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Good Night, Sleep Tight

We’ll be the first to admit that going belly up doesn’t always seem to agree with all babies. While not true of all babies, we’ve found that quite a few are prone to startling themselves awake from peaceful slumber. That’s because all babies are at the whim of their own reflexes—which, by definition, they cannot control—and are born with one particularly inconvenient reflex (the startle, or Moro, reflex). This reflex causes infants to jerk suddenly, flail their arms and legs, and even cry out in response to being startled—hence the name. And yes, even when you’ve gone to great lengths to create a startle-free environment for your sleeping baby, he may just take matters into his own hands (and feet), startle himself awake, and then proceed to flail around like a bug stuck on his back until someone comes to his rescue. But don’t give up on uninterrupted sleep just yet, because there is something quick and easy you can do: a handy little technique we call the “burrito wrap.”

The Burrito Wrap

In other words, we suggest you wrap your baby up as snug as a bug in a baby blanket before putting him down to sleep. Hands down, the most talented people we’ve ever seen at this sleep-saving technique are the nurses in the newborn nursery. These baby-bundling experts take uncomfortably free and exposed newborns and almost effortlessly have them bundled in blissful, no-flailing-allowed slumber in the blink of an eye. If you have an opportunity, we highly recommend watching these professionals in action. For those of you who are already home and either missed out on the hospital demonstration or could use a little refresher course, we’ve laid out the details for you as best we can without actually being there to demonstrate in person.

  1. Lay a thin baby blanket out like a diamond in front of you.
  2. Fold the top corner of the blanket down a bit so that the folded corner almost reaches the middle of the blanket.
  3. Place your infant on his back, centered on the blanket with his arms at his sides and his head just above the folded edge and his shoulders just below it.
  4. Take one of the side corners of the blanket and fold it over your baby’s shoulder and across his body, making sure to tuck the corner underneath him on the opposite side. 
  5. Then take the bottom corner of the blanket (below your baby’s feet) and fold it up over your baby. If the blanket is large enough that the bottom corner reaches up to (or over) your baby’s face, you can simply fold it back down until his face is no longer covered or bring it over one or the other shoulder and tuck it under him.
  6. Finally, take the only remaining corner and pull it over your baby’s other shoulder and across his body. Again, tuck this corner snugly under your baby’s opposite side.

Once you have the general idea, remember that variations are perfectly acceptable. Feel free to play around with what works best for you and your baby.While the exact details and the order in which you do them may not matter too much in the end, we will point out that there is a good reason why we recommend folding the bottom of the blanket up before flipping the last corner across (ie, step 5 always before step 6) and always tucking corners under your baby: Doing so helps to keep your handiwork from coming undone quite as easily.

Hands-free Bundling

Some of our esteemed parenting colleagues suggest doing whatever it takes (with regard to bundling, that is) to ensure that your baby’s arms and legs stay snugly secured in the blanket. Other equally convincing and respectable experts recommend never restricting your baby’s arms—focusing your bundling attention on just your baby’s legs while allowing her arms free rein. We personally have tried bundling both ways with good results. If you find that your baby seems unhappy having her arms “pinned down” by her sides instead of up next to her head, then just go ahead and burrito wrap her without placing her arms inside. One thing most child health experts do agree on, however, is that a baby's hips should not be bundled too tightly. Instead, they should be allowed to relax in their natural frog-leg positions to allow for proper growth and joint development.

Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
Heading Home With Your Newborn, 2nd Edition (Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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