Swaddling a Baby: In our experience

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor.  Every baby is unique.  You should always check with yours before trying new techniques.  We were blessed with two very different children (one born 9 weeks early, one born one week late; one girl, one boy, just to highlight the differences).  So, we feel like we tried just about everything and this information is just what we learned from doing and using many different techniques and blankets with our own kids.  
Swaddling was a wonderful technique for our kids.  It  made them feel safe, secure, and warm.  This practice has a long history of helping babies (and mamas) be more comfortable and get some more sleep.  Besides, little babies look so cute when they are all wrapped up.

Chances are that at least one of the nurses in the hospital will show you how to swaddle your baby.  Ours did.  Don't be afraid to ask LOTS of questions and make sure that you are comfortable with this skill before you leave.  The nurses don't come home with you, so try to utilize the opportunity to learn some tips. If you aren't delivering in the hospital, the midwife, doula, or another experienced mama can surely show you too.  

Our oldest daughter spent almost a month in the NICU after making an early arrival.  Although that time was hard, we were able to have nurses around us all the time teaching us how to care for our new baby.  One of the most useful things they showed us was how to swaddle.  It is pretty easy if your blanket is the right size.  

General directions (at least what we do):
1. Lay your blanket out, diamond shaped, in front of you. 
2. Fold down the top corner.  How much you fold is not an exact science- we had to adjust this to make sure everything ended up snug on our babies.  With our preemie, we had to fold more so that the wings (right and left sides of the blanket) would wrap around her arms better and help keep her more secure.  
3. Lay your baby on the blanket with their shoulders lined up with the fold.
4. While holding baby's arm to their body (gently), wrap the blanket over them and tuck it in on the other side.  
5. Fold up the bottom flap and tuck it in under the first wing (some say to wrap it over the baby's exposed shoulder and tuck it under the baby's body, do what works for your baby). Be sure not to wrap baby's legs too tightly.   
6. Hold you baby's remaining arm to their body and then wrap the remaining wing around and under your baby.  
7. Stand back and see how cute they look and don't resist the urge to kiss them.  

When they are really little, I think they look a little like the old glow-worm toy.  

Our daughter needed her hand to touch her cheek or chin, so we would swaddle her and still let her have her little hand out.   Our son liked to be swaddled as a newborn, hated it for a little while, and then around 5 months started being unexplainably fussy.  After trying all else, I swaddled him.  It worked!  He was a big kid though (9 lbs 2 oz at birth), and only the biggest blankets we had would work.  

As a new parent, there are so many things to learn.  I hope this compilation of resources on swaddling  will help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  The AAP has recommendations and information on everything.  Here is their Guide for Parents: Swaddling 101.    
Video from BabyCenter.com on How to swaddle your baby

Here is a pictoral on swaddling Dr. Sears tip number 19 on the 31 WAYS TO GET YOUR BABY TO GO TO SLEEP AND STAY ASLEEP EASIER.  

BootCampForNewDads.org:  I just thought this site was a great overview on so many things baby.  You just may want to pass it along to a Daddy-to-be, or a Mommy-to-be.  Page 9 has an overview on swaddling.  

Store bought swaddling and receiving blankets typically are about 36" square, at least until you wash them.  There are even fancy-shmancy blankets available now with velcro and more, but they can be expensive and of little use after you are done swaddling or if your baby is a little older.  

HappyLittleMonkey Swaddling blankets are 40" x 40" so they are large enough to wrap around newborns and even bigger babies.  They are made from 100% cotton flannel and come in many patterns.  HLM Swaddlers are machine wash and dry, and ready to be used over and over again.  They come with a matching burp cloth for added cuteness.  It also helps mom feel a little more put together when it is time for visitors or to get out of the house.   

Swaddlers can be used for so much more.  They easily wrap up and can be tucked away in a diaper bag or purse to be used on the go.  The great size makes it a convenient shade over baby's carseat or stroller when walking into a store,  a nursing cover on the go, changing mats, play surfaces, and so much more. 

Now that my kids are getting bigger, they choose which ones come to bed with them and have even been known to double as superhero capes, picnic blankets, and tea party table cloths.   

Best of luck as you learn your own baby and what works for you!

NEW LINKS as of 12/11/11: International Hip Dysplasia Institute on Proper Swaddling (includes a video)
Mayo Clinic on How to Swaddle (Slide Show)