Swaddling can help newborns sleep longer and more deeply. But there's a limit to how long swaddling can be done safely, and it may come sooner than you think.

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An image of parents with their newborn daughter swaddled, sitting on a bed at home.
Credit: Getty Images.

Of all the tips and tricks new parents pick up in the maternity ward after welcoming a baby, swaddling may be one of the most useful. This technique of wrapping newborns snuggly in a sleep sack or wearable blanket is said to help them sleep longer and more deeply. That's because it inhibits their natural startle reflex, and it may remind them of being in the womb.

But is there a limit to how long you should swaddle your baby? As it turns out, the answer is yes—and it may come sooner than you think. Keep reading to learn the latest guidelines.

When to Stop Swaddling a Baby

Wondering when to stop swaddling your baby? The critical thing to watch for is any clue that Baby may roll over on their own, according to Elizabeth Murray, D.O., MBA, FAAP, a pediatric emergency medicine doctor at the Golisano Children's Hospital in Rochester, New York. "Swaddling of the arms should be stopped if there's any hint that your baby is starting to roll, as having their arms out is important to help limit them getting stuck face down," Dr. Murray says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) takes the same stance. "Parents should stop swaddling as soon as their baby shows any signs of trying to roll over. Many babies start working on rolling at around 2 months of age."

According to the AAP, studies have found an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and accidental suffocation if swaddled babies roll onto their stomachs, or if they're placed onto their stomachs. Babies should always be put to sleep on their backs. Also, parents should monitor swaddled babies to ensure they don't roll over.

Dr. Murray notes that arms should be free to move on their own after about 6 weeks, or sometimes even just 4 weeks. "By then, swaddled babies are often more comfortable with their arms out," she says.

Safe Swaddling Techniques for Babies

The biggest danger of swaddling is an increased risk of SIDS and accidental suffocation, which can happen if Baby ends up on their stomach. Also, "swaddling may decrease a baby's arousal, so that it's harder for the baby to wake up," says the AAP. And while deeper sleep is a benefit of swaddling, it's also been associated with SIDS.

In addition, swaddling may increase your baby's chances of overheating, so be mindful of the temperature and what else they're wearing underneath the swaddle. "Remember that a good rule of thumb is that a baby needs one additional layer than what you are comfortable wearing," Dr. Murray says. "So, that might mean a onsie, then pajamas, then covered in a wearable blanket. The wearable blanket does't necessarily need to be a very heavy fabric in cold climates, but can be if that's what the environment needs." Your baby could be overheating if you notice "sweating, damp hair, flushed cheeks, heat rash, and rapid breathing," says the AAP.

Another danger of swaddling: hip dysplasia. If a baby is swaddled with their legs straightened and wrapped tightly, their hip joints might not form properly. "That's why the wearable sleep blankets are designed to only snuggle the upper portion of the baby while allowing their legs to be extended or slightly flexed if the baby holds them that way on their own," says Dr. Murray.

The AAP no longer advises swaddling with blankets, as they can unwrap, presenting a suffocation risk to the baby. Instead, a wearable blanket or sleep sack is recommended. For newborns, there are versions that have more of a "swaddle" component, meaning a piece of fabric that can be wrapped more tightly around Baby to help hold their arms snugly against their body.

To swaddle your baby safely, talk to your pediatrician and be sure to follow the instructions and guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.