try this and find their baby is not exactly a fan... There are some babies that absolutely refuse to be swaddled, but there are even more who will put up a good fight and then manage to sleep much better when swaddled. So first, we have to figure out if your baby is one of the few that really can't be swaddled... or is he just a little (or a lot) annoyed by the process but will settle and sleep longer stretches once in?

After years of practice with our own kiddos and lots of clients' babies, we have mastered a few tricks of the trade we love sharing with families. The first is that Technique matters!

When it comes to swaddles, there are A LOT of wrapping styles. You've got arms in or out, or one arm in/out. If you're swaddling arms in, you still have options! There's the traditional method of keeping baby's arms down by their side (this is a little controversial, but does work for lots of babies), folded across their chest in a sort of "self hug", or tucked up so they have access to their hands.

There's also a lot of options for creating the wrap! We especially love this one for babies who always get their arms out - this one is great for babies who want lots of space for leg movement - and this one for babies who need access to their hands. 

Even if you know all the great swaddle techniques, there's a bit more to getting a baby settled and happy in one. It's a process!

At bed or naptime, get baby nice and relaxed first. Begin a feeding and she starts getting a little sleepy take a break to get her into her swaddle. (She won't necessarily like this part, but do what you can to soothe her with your voice and touch as you quickly get her into a SNUG swaddle.) Then continue the feed if she's still hungry or move on to comforting her in your arms before setting her down.

When you set your baby down in his crib/bassinet/co-sleeper, try putting him close to a CORNER rather than the middle. Babies LOVE feeling snug and this can help them feel less exposed to the outside world. 

Now that you've successfully set your baby down in her swaddle, your work is NOT done!

Keeping a hand on her lower half, give her a gentle jiggle. You can keep your hand down by her legs or bottom half, gently giving her some vestibular movement back and forth for a minute or two while she settles to sleep. (Or save yourself some work and invest in the fancy new SNOO bassinet that does this for you!) Lots of babies love this jiggle, others like a pat on the chest or side, others like a good tummy rub.

You'll have to do a little experimenting to figure out what works best for your baby, or enlist the help of a baby whisperer (aka your postpartum doula) to facilitate and expedite the process!

Now, you won't want to keep breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby to sleep forever (if you want him to learn to go to sleep on his own at some point at least). So after you master the feed to sleepy > swaddle > feed to sleep > set down process, you'll start trading down to a less parent-centered process. Next you'll try feeding while swaddled until just drowsy before putting down. Eventually, you'll get to a point where your baby doesn't need so much outside help from the feeding and jiggling to fall asleep on his own. Now THAT'S a win!

Often we find that working through this with parents who thought their baby hated to be swaddled does work for them.HOWEVER, there are babies that really and truly do not tolerate a swaddle.

(And there are also parents who choose not to swaddle their babies) For these babies, we have to get a bit creative, and sometimes have to prescribe the cure-all for most baby problems...

"tincture of time"

There are swaddle products and swaddle transition products that can work well with swaddle refusers. Things like the Woombie or Zipadee-Zip are great swaddle alternatives.  Halo and some other brands make swaddle products that give the option of a secure hold around baby's chest while leaving one or both arms out. 

But our favorite product for swaddle refusers that keep startling themselves awake is the absolutely ridiculous looking (but totally effective!) Baby Merlin's Magic Sleep Suit.

Yes, your baby will look like the Marshmallow Puft Man from Ghostbusters.... but if she starts sleeping longer stretches on her own we promise you won't care!

As doulas we often find ourselves working with families who have tried EVERYTHING to no avail.

It definitely happens. And in those cases, we do a lot of snuggling, shooshing, babywearing, bouncing, rocking.. whatever works. Even the hardest-to-soothe babies do eventually learn how to sleep on their own. But it can be hard to accomplish, and it can take A LOT of trial and error. When you are a new parent (or even an experienced parent who didn't go through this with your other babies!) it can be SO frustrating.

Hand-on support can really help - especially for these babies. And as your postpartum doulas, we'll never tire of giving your baby the nurturing care you want her to have while you get the rest and respite you need for yourself. We'll help you try lots of alternatives to swaddling and help you figure out what you and your baby need. 

(And PSSST.... Even babies who love to be swaddled can't be swaddled forever. So if you have a swaddle fighter on your hands, you're actually ahead of the game! One less sleep crutch to wean your baby off of when they get bigger!!)

So hang in there - We know it's hard and exhausting and frustrating... and we are here for you!

Christine Robinson

Doulas of Asheville is western North Carolina's premier doula agency, providing birth doulas, postpartum doulas, and placenta specialists to Asheville families. We are proud to support any and all birthing choices, parenting styles. Our postpartum doulas are available to support families with new babies around the clock, from a few daytime shifts, to overnight newborn care, to 24-hour live-in support.