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Swaddling is a very natural thing to do and has been practiced for many years (hundreds, perhaps even thousands!). The warm, hug-like swaddle is highly effective for calming and comforting little ones.
But there comes a time when the wrap will no longer serve a purpose. If it’s that time for you and your baby, here’s how to transition out of a swaddle safely and easily.
When Is the Right Time to Transition Out of a Swaddle?
The easiest way to tell when your child is ready to make the move is when they start showing signs of being able to roll over by themselves. Once your baby can roll over, the next step is to push themselves up using their hands. If they’re swaddled, well, they can’t do that, and they’ll find themselves face-down on a mattress or carpet, which could be dangerous.
Another sign that your little one is ready to break free is that they’ll worm their way out of the swaddle bonds. If a tiny baby fights that hard to get free, you must know it’s time to do away with it.
There’s no specific age or date that’s the right one to transition out of a swaddle. Usually, it’s somewhere between four and six months, but this is different with every child. Watch the rolling, and the Houdini moves rather than their age, and you can’t go wrong with it.
This is the recommendation of the American Association of Pediatrics, too, although they mention that some babies will begin to roll over as early as two months. You’ll need to keep a close eye on your little one to catch when it happens.
You may wonder why you should ditch the swaddle at all if it’s so helpful for keeping your bundle of joy… Well, bundled and joyous. The many benefits of swaddling are widely known, but it’s meant to be a temporary measure to help your newborn get used to being in his or her new environment.
How to Transition Out of a Swaddle With Ease
Babies need gradual change, not monumental differences in routine or habits. This is precisely why we’re discussing how to transition out of a swaddle—in my opinion, at least, this should be a process, not a sudden action.
That being said, there are several ways of doing it—one a little faster than the others—so you can decide which one would work best for you and your child when the time comes. Whichever method you use, there are some general tips that could help make the process easier on both you and your little one:
- Create a healthy sleep environment for your baby (darkness and quiet).
- Switch the swaddle out with a (small) blankie, so your baby still has something to hold and get comfort from.
- Don’t keep popping in to check on them! This could be disruptive and ruin the natural process.
Gradual Transition Method
This is what I did with my own children, and it worked wonders. It takes a couple of weeks, but it’s fantastic for transitioning them comfortably and easily.
There are three stages to this method:
- Removing one arm from the swaddle.
- Removing both arms from the swaddle.
- Taking away the swaddle entirely.
Begin by removing one arm from the swaddle for nap times. This isn’t too drastic a change, so your baby should be quite okay with it. I recommend doing this for a couple of days, alternating arms.
After a few days (or weeks—this is up to you) of this one-armed bandit style, start doing naps with both arms out. Let your baby sleep like this for about the same amount of time as they did with one arm out.
Then you can move on to letting them sleep overnight with both arms out. After some time, you can remove the swaddle altogether. Remember to use a “transition object”—a blanket or plush toy that baby can hold onto while their arms are free, for a bit of stability and comfort.
Quick Transition Method
This is a bit of a hybrid between the gradual method and going cold turkey. Instead of doing it one arm at a time, you’ll simply take the swaddle away entirely for naps.
Allow your baby to self-settle for their first swaddle-free nap. If they’re fussy, you can settle them, but be careful not to get them too used to that. Swaddle your little one like usual for their overnight sleep.
Keep this up for a few days, until they’re perfectly happy sleeping without it. Then once they’ve become used to this, do the same overnight.
Partial Night Method
If you’re little one still isn’t rolling, you can try the partial night method. Start by putting them to sleep without the swaddle. Alternatively, you can try them with their arms out.
Once they wake and won’t settle easily, place the swaddle on with arms inside for the rest of the night. Try to get them to sleep longer each night without the swaddle until eventually, they don’t need it.
Although I wouldn’t recommend this method, it may work for some. You know your baby best, after all.
You’ll need to be prepared for some fussiness and unhappiness at the change in the beginning. The hug-like feeling your babe is used to is no longer there, and it will most likely feel a little strange and worrying.
But they will adjust, whether it’s after one night or four. This may be a better option for babies who are already good at self-soothing. It’s a good idea to move from a swaddle into a sleep sack.
Some other options, if you’d prefer something a little different, include:
- Using a swaddle strap. This is a sort of “half-swaddle” that restricts the baby’s arms but lets their legs be free.
- A sleep sack. This is closer to a traditional swaddle than a swaddle strap but allows for extra room around your baby’s feet, so their hips aren’t restricted.
