You know your baby needs good quality sleep. One strategy that works for many babies is swaddling. But as is true with many baby milestones, just as soon as you think you've finally gotten this sleeping routine down to an art, they start showing signs that make you wonder if it's time to stop swaddling your baby. You may not be ready to face that your baby's swaddling days are numbered (you've all been sleeping so well, after all!), but the truth is that your baby is growing and they're probably ready for the next step.
In this article we'll cover:
- the age when you should stop swaddling
- three major tell-tale signs that your little one is ready to transition out of their swaddle
- how to transition your baby out of their swaddle and into a sleep sack
- our top swaddle transition tips so everyone can get back to sleep ASAP
Your baby may be growing, but that doesn't mean that her sleep isn't just as important as it's always been. Knowing the best way to move your baby out of the swaddle can be tough to navigate which is why we, along with Lindsey McDonegal, M.A., of Little Lamb Childhood Sleep Consultants, are covering all of that for you here.
When Should You Stop Swaddling Your Baby?
You’ll find some suggestions that say you should stop swaddling at 2 months, but this is likely too soon for most babies. The Moro reflex, which we discuss here, is still prevalent at this age - meaning that arms wrapped up will continue to comfort your baby and help them sleep.
Instead, we encourage you to pay attention to developmental signs from your unique child about when should you stop swaddling. Try your best to avoid advice similar to, "Well, my son was 5 months old when he stopped swaddling and so that's what your baby should be doing, too." Ultimately, you'll be doing best by your baby by letting him show you when they're ready to move from the swaddle.
With that said, it's definitely nice to know when a new milestone might be heading your way. That way you can be prepared to know about how long you should swaddle your baby.
You can expect your baby to show signs that they are ready to stop swaddling between 3 and 5 months of age.
But the “right” age is different for every baby. It’s normal for your baby to show these signs sooner or later than that 3-5 months. If it's later - don't worry! As long as baby is happy and safe in their baby burrito (not rolling yet), there is no reason to stop swaddling.
Now let's get into those signs that your baby is ready to drop that swaddle.
3 Signs It’s Time to Stop Swaddling Your Baby
There are 3 main signs to look out for to determine if your baby is ready to move out of his swaddle. You’re not looking for a combination of all three, all it takes is noticing one sign to know a wearable blanket is now the better option.
1. Stop swaddling when your baby is rolling over from back to tummy.
When placing a baby in their crib to sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the baby always be laid down on their back. For those first few months, this is an easy enough task. You swaddle your baby exactly the way she likes and you place her on her back as she falls asleep. When she wakes, she's right there on her back like you left her.
But then one day, she's playing on her play mat, and she rolls over for the very first time. Usually, once your baby learns this exciting skill, it's easy enough for her to do it again and again.
Even if she hasn't rolled over before while swaddled, she will have the ability to do so. If a baby who is swaddled rolls over onto their stomach, they may not be able to go back the other direction. This becomes a suffocation risk, which we go over in our article, "Know the Facts: What's Safe and What's Not for Baby's Tummy Sleep." This can happen as early as 2 months but will be much later for others. You'll know.
2. Stop swaddling when your escape artist consistently gets out of the swaddle.
Lots of parents come to us and say, "My baby doesn't like to be swaddled!"
This may happen from day one or it may happen suddenly. When your baby develops and becomes more aware it's possible they may no longer like the feeling of being snuggled up so tightly.
At this point, you can either choose to try different swaddling methods to see if they'll get used to it, or you can stop swaddling.
If you have a baby younger than 2 months who is routinely escaping their swaddle, we recommend a little patience and persistence on your part to try and get your baby used to being swaddled. McGonegal shares that if a baby this young has unsettled sleep without the swaddle, it's best to keep trying to find a swaddle that they can't escape from. She told us that you can also try two swaddles (but be careful about overheating) and gave the reminder that babies need to be swaddled when they're calm and not worked up.
But there will always be some babies that just don't like being swaddled and will try to break free no matter what. Don’t push it if they're showing clear signs that they don't like it.
3. Swaddling may be the culprit if you have a baby who normally sleeps soundly but isn't anymore.
Up until this point your baby has probably loved their swaddle. They sleep peacefully, and clearly enjoy the comfort they strongly associate with being in the womb. Then suddenly, your baby starts waking up in fits. When you check on them, they may look uncomfortable. It's pretty clear they'd much prefer to be out of the swaddle instead of inside it.
The biggest rule is: once your baby is rolling over, you have no other choice than to stop swaddling your baby.
This goes back to the “what age to stop swaddling” question. Some babies roll as young as 2 months while others can be over 5 months.
