Swaddling is a great way to keep newborns safe while mimicking their feelings of warmth when in the womb. It also helps them avoid being awoken by the Moro reflex (aka the startle reflex). With that said, it’s important to know when to stop swaddling your baby so that you can be prepared with new and different ways to get your little one to sleep safely.
The key timeframe to stop swaddling your baby depends primarily on their activity, but age should be a consideration. As soon as your baby starts to roll over, it is time to transition them out of the swaddle. Typically, this occurs between two to four months, but every baby is different. If your baby is not rolling by four months, I recommend transitioning at this time to help promote that milestone.
Moreover, being in a swaddle at this age and stage of development can increase your baby’s risk of SIDS.
Around this time, your baby becomes strong enough to break free of their swaddle. Once they get their arms free from the blanket, it becomes a risk of suffocation.
Even if your baby has yet to roll over, it might be time to transition out of the swaddle. It is good for their development to have their arms free. Babies older than 12 weeks tend to sleep better without the tight wrap of a swaddle. But the primary sign is when your baby rolls and is nearing 3.5 months old.
As a pediatric sleep consultant, I’ve seen that if a baby is being swaddled for longer, it can potentially make the baby more prone to waking up later on because they have become accustomed to the feeling of the swaddle.
The transition from swaddling looks different for every baby. Some babies might do okay if you simply stop using the swaddle cold turkey if they aren’t terribly attached to their swaddle. If your little one is comfortable in their swaddle, however, here are a few steps you can follow to start to transition away from it slowly:
Give your baby some freedom by continuing to use the swaddle, but leave one arm out. The other should be tightly swaddled close to their body as usual. You can choose to leave either hand out, but most parents prefer to leave the hand the baby sucks on most frequently.
Once your baby gets used to sleeping with just one arm out for a few days, transition to both arms out. Wrap the swaddle close to their chest and torso, but allow them free range of movement with both of their arms. Some parents start at this step.
With a standard swaddle that has the baby’s arms down beside them or at their chest, another great product that can help with this transition is a sleep sack. While I don’t recommend transitional products, some sleep sacks that cover the baby’s arms (such as the Love to Dream Swaddle Up) are good choices because they have the ability to zip off one of the wings giving your baby access to one or both of their arms. They provide that same snug feeling and help if the baby accidentally rolls over in the middle of the night. You could also try a basic sleep sack (also known as a wearable blanket) to see how your baby does with it.
The good news is that you can continue swaddling your little one for a while longer if you leave their arms out. The tightness of the swaddle around their chest area leaves them with that same snug and comforting feeling, promoting better sleep. However, if they do roll over, they will have a better chance of rolling back with hands and arms free.
Many parents worry that removing the swaddle will disrupt their sleep. This is true in some cases, but some solutions help.
Transitioning out of a swaddle can be frustrating for babies and parents, who are just as tired. Remember that this is a process. Give yourself some grace as you and your baby figure out what will work for them to get a good night of rest. If you need a little assistance, consider one-on-one coaching or group coaching from a sleep expert. They support new parents and their little ones so everyone can get the peaceful and safe sleep they deserve.
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