- Play white noise in the background if it helps.
There’s quite a lot of conflicting information out there, and it can be terribly confusing for new moms who want to do best for their little one. Who do you listen to? What’s right and what’s wrong? How do you know the difference?
I wanted to answer some of the most common swaddling questions, and I’ve included some links to authority sites, so you know the information comes from reliable sources.
Can a Swaddle Cause SIDS?
According to studies, swaddling presents a minimal risk, though there’s a slight risk associated with SIDS in regards to overheating and unwrapping.
Swaddling is just one of many factors under the SIDS umbrella. There are many other precautions parents could take in order to minimize the risk, and removing the swaddle when your baby begins to show signs of rolling is only one of them.
The only time you DO have to worry is if you’re placing your baby on their side or stomach to sleep. A study showed that the risk of sudden infant death syndrome rose in these cases.
If your baby is sleeping on their back and has no chance of rolling over onto their stomach yet, then by all accounts, using a swaddle is safe!
Can a Swaddle Hurt My Baby?
It’s all about how you position your baby’s legs when you swaddle them. Straight legs are not advised, contrary to logic!
You want your baby’s legs to be slightly bent at the knee and slightly angled outwards. Imagine yourself sitting with your legs straight out on the floor in front of you, and your child comes and sits in between them. That slight outward flex you would do to keep your legs around them is what your baby should have.
Another tip is not to keep your infant swaddled for an extended period of time. Keeping the legs in the same position for a long time can not only be uncomfortable for your child (and they won’t be able to tell you!), but it also inhibits the hips’ ability to grow and develop the way they should. It also increases the chances of hip dysplasia (dislocation).
To get around this potential issue, it’s recommended to use a sleep sack that allows for plenty of room around the legs, or to swaddle your baby tightly on the top but looser on the bottle. The more their legs can move, the better.
Can I Transition Out of a Swaddle Earlier?
If your baby isn’t showing any sign of rolling over yet, they can still transition out of a swaddle. It’s a comfort thing, essentially, so it’s not necessary to keep using it if you (or your baby) don’t want to.
In the same vein, if you’re swaddling and your baby is heading towards (or past) the six-month mark and hasn’t shown any indication of rolling over yet, you don’t need to transition out of the swaddle yet.
Every baby is different. Those born prematurely, especially, may take longer to reach the rolling over milestone than others. If your little one was born right on time and still isn’t rolling at six or seven months, it’s worth mentioning to your healthcare provider, but there’s not necessarily a reason to worry.
Is It Okay If I Don’t Swaddle My Baby?
Some babies are perfectly happy never to be swaddled. Remember, they’re little humans and, just like big ones, they have their own preferences and ways of dealing with things. Some are just more laid-back than others.
If your child shows signs of not wanting to be in a swaddle, then it’s not a problem if you leave them out of it. It’s all about personal preference.
Why Does Swaddling Work to Calm Babies?
Before babies are born, they’re nestled in a warm, soft bubble. They’re comfy and happy, apart from feeling a little cramped! When they’re born, that changes.
They’re thrust into a loud, busy environment, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, they no longer have that subtle, buoyant pressure around them, cradling them. They’re suddenly a tiny, helpless thing in a vast world.
Swaddling a baby helps to recreate that feeling of being nestled, warm, and hold close—just as they were in the womb. If you’ve ever used a weighted blanket to relieve anxiety, it’s exactly the same principle.
There’s also a thing called the Moro reflex, or grasp reflex. Have you noticed that when you lay your baby down, their arms naturally come up as if to grab onto you? This is a natural instinct—an ancient evolutionary mechanism that keeps little ones from falling. Babies can also feel a falling sensation in certain sleep stages.
A swaddle can help eliminate that falling feeling by making your bundle of joy feel safe and secure, and as if they’re being held in mom’s arms all night long.
What Kind of Swaddle Is Best?
When shopping for a swaddle, keep the following in mind:
- Choose a breathable natural fabric—synthetic materials can cause overheating and potential problems.
- Make sure it’s simple to use. You’ll most likely be swaddling and unswaddling in the middle of the night, when you’re tired, and in a rush, so the easier, the better.
- Get a swaddle that’s right for your little one’s size and age.
Don’t worry that the transition out of a swaddle will be hard for your baby. It may be a little strange for them at first, but they’re just learning early how to adapt to change.
As with all things baby, it’s a process. But when it’s time, it’s time. Leaving the swaddle behind simply means that your little one is growing up, and there are many lovely moments to look forward to with your child.