Almost all new babies love the comfort and security of a swaddle. It's no surprise since going from a mother's womb to a large and bright outside world is quite the overwhelming change! There are many benefits to swaddling, perhaps most of all is how well it can help a baby sleep. Many parents find this to be their "secret weapon" to calm a baby and get them off to dreamland. Problem is, the days are numbered in how long your baby can actually be swaddled. Once your baby is on the cusp of rolling over, swaddling is no longer safe. Which is why it's important to know the exact steps to take when it comes to transitioning your baby out of the swaddle.
Here you'll find out:
- how to know when it's time to stop swaddling your baby
- different methods to use to transition out of the swaddle, and
- our best tips for making the transition go as smoothly as possible.
Signs That Show It's Time to Stop Swaddling Your Baby
It's hard to imagine purposely disturbing your baby's peaceful nights of sleep. But this is what it can feel like when you stop swaddling your baby. Taking away something that you know is comforting and soothing to your baby can be hard. But for safety reasons, swaddling can't continue once your baby starts rolling over.
In our article, "3 Signs it's Time to Stop Swaddling Your Baby," we went over the other two reasons you would want to move from swaddle to wearable blanket. If you have a little Houdini who is escaping their swaddle every time you put them in it, or your baby who was sleeping soundly before isn't anymore, it's probably a good idea to stop swaddling. Restlessness in a swaddle is a sign that it's become more of a hindrance than a help.
In those particular situations, removing the swaddle is recommended.
But once your baby is close to rolling over, it is required and needs to happen immediately. Why is this so important?
If a baby who is swaddled rolls over onto their stomach, they may not be able to go back the other direction. This then 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." Even the AAP cautions that going beyond 2 months of age with your baby in a swaddle isn't best because you just don't know when your baby might roll over. Because of this, it's really best to start the transition sooner than you think you'd need to, because baby milestones often come at a surprise.
It's best to start transitioning your baby out of the swaddle before they roll over. If you see during play time during the day that they are attempting to roll and it's clear that they want to, this is a signal to you to stop swaddling. We know that this can be hard to do when it will likely affect your baby's sleep, but it will have to happen anyway and it's safer to do it sooner rather than later.
Different Methods to Transition Out of the Swaddle
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.
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 with One Arm Out
This is a 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.
Option 3: Swaddle just your baby's chest/both arms out.
You can either move from one arm out to both arms out, or you can skip the one arm out step altogether. It may take a little trial and error between the two methods to find what works best for your baby. Eventually the swaddle will be removed completely. 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.
The final transition will be putting your child in a wearable blanket.
Whether you decide to go cold turkey, or slowly remove the swaddle portion from your baby's sleep time, the best choice afterwards is to put your baby into a wearable blanket. Parents now have the option of using a wearable blanket with a removable swaddle, like our favorite weighted one from Dreamland Baby. This is what we suggest using from the beginning to make the transition as easy as possible.
There are lots of options of wearable blankets and we recommend you check out our buyer's guide! Dreamland Baby's wearable blanket offers the unique calming benefit of weighted deep touch stimulation for improved sleep.
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 has to be done to keep your baby safe. 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 When the Swaddle is Gone
To say figuring out your baby's sleep in that first year can be challenging would be an understatement for most parents.
Infants are growing and maturing at such a rapid rate while also figuring out how to navigate on overstimulating outside world. This means that the moment you finally get them in a good groove of sleep, it seems as if an "intruder" of sorts creeps in and makes it difficult again. Milestones and ever-changing sleep patterns mean your baby is healthy and thriving, but it's enough to pull your hair out when it means their sleeping is negatively affected.
Swaddling is wonderful when your baby is teeny tiny, but it doesn't take long before your baby is safer without it. Not sure how to navigate this process?
We suggest following these 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 similar to a swaddle. It also reduces stress and increases relaxation to help your baby fall asleep faster.
- 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.
- Stay consistent. 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 dont' want to undo all the hard work you've done up until this point to help them sleep on their own.
Your baby goes through many phases during their first year and beyond. Helping your baby through transitions and sleep challenges is all a normal part of parenting an infant. As hard as it is to take your baby out of the swaddle that you know helps them sleep so well, remember that every other parent will go through this challenge, too. You're not alone, and you will get through it with patience, consistency, and a positive outlook.