How to dress a newborn for bed the right way

Dressing a newborn baby for bed can feel like a high-stakes game where safety and precious sleep hang in the balance. Thankfully, dressing a newborn for bed can be pretty simple. And as with all parenting, if something isn’t working, you can just tweak it and try again.

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Safety first

There’s no doubt that dressing your baby for bed safely is the top priority. Many of the safe-sleep recommendations don’t have to do with clothing, but it’s worth mentioning a few highlights at the outset nevertheless:

  • Always place your baby on their back to sleep.
  • Always place baby on a firm, flat surface (a crib mattress) for sleep. Baby swings and adult mattresses are not considered safe.
  • Always place your baby alone in the crib for sleep — no bumpers, no stuffed animals, no pillows, no blankets, nothing else.

As for clothing, this even means no hats, mittens, booties, or socks because they could fall off during sleep and block the baby’s airway.

Overheating is a risk factor for SIDS, so don’t dress your baby in too many layers that could keep them too warm for sleep. Light and breathable clothing with one safe swaddle or wearable blanket (more on that to come) will do. Use a fan or other temperature-control methods to heat or cool the room to a comfortable level instead of additional clothing.

Swaddled sleeping baby in a bed
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Helping the startle reflex

Newborn babies are often swaddled, and this is perfectly safe. It helps babies feel like they did in the womb instead of exposed with nothing hugging them. By keeping their arms at their body, it also helps avoid the Moro reflex, which can cause a baby to startle when their arms are outstretched. They usually grow out of this reflex by 3 to 6 months old, and swaddling is usually only recommended until they are able to roll over (a 4- to 6-month skill).

To swaddle a baby, you can use a blanket or a swaddler. Usually, you lay the baby on the swaddling cloth, tuck one arm in and then the other, then wrap the rest of the cloth around the whole baby, and end by securing the cloth in some way (tucking it in to itself or using the provided Velcro or other mechanism of the swaddler). This video provides a tutorial, and the following list includes our favorite swaddle blankets. The material of the blanket should be light, just like any clothing.

While the whole point of a swaddle is to wrap the baby up so it feels secure, you still don’t want it overly tight. Think “snug.”

Keeping comfy

Of course, you also want your baby to feel as comfortable as possible so that they’ll be happy and stay asleep. Besides the temperature concerns addressed already, this also means the right diaper. Always put on a fresh diaper when laying a baby down to sleep, and if you are aiming for a longer stretch like overnight, you can try putting on a night diaper with extra absorbency or a diaper in the next size up for the same reason.

All newborn-baby sleep clothing should not be too tight and not too loose, meaning that a well-fitting onesie that doesn’t tug down on their shoulders or up on their diaper area but doesn’t sag off and slip over their shoulders will work perfectly. Don’t put leggings or other tight pants on for overnight comfort. Also, don’t add zippered hoodies, newborn hats, or anything else that could slip over your baby’s face. All they should need is the swaddle as the blanket over something simple like footie pajamas, a onesie, or a bodysuit.

Footie pajamas work well for cold weather because they cover the whole body except the hands, neck, and head, and they can be a nice fleece material. For warm weather, just a short-sleeve onesie may be enough along with the swaddle (or even nothing but a diaper under the swaddle).

As with everything with newborns, keep reevaluating as they grow. It’ll be a matter of weeks until they need a different wearable blanket instead of a swaddle, they might end up hating footie pajamas and wanting their feet free, and you may find that a certain swaddle works better to get them in and out of the crib for overnight diaper changes in the dark. Keep experimenting and remember that more restful sleep for both of you is around the corner.

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