However, if your baby is consistently escaping their swaddle or showing other signs that it's making them restless, you may have to make the transition sooner.
Different Methods to Transition Out of the Swaddle
It can be tough to transition a baby out of their swaddle when they've been sleeping through the night. Anything that disrupts baby's (and everyone else's) sleep can be stressful.
However, Lindsey McGonegal of Sleep Little Lamb shares with us that the transition is often not as bad as parents fear and that it can sometimes be worse for the parents than the baby. She goes onto say that if your baby is showing all the signs of being ready, they will probably sleep better unswaddled anyway.
There are a few different methods that you can take when it's time to stop swaddling your baby. You'll have to consider what you think is best for your baby in the stage they are at (like are they rolling yet or not) as well as how dependent you think they are on the swaddle for sleeping.
Remember this goes for both nighttime sleep AND naps.
Here’s how to transition your baby out of a swaddle:
Option 1: Cold Turkey Method
Sometimes, it's easiest to just "rip off the band-aid" so to speak. If you don't think your baby is THAT attached to the swaddle at this point, cold turkey might be the way to go. With this method, you'll just take the swaddle away completely and replace it with a wearable blanket. We recommend this weighted one from Dreamland Baby. Change can be hard for anyone, especially for a baby who has no idea why you're doing something. Expect a little push back (though it's possible your baby won't mind at all), but knowing that it's best for your baby will help you through it.
Option 2: Continue Swaddling but Swaddle One Arm Out
Swaddling with one arm out is popular strategy for babies who love being swaddled and you know the transition could be challenging. With this technique, you'll simply swaddle one of your baby's arms tightly in while leaving the other one completely free. Not sure which arm to leave out? Take note of which hand they may like to suck on as this can be a form of soothing once the swaddle is taken away - that's the one you'll want to leave out. This is considered safe even when your baby is showing the beginning signs of rolling. Leaving one arm tucked in is a good way to counteract the Moro reflex that can startle and wake your baby in those early months.
Option 3/Continuation of Option 2: Swaddle Your Baby's Chest With Both Arms Out
After several days, you can move to both arms out. Or, you can skip the one arm step and move straight to both arms out. It may take a little trial and error between the two methods to find what works best for your baby. Continuing to use a tight swaddle with arms out may seem to some like there's no purpose to using it all. But the tightness the swaddle gives around baby's chest can continue the comforting and secure feeling their swaddle has given them all along. Eventually, the swaddle will be removed completely, but you can continue to do this even when your baby is rolling since they’ll have use of both arms.
So what’s better – a slow transition or cold turkey?
Neither one is necessarily better. Choose the one that you think will be the easiest on both you and your baby. It will go much more smoothly if you’ve used a transitional swaddle/wearable blanket combo such as the weighted wearable blanket with swaddle wings from Dreamland Baby.
The final transition will be putting your child in a wearable blanket.
What we love about swaddling with Dreamland Baby is that you don’t have to introduce your baby to anything new once you need to transition to a sleep sack. Since Dreamland Baby has detachable swaddle wings, you’ll simply remove the detachable wing when it’s time to stop swaddling your baby completely. Additionally, your baby is able to keep the wearable weighted blanket they've used all along without having to get used to a different feeling of something new.
If you don’t already have a transitional swaddle that turns into a wearable blanket, don’t worry! If your baby is still being swaddled now would be a great time to get one, or if your baby is already about ready for that wearable blanket, you can move them into one.
There are lots of options of wearable blankets. We recommend you check out our Best Wearable Blankets of 2021.
It can be stressful removing the swaddle from your baby's sleep routine, especially if they've been sleeping well and suddenly aren't anymore. Unfortunately, this isn't a choice once your baby starts rolling over.
It’s important to remember that just like any tough stage with your little one, you'll get through it before you know it! In the meantime, here are our best tips for getting your baby's sleep back on track as soon as possible.
Tips for Helping Your Baby Sleep After Removing the Swaddle
To say figuring out your baby's sleep in that first year can be challenging would be an understatement for most parents.
Milestones and ever-changing sleep patterns (more on that here) mean your baby is healthy and thriving, but it's enough to make you pull your hair out when it means sleep is suddenly hard to come by again.
Swaddling is wonderful when your baby is teeny tiny, but it doesn't take long before your baby is safer without it. We can help you navigate the process as you make the switch from swaddle to wearable blanket.
We suggest following these swaddle transition tips to help your baby continue to get great sleep even when the swaddle is gone.
First, take a deep breath and relax.
