Am I Swaddling Too Tightly? Here’s How to Know!

Lately, I’ve been discussing swaddling, from how to do it to answer all the questions I receive. Recently, I was contacted about a mama who worried if her swaddling was too tight. She wanted to know if it could harm her baby if she did a tight swaddle.

Swaddling is a great way to keep your newborn baby comfortable as she transitions to life outside of the womb. But of course, there is a right way to do it. I’ve posted how to swaddle so you can see (using receiving and muslin blanket), but if you’ve never swaddled before, how do you know if you’re swaddling too tightly?

So that’s what I’m covering today! Read on to find out if you’re swaddling too tightly and what you can do to replace a tight swaddle job with one that is perfectly cozy for your baby.

Can you swaddle a baby too tightly?

You can, which is why you must take care when swaddling your baby not to be too tight. For me, it was swaddling too loosely. Thanks to my breastfeeding coach, Vivien, she helped me perfect the technique that I’d been practicing on stuffed animals. I’d gotten it tight on them, just right in fact to have room for my fingers, but they weren’t the real deal.

What can happen if you swaddle too tight around the chest?

You can restrict the baby’s breathing. And if you swaddle too tightly around the legs, you can cause hip dysplasia. Legs shouldn’t be closed together and straight, but rather looser, so the knees and hips can move.

How tight should a swaddle be?

baby sleeps swaddled with arms out

As I’ve said, a swaddle should be tight enough to restrict that startle reflex, yet not so tight it keeps the baby from wriggling. For the legs, your baby should be able to bend them and move them a bit. Up at the top, if you can put two fingers between the swaddle and your baby’s chest, then you’ve got your swaddle done right.

With two fingers, that means it’s not too tight or too loose.

If you check out the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, you can see a demonstration of how to be sure you’re doing it the right way.

Is a loose swaddle dangerous?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a loose swaddle is also dangerous. You should never have any loose blankets where your baby sleeps, including a swaddle blanket. So resist the urge to use a blanket that is too large and leaves lots of extra fabric. Your little one can come unwrapped and then cover their face, risking suffocation.

How to swaddle tightly (without being too tight)

Swaddling is absolutely a technique that makes newborns and new babies very comfortable and happy when done correctly. Combined with shushing, swinging, and sucking, I can attest to it helping tremendously.

Swaddling is a technique that comes from generations before us, one that they found gives them that feeling of being in the womb. Since studies have found that a too tight swaddle can restrict lung function while a loose one can increase the risk for SIDS, it’s important to get swaddling right.

If you are nervous about doing this yourself, I recommend you ask the nurses at the hospital to show you before you go home. Even in China, they helped us perfect our technique. And with Vivien’s help, I really got it right.

So, to avoid swaddling too tightly, here are my tips:

  • Check your wrapping skills by seeing if your fingers fit easily in the top of the swaddle at the chest.
  • Always fold the top part so it creates more of a V-neck style with the swaddle (this adds extra protection that the swaddle won’t cover the baby’s mouth or nose).
  • Watch how you wrap the legs and hips so that you’re not restricting movement. Knees should bend while hips should be able to move, or else the hip joint can dislocate.
  • Never swaddle with legs straight down.

That page from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute that I linked above has a great video on it that can visually guide you.

Final thoughts on swaddling too tight…

I hope none of this has scared you. As a mom who’s been doing this for almost a decade now, I have to say that there will be things you’ll look back on and be so grateful that you found out a better way. Like swaddling. But here’s the thing…it’s OK to ask for help.

So ask the nurses, your breastfeeding coach, your doctor and have them show you how to do it.

I felt like a total dunce trying to wrap stuffed animals up as I would a baby. Also, some of them didn’t have long legs to confine either. I had a giant panda stuffed animal with stubby legs. I’m so grateful to the hospital staff and Vivien for helping me make sure I swaddled my eldest just tightly enough to keep her comfortable without a too tight swaddle.

This is important:

Practice in front of these people who know how to do it, and you will feel much more comfortable and confident in your swaddling abilities. Also, don’t forget that your blanket’s size does matter – choose one that isn’t too big or small, about 44″ x 44″ should do it.

Breathable material helps, too, to ensure if it does get loose, it won’t smother your baby.

I remember those nights of waking up, wondering if my babies were OK and going to check on them, touching them gently to see if they were breathing. We all do this, and guess what? That doesn’t stop after swaddling does.

But if you can learn to swaddle without doing so too tightly, that will be one less thing that keeps you up at night.

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