Have you ever thought about what a jarring experience it must be for an infant to go from its mother’s womb straight to the outside world? It’s so bright, loud, and cold!
This is one of the primary reasons for swaddling a baby; it helps recreate the warmth and comfort of the home mommy provided for 9 months. This often helps settle a fussy baby and promote much needed rest (for both of you).
Another reason to swaddle is something called Moro reflex – also known as the startle reflex.
Have you ever seen a young baby get startled? They look like a tiny tree frog with their arms and fingers flung wide open. It’s not just an adorable baby quirk, it’s a baby’s involuntary response to sudden stimulation.
Moro reflex is present in newborns and typically goes away when the newborn baby is about 4 months old.
Moro reflex can wake your baby if (s)he experiences a sudden feeling of falling while sleeping. It happens more than you’d think!
By swaddling your baby, you’re preventing that reflex from causing their arms to shoot out the side, thus waking him/her.
Why Do Parents Stop Swaddling Their Babies
There are several reasons you might consider putting an end to the traditional swaddling phase, precious and snuggly though it may be!
If you’re not sure what to look for, here are a few indicators that it’s time to stop swaddling.
Time to Roll
Is your baby starting to roll as of recent? The biggest indicator it’s time to consider transitioning is when baby starts to show signs of rolling over from back to belly. Babies need to be able to protect their airway should they roll over in the middle of the night or nap time.
Of course, it’s wonderful when baby starts rolling onto their belly, and you want to encourage development. That’s what tummy time is for! This milestone typically occurs somewhere around 3 or 4 months.
It goes without saying that every baby is different, and yours could be a little ahead or behind on that scale. Just remember to keep an eye out for signs your little one is ready to rock n’ roll!
This is a medical condition that can develop in infants when their legs are held in an extended position. Not good!
Improper swaddling is believed to be a contributing factor to hip dysplasia and is something every parent should be aware of.
If you notice one of your baby’s legs looks abnormal (i.e. turned outward, appears shorter than the other, etc.) contact your child’s pediatrician immediately.
You want to make sure when you swaddle your baby that both legs are somewhat free and not constricted in a straightened position.
You may want to think about transitioning out of the swaddle routine when the weather gets warm. Obviously, swaddling keeps your little one nice and cozy, which is wonderful when it’s chilly outside. But that’s not what you want once things warm up.
If your baby’s room tends to get toasty in the summertime, you might shoot for that time to drop the swaddle.
Keep this in mind because according to Mayo Clinic, overheating can increase the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in babies.
Keep an eye on your little one when they sleep and observe them for a while.
Are they in deep sleep, just lying there like the angels they are, barely moving or causing any fuss? Then good – chances are they’re enjoying their swaddle.
If you notice an increase in your baby’s activity and movement during sleep, though, and/or they manage to take one/both arms out of their swaddle without your help, then it might be time for you to give this up once and for all and kick off the transitional phase.
If your little one constantly wakes up crying in the middle of the night, this could mean the swaddle isn’t soothing them much anymore.
Another reason to transition out of swaddling is so that your child doesn’t become too dependent on it in order to sleep.
The 3 to 4-month range is a good goal because if you try to stop swaddling before then, you still risk Moro reflex waking your baby. But unless you plan to swaddle your 4-year-old, you’ve got a certain window of time to work within!
As with anything in a baby’s routine, you want to encourage healthy habits and not draw out those that won’t be healthy in the long run.
Once Moro reflex is no longer a concern, you’re really just swaddling because it’s what your baby is used to. Now don’t get me wrong, you do not want to mess with a baby’s sleep routine!
That’s why you’ll need a plan to slowly phase out the swaddle blanket. Keep reading!
When Should I Stop Swaddling My Baby?
This is going to vary from one baby to another, as no two babies out there are exactly alike in terms of physical development and the circumstances they’re put in at the time.
With that being said, though, most babies tend to transition out of swaddling between the ages of 4 months to 6 months.
Again, don’t be too worried if your baby still needs their swaddle beyond the age of 4 to 6 months. Many babies continued to swaddle and made a successful transition out of it at the age of 9 months.
How to Stop Swaddling Your Baby
The key to kicking the swaddling habit is to do it slowly, regardless of which method you decide to use. Trying to rush this without much of a properly thought-out plan beforehand is not going to help.
Below you’ll find several approaches to transition your baby out of swaddling, each with a product that will make the change that much easier for both you and the little one.
A Note: Be consistent and use these techniques both at night and at naptime! Inconsistency will just have you running in endless circles.
One Limb at a Time
This approach is perhaps the most gentle and the most effective. Plus, it’s super simple. Who doesn’t love an easy fix?
Step one: The idea is simply to remove one of baby’s arms (leave the other arm and baby’s torso wrapped like you’ve always done) from the swaddle and leave it free for the night. You’ll do this for 1-2 weeks.
Step two: Assuming step one went well, remove the second arm so that both arms are free. When both arms are free, you’ll continue to wrap the torso so baby still feels embraced and comfortable. Do this for another 1-2 weeks, then your baby should be adjusted enough to leave swaddling behind!
