How to Transition Your Baby Out of the Swaddle
I’m a big fan of swaddling your newborn. Swaddling helps to recreate that snug and secure feeling that your baby came to know and love when they were tight and cozy inside of you. But all good things must come to an end, and so too does your time using the swaddle. This can be a nerve-wracking time for many parents whose babies have gotten used to sleeping soundly in their little burrito outfit. But even though dropping the swaddle can feel very daunting, it doesn’t have to be disruptive, and I promise your baby can still sleep well without it. Here’s everything you need to know:
When should we stop swaddling?
While there isn’t a hard and fast age that applies to every baby, I recommend making the transition from the swaddle between 8-12 weeks. There are two reasons for this:
One of the reasons swaddling is important for newborns is because it dampens the moro (startle) reflex and allows babies to sleep more peacefully. This reflex usually goes away between 3-6 months and I have found that keeping your baby swaddled much beyond 12 weeks delays the disappearance of that reflex and actually disrupts sleep further. Unswaddling also allows your baby the freedom to practice rolling while is an important developmental milestone to master, especially as it relates to safe sleep.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) officially recommends that “when an infant exhibits signs of attempting to roll, swaddling should no longer be used.” Dr Moon, AAP member, says, “Given that we see deaths from babies who are swaddled and end up on their stomachs by 2-2½ months, I get really nervous when babies are swaddled past the age of 8 weeks.” Infants needs their hands and arms in order to push up from the mattress and reposition their heads so they can sleep safely.
How do we transition out of the swaddle?
There are a couple options here and which one you choose depends on where your baby is at developmentally.
If your baby is already showing signs of rolling, you must choose this option. If you choose to go “cold turkey” you will drop the swaddle completely move your baby straight into a sleep sack. My favorites include the Nested Bean Zen Sack (use code OHBABY15 for 15% off full-price items) and Sleeping Baby Inc’s Zipadee Zip.
If using a transitional approach, you will be dropping the swaddle over the course of 4-5 days which will give your baby a chance to ease into the change. Begin by swaddling snugly as normal but leaving one arm out. At the next sleep period, swap which arm is left out. Continue swapping back and forth per sleep period for 2-3 days at which point you can either transition to swaddling from the chest down and leaving both arms out or move to a sleep sack.
Will sleep fall apart?
Some babies will be completely unfazed by this transition while others will fight it tooth & nail. If your little one’s sleep does become disrupted, it’s important to continue to power forward. This transition needs to happen at some point, so backtracking is just prolonging the inevitable. As your baby gets used to sleeping with their arms free, their sleep will likely improve over the course of a week.
What else can we do to ease the transition?
Dropping the swaddle often coincides with the onset of independent rolling which is a skill we want to help our babies master quickly. Increase tummy time opportunities during the day to help strengthen your baby’s core, head, and neck and to encourage independent rolling. When babies are safely able to move themselves into their preferred sleep position, sleep improves (assuming they have foundational independent sleep skills, that is!)
If sleep wasn’t great to begin with or falls apart when you unswaddle, please reach out! Working together to solve the root of your sleep struggles will ensure your baby has the skills needed to keep sleeping soundly for life!
If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!