Your baby goes through an infinite number of changes during the first year of life.
It’s no wonder we have to keep asking, “when do I have to change this?” and “how long should he be doing that?”
The question about the tried-and-true swaddle is certainly no exception.
Why should I swaddle at all?
Before we think about getting rid of this classic soothing technique, can we first look at all the benefits of swaddling?
There are so many!
- Baby will sleep longer and sounder.
- Swaddling helps keep baby in the back sleeping position. It also reminds us tired parents to place her on her back to sleep in the first place*
- Baby will experience less anxiety.
- Swaddling helps prevent unnecessary wakings caused by baby’s startle (or moro) reflex.
- Swaddling eliminates the need for comfort items in her crib (i.e. pillows, bumpers, blankets, stuffed animals – all which should not be used anyway as they have all been linked to SIDS).
- Baby won’t scratch her face while swaddled.
- It mimics touch, a sense that is very important for baby especially when she wakes up at night.
- Swaddling her in the “hands over heart” position is a preferred sleeping position as it allows baby to learn to self-soothe.
- It soothes babies with colic (we need all the tips we can get for calming our colicky babies, am I right?)
- A swaddled baby allows mom and dad to sleep more (when baby sleeps longer, so can we!)
*Always put baby on her back to sleep in the swaddle. Side or stomach to sleep increases the chance of SIDS even more so than an unswaddled baby. See here for more information.
In case baby’s not ready to be swaddle free, this is a great video about how to properly swaddle by a few medical professionals. A properly swaddled baby is a safely swaddled baby!
When should I stop swaddling?
There are a few signs that can clue you in that it’s time:
- Baby can roll onto her tummy. This puts her at risk for rolling over in the swaddle, which puts her at a greater risk of SIDS.
- Baby wiggles out of the swaddle frequently. Loose blankets are also a risk factor for SIDS. If this is the only sign you see and decide she’s just not ready to sleep unswaddled, then maybe switch to a safer swaddling blanket, such as the Miracle Blanket.
- Baby isn’t soothed by the swaddle anymore, or wakes in the night frequently.
If you really want to ask, “When can I stop swaddling?” the answer is very simple – whenever you want!
You know your baby and her needs better than anyone. Never doubt that. If that answer is simply too vague and you’re craving just a little more direction, the AAP and most pediatricians agree that 3-4 months old is the appropriate age to toss the swaddle aside.
However, it is not uncommon for babies to need the swaddle to sleep up to 9 months of age. The AAP advises this:
“After she reaches 2 to 3 months of age, swaddle her with one arm out.
If she gets fussier, continue wrapping (with both arms in) for a few more weeks. However, if she still sleeps well with one arm out, she probably doesn’t need swaddling any more.”
How do I stop swaddling? (and what’s the best way to go about it?)
Transitioning the little ones out of something that’s been a source of comfort and familiarity seems daunting.
Fortunately children are very resilient, and more often than not it’s harder for us to transition from these things than it is for them!
There are loads of ways you can get your little one away from the swaddle, and depending on your babe’s personality, some approaches will work great and others will be wildly rejected.
Make your life easier during this time and invest in a “cheater”, so-to-speak. There are some fabulous products that were invented to help moms and dads like us!
- The Baby Merlin Magic Sleepsuit. This one is great especially for the younger babies around 3 months. It has great padded material that is designed to “muffle” twitches from their startle reflex and make it easier for them to fall back asleep if woken. The makers of the Sleepsuit recommend transitioning out of this product once your little one can roll over, so if she’s at that point already I would look to a different product.
- The Woombie. The Convertible Woombie to be specific. This is probably my favorite swaddle product of all. Nothing makes me more excited to buy a product for my infant (but really for me) when it’s going to give me more time in my life. The Woombie is so easy to use and you could easily transition with either one arm out first or both arms out.
- The Zipadee-Zip. Talk about a CUTE thing to put your baby in! Also super easy to use, so I love it already.
- The Swaddle Strap. I had never seen this one before but it looks awesome. I love that the Swaddle Strap can be used easily on a hot summer night, which was always my least favorite part about swaddling during the summertime!
- The Halo Sleep Sack. A classic that you can buy almost anywhere! There’s the Original Sleep Sack which I would use for swaddling, and there’s the Wearable Blanket which is what I would use to transition out of the swaddle. It gives them that cozy feeling still but allows them to move around and get used to not being swaddled.
Pick your pace (or your baby’s pace).
Like everything else, you can either take a “cold turkey” approach or go more “slow and steady wins the race” when getting rid of the swaddle.
Note: If you attempt one of these approaches using one of the products listed above, the convertible woombie or the halo sleep sack would work the best.
I used these approaches with an old fashioned Muslin blanket. Either way will work great.
- Slow and Steady, however slow that means to you.
- For the first 1-2 nights, only swaddle one of baby’s arms.
- On nights 3-4, unswaddle the other arm so both arms are now free.
- Night 5 and beyond, remove the swaddle completely.
- You can ALWAYS modify how long each stage lasts depending on your little love and her receptivity to the change.
- Cold Turkey. Some parents love this approach and others find it too harsh. Like ripping off a band aid, this approach is usually quicker but more painful, for everyone involved. Follow your baby’s lead while remaining consistent.
- Turn your baby burrito into a baby taco.
- Take two rolled up blankets secured with rubber bands (or thin hair ties) and put them under her crib sheet on top of the mattress, parallel to each other. The blankets create an outer “shell” for your baby to be tucked into. This is a great way to keep your baby from rolling over and still allows her to feel snuggled.
- Using a breathable swaddle blanket, swaddle your baby the same way as always but looser to give her more wiggle room than before. Do this for about a week and then get rid of the swaddle completely.
Introduce another sleep association. Now is the perfect time to ease your little one into associating sleep or comfort with something other than the swaddle. A few great ways to soothe baby include:
- Using a pacifier. Of course there’s controversy about the pros and cons to using pacifiers, but they are safe to use and comforting for a lot of babies so it may make this time easier for both of you.
- Using a white noise machine. This can be a life saver for drowning out any noise that may startle the baby awake. My favorite white noise for baby is the heartbeat – she’ll think she’s sleeping right on your chest! It’s magical.
- Introducing a Lovey. This is another controversial item, so I will encourage use of this with Safety First in mind! A good lovey would be a small stuffed animal such as this one – small, easy to hold, with no beads or chokeable items attached to it.
- Keeping a comforting and cozy sleeping environment. This isn’t a sleep association but it will definitely help while you’re trying to get them used to sleeping without their previous source of comfort! Maintain the right room temperature so they don’t get too hot or too cold, keep the lights low, and avoid playing during bedtime.
- Keeping a regular sleep schedule. Get them into a bedtime ritual such as taking a bath, reading a story, bedtime prayers, etc. and getting them to sleep will automatically be easier to do.
Transitioning babies away from anything they’re used to and comfortable with is hard to do. Feel confident in this next endeavor of parenthood. And please let us know what worked and what didn’t work (if anything) in your baby’s transition out of the swaddle!
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