Weaning From Swaddling: How and When to Do It

Swaddling is a new parent’s best friend, once they get the hang of it.

The benefits of swaddling a newborn are numerous and will give parents peace of mind and peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the swaddling phase doesn’t last long, and parents will have to quickly transition out of it for safety so that baby can adjust.

Weaning from swaddling isn’t too difficult, but parents should know a few things before starting the process.

Why we swaddle babies

There are many reasons to swaddle infants, but the most important one is that it gives them a sense of warmth and pressure that simulates being in their mom’s womb.

This feeling will help newborns to fall and stay asleep, giving parents more time to rest. It also keeps their arms to their sides, preventing their startle reflex from waking them up and keeping them from scratching at their face.

Additionally, swaddling can help develop better motor skills and is thought of as a way to prevent SIDS.

Why wean from swaddling

Swaddling is one way a baby feels safe and secure in a new environment, so taking that away from them is taking away that sense of security. Some babies do just fine with the exclusion of swaddling, while others have a hard time with it, which can lead to less sleep and more stress for the baby and parents.

One of the reasons we swaddle is to prevent the startle reflex from waking the baby up, but as they get older, the startle reflex starts to fade and babies have more control over their arms, giving parents one less reason to worry about  swaddling.

Weaning offers a smooth transitional period that most babies will be too busy to notice when parents take it step by step.

When to stop swaddling

There is no specific age where swaddling should stop; instead, several factors should come into play when you make the decision to stop swaddling.

The number one sign that it is time to wean from swaddling is that your baby is starting to roll over. A swaddled baby who rolls over creates an unsafe situation that can lead to suffocation.

Another sign is if he or she is strong enough to force their way out of the swaddle and need to be re-swaddled often This can lead to an unsafe environment in their sleeping space. They may also fight the swaddle and make it difficult for the parent to wrap in the first place.

Lastly, if swaddling doesn’t seem to have the effect it used to, i.e. if your baby is not settling down and falling asleep quickly, there's no reason to continue swaddling.

How to wean from swaddling

When the time comes for weaning, parents can try a few methods depending on how attached their baby is to the calming method.

Some parents are okay with going cold turkey, but it is not as gentle and can lead to discomfort for your baby. Here are a few options you can try to gently wean your baby from swaddling.

  1. Arms out method

  • Start by leaving one arm out of the swaddle. If your baby seems to have a dominant arm, that is the best arm to choose. Do this for 3 or 4 days.
  • Next, leave both arms out of the swaddle for a couple of days.
  • Finally, remove the swaddle altogether.
  1. Legs out method

  • Instead of leaving one arm at a time, swaddle your baby’s upper body, leaving his or her legs out.
  • After about a week of his or her legs out, try removing the swaddle altogether and see how your baby reacts.
  1. Sleep sack method

  • The sleeping bag method is the same as the arms out process, with one extra step for babies who aren’t quite ready to leave behind that feeling of being wrapped.
  • Place the swaddled baby in the sleep sack and follow the steps of the arms out method.
  • After removing the swaddle completely, allow him or her to sleep in the sleep sack for a few days before removing it too.
  • Sleep sacks are zippered blankets that can mimic swaddling and have become a popular option for parents.
  1. Loose swaddling method

  • Every day, wrap the swaddle a little looser around the baby, slowly removing that cozy feeling they get from the tightness of the swaddle.
  • After about a week, remove the swaddle altogether.

Sleeping baby

Tips and tricks to soothe a stubborn sleeper

Sometimes the transition out of swaddling can be challenging for babies, but there are plenty of ways for parents to help babies soothe themselves to sleep.

Nothing must be ever left in the bed with a baby, and they should always be on their backs with their feet to the bottom of the crib. If you have a stubborn toddler, try one or more of the following techniques.

Place your hand on them

Many parents have found success with a bit of weighted touch as the baby falls asleep. If you put your baby down and he or she starts to wiggle or fuss, place your hand on their chest. The weight and warmth of your hand may be all they need to soothe them to sleep.

Hold them a little longer

It may get tedious, especially if you have tasks you want to accomplish, but holding your baby a little longer may be the difference between a sleeping baby and a crying one.

Once you're sure they're really out of it, you should be able to set them in the crib with no problem.

Create a bedtime routine

Just like we have a bedtime routine, babies need one to calm their bodies and get them ready for sleep, and even for naptime. Sticking to the same routine for naptime and bedtime will help your baby understand that it is time for sleep.

Control the environment

Babies are incredibly sensitive to their environment, so that the more parents can control, the better. Keeping everything around them quiet and maintaining a comfortable room temperature will help babies stay asleep.

Warmer clothes

Some parents choose to use a sleep sack while others find that a whole body footy pajama and some mittens will mimic that warm cozy feeling of a swaddle without the hassle or danger.

Potential dangers of swaddling too long

No one would ever do anything to purposely hurt their baby, but sometimes what they think is good can actually be harmful.

While swaddling your baby may help them sleep and reduce your stress initially, it can eventually become a danger. Below are things that you should watch for while swaddling and eventually wean from swaddling to prevent.

Suffocation

One of the most significant risks and worries of parents of kids under one is suffocation, especially when babies first start becoming mobile.

When babies begin to move around a lot, they can loosen the swaddle and it may end up near their face by accident. They may have the motor skills to accidentally place it by their face, but they don’t have the skills or cognitive ability to remove it from their face, which can lead to suffocation.

This is the same reason why babies under a year old should not sleep with any stuffed animals, pillows, or other blankets in their bed. Parents of babies trying to roll over should watch swaddled babies as they may be able to roll over but not roll back, forcing their face into the mattress.

Parents should also take care not to wrap the swaddle too tightly around a baby’s chest as the compression may lead to breathing difficulties.

Overheating

There is some discussion about whether it's the swaddle or a combination of the swaddle and heavy clothes that cause overheating in babies, but no matter the reason, it is a dangerous situation. Always ensure that the swaddle is made from a breathable material and dress babies appropriately for the temperature in the house.

Decreased arousal

Some doctors recommend against swaddling because it can lead to decreased arousal, one of the possible causes of SIDS. Decreased arousal at its best will give parents worries and throw off a baby’s natural sleep cycle.

Hip problems

Hip issues can happen at any age if the swaddle is too tight around the baby’s legs, but it gets worse as the baby grows. If babies are swaddled too often, it can lead to numerous hip problems, including dislocation and dysplasia, which is defined as an abnormal formation of the hip joint where the thigh bone is not held tightly in the socket.

A lot to take in

There is a lot to consider about swaddling, which is why some doctors and parents recommend against it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that swaddling decreases the number of shaken baby syndrome cases, as parents get more sleep and babies are less fussy when swaddled.

Swaddling is a tradition that has been happening for hundreds of years, and most people will say that if it isn’t broke, there is no need to fix it.

As long as parents are safe with swaddling and know when and how to wean their baby from the practice, there is little need to worry about it. In many cases, babies stay in the same room for the length of time parents are usually swaddling, so they are under pretty close supervision.

As with most things in parenthood, it ultimately comes down to the parent’s discretion, but with the proper techniques, weaning a baby from swaddling when it comes time should be a relatively short and painless endeavor.