3-Way Adjustable Swaddle
These 3 way swaddle blankets are perfect for the one-limb method, but really any kind of swaddling or swaddle transition! They can be used in the three following ways:
- Completely swaddled (both arms in)
- One arm out (one arm in)
- Both arms out (torso wrapped)
The velcro around the middle allows the child’s midsection to always be wrapped, even if one or both arms are out.
You can continue to use this sleeper even when the baby no longer prefers the comfort of swaddling; simply wrap the velcro loosely so that baby’s torso is not “hugged.”
All At Once
We wouldn’t recommend you stop swaddling cold turkey, but sometimes it’s the easiest way to do it – at least on your end.
This approach doesn’t allow for the transitional period, but sometimes this is the best – and only – effective option out there for your little burrito! You know your baby better than we do.
Newborn Sleep Sack
When you are finally finished swaddling – whether you’re using one of these methods, or you’re quitting cold turkey – we recommend using a baby sleep sack.
The one listed here is made of muslin, which is great for warmer weather. They can also be made with thicker fabrics, like fleece, for cooler temperatures.
You can switch your child to sleeping bags any time, or try that combined with the next method.
The Upside-Down ‘U’
This is another easy, low-cost option that is an excellent replacement for swaddling. Your baby will still feel cradled and comforted, but there are no loose fabrics that could cover his/her face over the course of the night.
Step one: Roll up two towels and tie them together with a string or rubber band.
Step two: Curve the towels into a ‘U’ shape, and place that under the crib sheets so that baby’s head rests in the curve (but not so that the fabric presses into his/her face).
Alternative option: Secure the ends of a pool noodle together and place it under the sheet. Again, you’re going for the upside down ‘U’ shape. Just make sure the arrangement is comfortable for your little one to sleep on.
In this approach, you’ll gradually loosen the swaddle so you can phase it out more subtly.
It’s important to remember that you never allow the wearable blanket to become so baggy that baby’s arms could break free, leaving a loose blanket in the crib. This could increase your child’s risk of SIDS.
Make sure you loosen the swaddle only incrementally over the course of 1-2 weeks. After this time you can remove the swaddle altogether.
Velcro Swaddle Wrap
The Velcro swaddle wrap is similar to the 3-way wrap, except it is not as functional once you’re totally finished swaddling.
It’s great for the “loosen up” method because you have more control over how tightly you swaddle. Also, because the fabric is velcroed down, there’s less danger of it coming unswaddled!
Other Useful Tips To Keep In Mind
Besides everything we’ve mentioned in the sections above, keep in mind the following tips that will maximize the chances of success when the time comes for you to stop swaddling your baby.
White Noise Machines
Have you taken advantage of white noise for babies yet? Do you know how easy (much easier than usual, at least) white noise machines make it for your little munchkin to fall asleep in no time? Or are you yet to explore this magical world?
If you haven’t yet, now would be a great time to begin introducing and exposing your baby to white noise machines during sleep time.
They do an incredible job at relaxing your little prince (or princess) and priming them for sleep, and take their mind off of the fact that they now no longer have a swaddle to be tucked inside.
Make Use Of Pacifiers
Having your little one suck on a pacifier is also a great way to take their mind off the fact they now no longer sleep while swaddled.
Just make sure they don’t sleep with the pacifier in their mouth, because that causes tooth damage with time and puts their safety at risk.
Give your baby one less reason to be fussy about no longer being swaddled by making sure their room is nice and cozy – not too hot and not too cold at any given point in time when they’re trying to get some quality infant sleep.
This is especially important if you’ve been swaddling your baby during summertime and are now trying to phase that out.
Give Your Baby The Time They Need
Last but not least, make sure you give your baby all the time in the world they need to get used to the change and successfully make it through this transition.
Trying to rush the transition is only going to make you stressed, which rubs off on them and stresses them out as well – and from there on, good luck trying to get things fixed!
You and I need time to get used to changes like this; think about how you feel when you change your mattress, get a new pillow because the old one no longer feels as good, or have to sleep in another bed in a different room altogether for a while.
It’s not easy. We need time to adapt and get used to these changes, and it makes complete sense that baby needs time to adapt just as well.
Wrapping it Up
Gosh, who knew wrapping your baby would be so complicated!
Safe swaddling is a wonderful way to make your baby feel secure and cozy when you’re not there to give the snuggles.
It helps keep them in a deep and baby safe sleep, but after about 4 months of age it really is no longer necessary and you can phase it out.
Remember that there is no exact timeline or procedure to follow for this or any other parenting topic. It is not necessary to purchase any extra products, but there are several options that could simplify the process for you and make your life easier.
You may have to play around with different methods to find exactly what your kiddo needs to be comfortable. It could mean a few sleepless nights (don’t you just love it when your baby starts sleeping through the night?) and more coffee than you’re comfortable with. As always, stay flexible!