Most babies love being swaddled! It mimics the coziness of the womb, helping young babies feel snug and secure. As a parent, you may have found that your baby sleeps much better when swaddled. Unfortunately, swaddling cannot continue forever, and eventually you will have to decide how to stop swaddling your baby.
When To Stop Swaddling
Dropping the swaddle feels scary, but eventually must be done! There is no exact age that you must stop swaddling baby. The only thing carved in stone as far as when to stop swaddling is that you must stop swaddling if your baby can roll over, or is even showing signs of being able to roll over soon. This is because it would be dangerous for your little one to roll over to her tummy and not have access to her arms to be able to push up and move her head.
Though the official guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics say to stop swaddling when your baby can roll, I think it is important to know that some pediatricians in the AAP say you should stop swaddling by 8 weeks of age. This is because some babies roll as early as 2 months, and there is no way to predict when the first time a baby will roll over will be.
If you choose to continue swaddling past 8 weeks of age (and your baby is not showing any signs of rolling over), you should discuss with your pediatrician what age you will stop swaddling. Past 3 months of age, the longer you keep the swaddle the more used to it your baby becomes and the more challenging it can be to drop. However, swaddling helps to calm a baby’s startle (moro) reflex, and this reflex typically does not go away until between 4 and 6 months of age. So, your pediatrician can help you decide when it is best to stop swaddling your particular baby
I personally like to drop the swaddle in the 3rd month, once a baby has found her fingers and has started sucking on them to soothe herself.
How To Stop Swaddling
There is no one right way to stop swaddling your baby. You can stop cold turkey, do one arm at a time, start for small portions of the night, or use a transition product. When you decide to drop the swaddle, start at bedtime rather than during a nap.
Cold Turkey: If your little one is showing signs of rolling over, or is already rolling over, cold turkey is how you need to stop swaddling. There will probably be several rough nights of sleep as your baby adjusts to life without the swaddle, but it is too dangerous to take a slower approach. This can also be a good approach if you are up against a deadline. Also, easy going babies sometimes do very well if the swaddle is dropped cold turkey!
One arm: Simply take one arm out of the swaddle and leave one arm swaddled. Most products are designed to be safely used with one arm in and one arm out. It will likely take 2-3 days up to a week for your little one to adjust. Once they are sleeping well with one arm out, then take the other arm out and drop the swaddle completely.
Small portions of the night: Take one (or both!) arms out of the swaddle at bedtime. If your baby wakes up, put baby back in the swaddle. The goal is to go longer and longer stretches of the night without the swaddle. If taking this approach, it can be helpful to focus on nights first, not dropping the swaddle during naps until baby is sleeping well swaddle free at night.
Transitional Product: There are two transitional products that many families find helpful when dropping the swaddle. The first is the Magic Sleepsuit. It sells itself as providing a feeling of closeness similar to that of a swaddle by dampening the startle reflex. The second is the Zipadee Zip. It provides more freedom than a swaddle but less than a traditional sleep sack, and sells itself as helping to blunt the startle reflex. Please note, I am not affiliated in any way with either company 🙂 One thing to keep in mind is that if you opt to use a transitional product, that is one more thing you will have to remove later.
How Long Will It Take?
It depends on your baby! Some babies will adjust quickly, within the first few nights. Other babies will be slower to adapt and it make take one to two weeks. If your baby does not yet know how to fall asleep independently, it may take even longer for baby to adjust to being swaddle free. It is common to drop the swaddle and then find that a baby who does not know how to fall asleep independently begins to wake even more frequently at night. This is especially true of little ones in the 4-6 month age range.
If this is you, and you are ready to teach your little one how to fall asleep independently, I can help. Start with making sure your baby’s room is sleep friendly her schedule is ideal, and you have a solid bedtime routine.
Dropping the swaddle can sound scary. But when you have a plan for how to stop swaddling, you can move forward with confidence and give your baby the encouragement that she can sleep swaddle-free.
*as always, the above information is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice nor meant to be a substitute for medical advice. If you have any questions regarding your child’s health as relates to the above information, you should discuss them with your child’s pediatrician or other qualified healthcare provider*