Your baby feeds off of your emotions. If you are tense and anxious about how bedtime is going to go once the swaddle is gone (or you've made a change such as one arm out), your baby probably will be, too. Though it's good to be prepared with a plan in case sleep is disturbed sans swaddle, it's possible that your baby will do just fine without it!
Use a weighted wearable blanket.
Your baby longs to feel safe, secure, warm, and comfortable. Since loose blankets, stuffed animals and pillows aren't safe, using a wearable blanket is the best item to use as you move away from swaddling. A weighted wearable blanket is even better than a typical baby sleeping bag because it gives an extra "hug-like" feeling which is similar to a swaddle. It also reduces stress and increases relaxation to help your baby fall asleep faster. Check out our post, “Weighted Sack Safety and How it Will Help Your Baby Sleep.”
Maintain the other parts of your bedtime routine you've had all along.
Though we do recommend removing sleep props as part of a solid bedtime routine to help your baby become an independent sleeper, now is not the time to make any other drastic changes. Removing the swaddle is change enough, so your baby will do best when everything else they are used to remains the same (in other words, if you've always nursed to sleep don't change that during this swaddle transition period.)
Know that you may have to use extra soothing techniques at this time.
You want to be careful not to have your baby go from an independent sleeper to one who always needs you to fall asleep, but you may need to offer extra soothing for your little one during this transition period. A little extra rocking time, placing a hand on your baby's chest while they fall asleep, or staying close by their crib so they can see you might be the little extra they need to know that they are still safe and can relax.
Your baby may cry more than you are used to, and this can really pull on your heart. A little extra soothing is OK but resist the temptation to pick them up every time they cry. You don't want to undo all the hard work you've done up until this point to help them be an independent sleeper.
McGonegal writes, "Try not to stress! Like all transitions, they usually take a little bit of time and consistency. Stick with your plan and know that you will get through this!"
FAQs About Stopping Swaddling and the Transition
We've had many specific questions come our way recently about swaddling. It's certainly a hot topic since so many babies love to be swaddled (but can't be in them forever).
So, you asked the swaddle questions and here we'll answer them for you!
1) What is the best transition swaddle?
We highly suggest starting your baby with a swaddle that can also become a wearable blanket. This is so much easier than putting your baby in something brand new that feels completely different. Dreamland Baby has the perfect transition swaddle. It's essentially a weighted blanket that’s safe for a baby to wear. It relaxes your baby, induces sleep and keeps them asleep longer - with swaddle wings attached. When it's time for baby to move out of the swaddle (as noted by the signs above) all you have to do is detach the wings for good. Or if you choose to take a more gradual approach you can easily leave it on a little longer while you swaddle one arm out.
2.) How long is too long to swaddle a baby?
Popular question here. If you are still swaddling your baby and they are rolling over, you need to stop immediately. Healthy Children writes, "Some studies have shown an increased risk of SIDS and accidental suffocation when babies are swaddled if they are placed on their stomach to sleep, or if they roll onto their stomach." We know how hard it can be to change what's been working for your baby's sleep, but safety is always the top priority.
3.) My baby is rolling but needs the swaddle to sleep! Help!
As much as it seems like your baby NEEDS a swaddle to sleep, they really don't. This is just what the two of you are both used to. There will be lots of changes as your little grows and this is one of the biggest transitions you'll have to go through when your baby is small. You will be surprised how well your baby will sleep without the swaddle when you just give her the chance! Use one of our suggested methods above and it will go a lot more smoothly than you'd imagine. Could it be a hard couple of days? Yes. Will they be back to sleeping well before you know it? Yes.
4.) What age should you stop swaddling?
There is not a specific age to stop swaddling a baby since every baby is different. Instead, you need to pay attention to your baby's signs. When they start to show signs that they will roll over soon, this is the time to transition out of the swaddle to a wearable blanket like Dreamland Baby. This is about 3-4 months for most little ones.
5.) Can I stop swaddling my baby at 2 months old?
You can definitely stop swaddling your baby when they are 2 months. There is no hard and fast rule saying you ever need to swaddle your baby at all, though there are often many benefits. And babies can roll as young as 2 months, in which case, you would need to remove the swaddle for safety reasons.
Life Beyond Swaddled Sleep
Knowing when you should stop swaddling a baby is pretty clear and the transition out of a swaddle doesn't have to be difficult. I remember feeling worried that my baby's sleep would suffer once she transitioned out of the swaddle - but with the suggested techniques in place, she did great! Yes, it took a couple of days of adjusting, but it's amazing what babies can do if we give them what they need. Keeping your baby comfortable through the process is key in helping them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.