Last updated January 7th, 2021
Ah swaddling! A miracle for parents for making their baby sleep for long and undisturbed. But, as all good things come to an end, sadly, you’ll have to say so long to the swaddle phase too. Many parents who want to instill a sleeping pattern in their children are often riddled about when you can stop swaddling your baby. Well, when should you and when can you stop swaddling are both different. You can stop swaddling your baby anytime you want because after all, you’re the mother and you’ll know what’s best for your kid. But, you should stop swaddling your baby when a few conditions are met.
You can try to stop swaddling your baby when she turns 2 months old. As this might be too young for most kids, you can try stopping the swaddling phase by 3 or 4 months. This is the time when she’ll start rolling from back to tummy and if her hands are restrained, she won’t be able to lift herself when she’s head down on the mattress, and thus blocking her airway. But, if your child shows signs of rolling before the age of 3 months, you should gently start transitioning her out of the swaddle and into a sleep sack with her arms free. The general rule of thumb that your baby shouldn’t be swaddled other than the signs of rolling are- if she starts wriggling multiple times out of the swaddle during her sleep, if she wakes up again and again and demands for more mobility of her arms, or if she has decreased or no Moro reflex. You can slowly transition your baby out of the swaddle by going cold turkey or placing one arm out, then slowly two arms out, and then, use a sleep sack or a wearable blanket.
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What is swaddling and why do you swaddle a baby?
The first time you must’ve seen your baby being swaddled was by the nurse right after the delivery. Swaddling is a traditional practice where the baby’s body is wrapped up like a burrito to make them feel calm and sleep.
Newborn babies love to be snug-as-a-bug in the early days of their life, and it’s also a boon for a mother to swaddle their baby in their fourth trimester (1-3months old baby) as this helps baby to feel warm and cozy like they felt inside the womb.
Swaddling your baby in the early couple of months of life helps them to make the transition to the big wide world smoothly. It relaxes their anxiety and helps them sleep without waking up often. All babies are born with a startle reflex, a.k.a Moro reflex and babies often will startle in their sleep and wake themselves up.
By swaddling your baby, it will make them feel secure and are less likely to be startled in their sleep.
When should I stop swaddling?
Well, not every parenting question has a straightforward answer, and there’s no hard-and-fast rule as to when exactly should you stop swaddling your baby. The average age to stop swaddling is between 3 to 4 months of age. This is when they start to roll intentionally from their back to tummy.
Although, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends stopping swaddling your baby by the end of 8 weeks as some babies start to roll early. Bidding farewell to your baby’s swaddle should happen around this time.
Some babies like swaddling even past 6, 7, 8 or even 9 months while some will gain more mobility and will resist being restrained in the swaddle. Once your baby starts getting more mobile, confining them into the swaddle can prevent her from practising motor skills which could be bad for her development.
My little one would love to be swaddled; it made him feel so calm and secure, and he would sleep peacefully. But, soon, he started to resist and wriggle his way out of the swaddle, and I knew then that I need to make him sleep freely.
3 Signs that your baby is ready to stop being swaddled
There are 3 major signs that your baby will indicate to show that they’re ready to stop being swaddled. It’s not necessary that your baby will show all the 3 signs, but you’ll be able to make out from any of the sign portrayed by the baby.
1. Your baby has started rolling over from back to tummy
In the first few months, you swaddle your baby and place her on her back in the crib (safety measures) and when she wakes up, you’ll find her exactly in that place. But, as soon as they learn how to roll, it becomes exciting for them and will try to roll intentionally, after they wake up or maybe in their sleep, on to their tummy, this becomes a huge risk factor of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Your baby once onto their tummy while being swaddled wouldn’t be able to push her head above, and this will block her airway. So, as a precaution, as soon as you see signs of your baby learning to roll, stop swaddling her.
This can happen as early as 2 months or between 3 to 5 months of age.
2. Your baby starts to escape/wriggle out of the swaddle
Have you got yourself a little Harry Houdini, who’s trying to break out as soon as you try to swaddle them? Well, this is a double-edged sword. Either your baby has gained more mobility in their arms and legs, and is aware of being swaddled and not like the feeling or the swaddle is not doing its job properly.
If this happens at the age of 1 or 2 months, it is mostly because the swaddle is not good. At this age, your baby’s Moro reflex is still strong, and the swaddle keeps getting loose, which makes your baby try to get out of the swaddle.
Either way, this is dangerous because there’s a loose blanket on your baby while she sleeps. Not only she can bring the swaddle on her face and be not able to breathe properly but roll onto her tummy while the blanket is on her head and smothers her.
3. Your baby keeps waking up multiple times in her sleep
Your baby, who has a history of peacefully sleeping at night, is waking up multiple times is one of the major sign that she doesn’t like being swaddled anymore.
Up until this point, she loved being cozy and snug in the swaddle but after you see her waking up multiple times and being uncomfortable and restless in the swaddle, then know that it’s time to say goodbye to the swaddle miracle from your life.
How do I transition my baby out of the swaddle
It can be tough for both you and your baby to make this transition and remember that it will take time for your baby to adjust to a new way of sleeping.
There are a few different methods you can try and see what works best for you and your baby (and everyone can sleep peacefully!)
Cold turkey method
Sometimes it’s better to just ‘rip the band-aid off’ and move on. Many parents I know tried out this method, while it worked wonderfully for some and other not so much (a lot of crying took place!)
If you think that your baby is not too attached to the swaddle, then you can try making her sleep on her back without being swaddled. Your baby may not mind at all to this transition but do expect a little pushback from your child because they don’t know why are you doing this to them.
One arm out of the swaddle
Knowing that any transition can be challenging especially if a baby has to do it, then you can slowly transition her by placing one arm out of the swaddle at night. You can practice this for 3 – 4 nights and see how your baby reacts to it.
Take note which hand do they suck more after you remove them from the swaddle, and leave that hand out. This is considered safe even when your baby has started rolling and good to combat the startle reflex as one arm is still tucked in.
Two arms out of the swaddle
After your baby properly adjusts to the ‘one arm out’ technique, try keeping both the arms out of the swaddle for a week. You can skip the above step and go directly to ‘two arms out of the swaddle’ method.
Even with both the arms out of the swaddle, your baby will still feel secure and calm with the feeling of tightness from the swaddle around their chest. This will make your baby sleep peacefully and will let you slowly transition her out of the swaddle. You can continue swaddling her with both her arms out even if she starts rolling since she’ll be able to use both of her hands.
Use the Wearable blanket
The AAP recommends that babies be dressed in a wearable blanket for sleeping safely throughout their first year. Your baby will still feel snugly and cozy in her wearable blanket and have her arms free to move around.
All in all, start paying attention to your babies cues. If you start to notice any of the above signs your baby is showing, remember that it’s time to start the transition process soon. All babies are different so take decisions accordingly that suits your baby. Not every baby starts rolling onto their tummy at the age of 2 months, so make sure that you don’t stop swaddling your baby too soon. Some babies might not start rolling early and know that it’s perfectly alright; all babies are different, and so are their timings of achieving the milestones. As long as baby is happy and feels secure being a baby burrito and not rolling yet, there’s no need to stop swaddling.
The transition from the swaddle to a sleep blanket takes time and patience, so don’t rush into it. Your little one is still quite new to this outer world, and she needs you to help her out to make this transition smoothly.
Meanwhile, be patient and give warm hugs and kisses to your little one.
Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not running after her kid, Kelin is busy reading, travelling, and penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best’.