Swaddling: When to Stop and How to Transition
When to Stop Swaddling Your Baby
September 4, 2020

When to Stop Swaddling Your Baby

When to Stop Swaddling Your Baby.
When to Stop Swaddling Your Baby

If you’re like a lot of new parents, you’ve probably figured out that swaddling can be a great way to calm your baby and even eek out a few hours of extra sleep. But how will you know when it’s time to stop? And what comes next?

Knowing what to look for when it’s time to leave the swaddle behind and learning how to successfully transition out of swaddling—and how to figure out what comes next—can be really helpful as your baby grows.

What Is Swaddling?

If you’ve ever seen a baby wrapped up like a tiny little burrito, then you’re more familiar with swaddling than you may think. Swaddling is a way of wrapping a blanket around your little one snugly enough so they can’t wriggle their way out. Lots of parents learn to swaddle right after their baby is born from the nurses in the hospital. When done properly, it’s a safe and effective way to soothe and comfort a newborn.

Why Swaddle a Baby

There are a few reasons for swaddling your baby:

  • Swaddling helps your baby feel safe and secure. A snug swaddle mimics the tight feeling your infant felt in the womb.
  • Swaddling your baby helps prevent their startle reflex. The startle reflex, technically known as the Moro reflex, is a reflex your baby is born with. You’ll know it’s happening when you see your newborn’s arms or legs jerk suddenly in their sleep. It’s totally normal, and your baby will eventually grow out of it, but it’s also a common cause of newborn wakeups.
  • Swaddles replace loose blankets in the crib. A swaddle keeps your baby warm without the suffocation risk of a loose blanket in your little one’s sleep space.

Benefits of Swaddling

There’s a reason (lots of them, actually) that many parents choose to swaddle. Swaddling is also endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as long as it’s done correctly.

Some of the benefits of swaddling include:

  • Longer stretches of sleep.
  • A way to calm the startle reflex.
  • Helping your newborn calm down and feel snug and secure.
  • A great way to practice safe sleep practices and avoid loose blankets in the crib.

Newborn Swaddle vs. Sleepsack Swaddle

There are several different types of swaddles: traditional swaddle blankets, two-in-ones and sleep sacks.

Traditional swaddle blankets are large, thin blankets. They’re usually made from a stretchy, soft and breathable fabric like muslin, cotton or bamboo.

Two-in-one swaddles make swaddling a little bit easier. They often come with features like zippers, snaps or Velcro that help make the swaddling process faster and help keep the swaddle more secure. They also let you wrap your little one snugly or leave their arms out.

A sleep sack is like a tiny sleeping bag for your baby. Also called a wearable blanket, a sleepsack swaddle is usually made from cotton, fleece or wool and features zippers or snaps for easy on and off. Lots of parents choose to transition from a traditional swaddle to a sleepsack swaddle as their baby gets older.

How to Swaddle a Baby

Swaddling your baby can seem intimidating, especially the first few times you do it. But as with most things, practice makes perfect, and the more you swaddle the better—and faster—you’ll become.

If you’re using a traditional swaddle blanket, you’ll want to follow these simple steps for a “down, up, down, up” swaddle:

  • Lay out your swaddle blanket on a soft, flat surface.
  • Fold the top corner of the blanket down to form a triangle. If you’re using a large swaddle, you can fold it all the way down; if your swaddle blanket is smaller, you can fold it part way.
  • Set your baby down face-up on the triangle so the top of their shoulders is resting on the edge of the swaddle.
  • Tuck one arm down gently against baby’s side. Once that arm is tucked, bring the corner of the swaddle (from that same side) over and tuck it under baby’s body on the opposite side.
  • Bring the tail of the swaddle up to baby’s shoulder and tuck it behind their body.
  • Take baby’s other arm and tuck it down against their side, then bring the corner of the swaddle over and tuck it under baby’s body. The top of the swaddle should resemble a v-neck under baby’s chin.
  • Take any leftover fabric and wrap it around your little one once more.

