Baby Arm Position When Swaddling: Does It Matter?

I’ve been talking about swaddling a lot lately, largely because I’m getting so many questions. And I love answering them for you all. I really do because I remember feeling so lost when my eldest was born.

You can practice like I did on swaddling stuffed animals, but you won’t really get a good handle on it until you’re swaddling the real thing. Baby arm position when swaddling is something that I wondered about, and judging from my inbox, you all do too!

Here’s the deal!

Some say swaddling with arms up is the way to go. Others say arms down. SO should you swaddle arms up or down? Which is right? Not to worry as I’ll walk you through it all!

Basically, most newborns will be happy to swaddle fully. But as they get bigger, they may not want to be fully swaddled. You can swaddle a baby with arms out at that point, swaddle with one arm out, or swaddle hands to face. There are many options, but let’s get right down to what’s happening and what to do for your baby.

What do I do if my baby hates being swaddled?

Swaddle blanket for newborn

Newborns love being swaddled. They feel safe this way. But if your baby is fighting the swaddle, there might be something going on here. If your baby is a few months old, this may indicate she’s ready to break free of the swaddle. That’s when a swaddle with hands up or arms only swaddle may benefit you both.

But if she’s still a teensy newborn, you might want to check your swaddling skills and make sure you’re doing it right. Go see my post about this to see how to do it either with a receiving blanket or muslin blanket.

Is it OK to swaddle with arms up?

Yes! Some babies would rather have their arms free or near their faces. We all have our personalities and quirks, and that goes for babies too. So if you’ve been swaddling correctly or your baby is getting bigger and seems to be less than thrilled about swaddling now, try to swaddle with arms up and see how that goes.

When should I swaddle with arms out?

This will certainly depend on your baby. And if you have more than one child, you will likely notice how different their preferences are in regards to swaddling. Generally, though, 4 to 6 months is about when your baby will show signs she doesn’t want to be swaddled anymore.

She will likely be taking either one or both arms out while sleeping. She’ll be more active and stronger too. And when you swaddle her, she may fight you for it. If she keeps defiantly pulling one or both arms out, that’s definitely a clue she doesn’t want it anymore.

But! She might not be ready to go from zero to 60 right now. That’s why swaddling with arms up or arms out might help you both until she is.

Do babies sleep better with arms out of the swaddle?

It depends on the baby. My eldest would not sleep without her arms being swaddled. And like clockwork at 4 months, she was done with swaddling. Like done-done.

baby sleeps swaddled with arms out
Credit: Flickr

Meanwhile, my youngest from the beginning hated having her arms swaddled. It was extra annoying because that Moro reflex (the startle one) would wake her up. Until I started swaddling her with her arms up, she was a challenge.

The youngest didn’t want to stop swaddling either. She liked having her legs wrapped but her arms free. She would look at me too with this face, as if she were saying, “Look, Lady, I want my arms like this and my legs wrapped up. Want to fight?”

How do you keep your baby’s arms up while swaddled?

Before you swaddle with arms up or out, make sure you’re doing it right, to begin with. Again, see my swaddling guide so you can wrap baby tight enough (but not too tight!).

If you are swaddling tight enough, swaddling with straight arms in the newborn phase may help prevent those hands from wiggling out. But if your baby is approaching 4 months of age, it’s likely a sign she’s done with being fully swaddled, and you can try this with one or both arms out.

Here’s the breakdown on how to do the hands up swaddle:

  1. Like other swaddling methods, lay the blanket flat and so it looks like a diamond to you.
  2. Fold the top corner down to create a triangle.
  3. Place baby on top of that and tuck her left hand under the fold you just made. Wrap that side across their body and tuck the blanket under the baby.
  4. Fold up the bottom of your blanket, taking the tip of the corner to the top of the swaddle and tucking it in. Allow for plenty of room for the legs to move at the bottom.
  5. Take your baby’s right hand and tuck it under that fold, so her hands are next to her face. Fold the right side across her body, creating a V-shape under her chin.
  6. Wrap the right side under your baby and tuck the end of that corner into the front of your swaddling job.

Please keep in mind that blankets that touch cheeks are a terrible idea. This makes your baby think it’s your boobs, and she’ll start looking for her milk. Always keep that V-neck shape to prevent this from happening.

If your baby is getting bigger and you try the swaddle with arms up to no avail, try swaddling her, so her arms are out. Simply complete the swaddle without wrapping the arms.

Some babies get upset about having their legs swaddled but not their arms. In this case, you’ll swaddle the arms without securing the legs at the bottom. Every baby is different, so you’ll just have to observe yours.

Should I swaddle arms out for SIDS?

When you swaddle correctly, you can prevent SIDS since your baby won’t be able to roll. Babies that accidentally roll can be at a larger risk. Swaddle arms out for SIDS when your baby gets bigger.

Is swaddling bad for baby arms?

No, it’s very comforting for them, especially at the newborn stage. However, when your baby can roll over, it’s dangerous if they’re fully swaddled. Using the arms up position will help, though at this stage, swaddling with arms out is ideal. This way, the baby has her arms free to help her when she rolls over.

I know it’s crazy to think there will be a day you won’t need to swaddle. It goes so fast. But get ready for all the other milestones coming up soon! Enjoy that sweet baby!

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