A few tips to keep in mind when swaddling:

  • Go for tight, but not too tight. In order for your swaddle to be effective and for it to stay in place, it needs to be tightly wrapped around your baby—but you don’t want it too tight. Try to find a happy balance between snug and secure versus constricting.
  • Keep hips loose. Swaddling your baby too tightly can lead to hip dislocation or hip dysplasia (an abnormal formation of the hip joint). Make sure your baby’s legs are able to bend up and out while in a swaddle in order to prevent this. (Per the AAP, you’re looking for about two or three fingers between the baby’s chest and the swaddle.) You can learn more about hip-healthy swaddling here.
  • Power through the fuss. Some babies remain really calm while being swaddled while others…don’t. Power through! The majority of newborns love being swaddled, even if they don’t love the process of getting there. Be gentle but firm.
  • Back is best. Always place your baby to sleep on their back—whether they’re swaddled or not. This can help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

How Long Do You Swaddle a Baby?

One of the most common questions new parents have is how long they can continue to safely swaddle their baby. It’s important to know what signs to look for to let you know the swaddling days are over as well as what age most babies make the transition.

The most important thing to pay attention to when you’re swaddling is your little one’s ability to roll over. As soon as you notice any signs that your baby is trying to roll over, it’s time to ditch the swaddle. That’s because a swaddled baby won’t have their arms free and will end up in a very unsafe sleep position if they roll over while swaddled.

Rolling happens at different times for different babies, but anywhere between about two months to four months old is the average.

You can also look for these signs from your little one that it’s time to move on from the swaddle:

  • Your baby is continuously breaking out of their swaddle during naps or overnight, including a free arm, leg or even entire body.
  • Your baby wakes up in a different position.
  • Your little one suddenly appears extra frustrated, uncomfortable, angry or unhappy in their swaddle.

When Does the Startle Reflex Go Away?

Another sign that it’s time to lose the swaddle: your baby’s startle reflex is a thing of the past. This usually happens between about three and six months of age.

Transitioning Out of a Swaddle

You’ve said goodbye to the swaddle—but now what? Transitioning out of the swaddle often instills a bit of fear in new parents. It’s tough to mess with anything around sleep and your newborn, but taking away something that you know helps them sleep better and longer? Yikes. Luckily there are a few tricks that will help make the transition go more smoothly than you’d think.

Best Transition Swaddle

If your little one isn’t showing signs of rolling over yet but is consistently breaking out of a traditional swaddle blanket, try a transition swaddle like Halo’s SleepSack Swaddle. This Velcro swaddle has multiple configurations and allows you to swaddle your baby’s arms either inside or outside.

Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit is another super popular—and super effective—transitional swaddle. The extra-thick layers of this zip-up suit provide just enough security to prevent baby’s startle reflex and keep them feeling comfortable and secure. Bonus: your baby will look like the cutest little marshmallow there ever was.

Sleepsack Swaddle

Many parents choose to transition their little ones to a sleep sack once the swaddle days are behind them. Much looser than a traditional swaddle, a sleep sack allows your older baby to move their arms and legs much more freely. It’s meant to be worn over pajamas and is a great choice for keeping older babies warm without putting a blanket in the crib.

Halo’s SleepSack Wearable Blanket is one of the best. It’s lightweight and affordable and unzips from the bottom for easy diaper changes.

Transition Tips

A few other tips for a smooth swaddle transition:

  • Try swaddling your baby with one arm in and one arm out for a few nights before ditching the swaddle altogether. This gradual method can help make the transition a bit easier.
  • Swaddle overnight only instead of during nights and naps. This may help your baby get used to being “free” as they sleep and will build up their tolerance to the openness they feel in their crib, just for a shorter amount of time.
  • Swaddle every other night. Continue this for about a week to see how they do; if you don’t really see a difference, you can likely stop swaddling altogether.

Alternatives to Swaddling

Swaddling works wonders for most babies, but it isn’t for everyone. Some babies seem to get more upset rather than less when they’re swaddled, while others seem continually frustrated by the close constraints swaddling provides and spend more time trying to break free than anything else. But don’t lose hope—there are a few alternatives to swaddling you can try.

  • Be sure you’re setting the stage for good sleep before you give up on swaddling altogether. Create a bedtime routine as early as possible and swaddle your baby in a completely dark room and consider adding white noise from a fan or a sound machine. You may also want to try swaddling your little one before they’re showing signs of being overtired; this can help combat fussiness and may decrease the chances of your little one putting up a fight.
  • If a traditional swaddle isn’t your thing (or your baby’s!), try a two-in-one or even a simple sleep sack. They’re easier to get on and off, and some babies respond well to them even in the newborn days. You can also try a different wrapping technique.
  • Try swaddles that are made from different materials and that are different levels of warmth. Sometimes a simple fix in temperature or texture makes all the difference with a sensitive baby.
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