When To Stop Swaddling Your Baby and How Do It Without Losing (Much) SleepJan 05, 2021
Swaddling your baby is a great way to help your newborn feel cozy, feel snug, and sleep better as she adjusts to life in the world outside of the womb. Unfortunately, the swaddle can't stick around for forever.
When done correctly, swaddling is very safe for young babies. However, there does come a point in time that both from a developmental perspective and a safety perspective that it is time to stop swaddling your baby.
Dropping the swaddle can feel scary; especially if your baby loves being swaddled and sleeps like a champ. When do you need to stop swaddling your baby? How do you drop the swaddle with the least disruption to everyone's sleep?
Here is what you need to know to ease the transition for both you and your baby:
When To Stop Swaddling
For better or worse, this is a bit of a gray area in some ways. One of the benefits of swaddling is that it suppresses the moro reflex. That's the reflex commonly known as the startle reflex; the one where babies suddenly throw their arms out and wake themselves up. It is present at birth and starts to disappear around 3 months, fully disappearing by 6 months. When swaddled, a baby will still startle, but won't be able to fling her arms out and is thus less likely to wake up. Ideally, the swaddle could be used until the moro reflex is gone.
However, it is imperative to stop swaddling your baby before she starts to roll over. f a swaddled baby rolls over onto her stomach, it presents a risk for suffocation as she is unable to use her arms to push up and reposition herself as needed. Your baby very well may start to roll before her moro reflex has fully disappeared.
The timeline for rolling varies from baby to baby. The average age to roll back-to-front is between 4-6 months old. However, some babies roll as early as 2 - 3 months. Regardless of age, it is impossible to predict which night will be the first that a baby rolls to her tummy.
The official guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to stop swaddling your baby when she shows "signs of attempting to roll". However, Dr. Rachel Moon, the lead author of the AAP's safe sleep guidelines is a strong advocate for dropping the swaddle at 2 months.
Her reasoning is that because it is impossible to predict the first time a baby will roll over, and there have been deaths of swaddled babies who rolled over reported as early as 2-2.5 months, it is best to err on the side of caution and drop the swaddle at 2 months.
So, when should you stop swaddling your baby? Dropping the swaddle is a must if your baby is showing any signs of rolling at all, swaddled or unswaddled. If not showing any signs, I encourage dropping the swaddle by 3-4 months at the latest. Why? Developmentally, the moro reflex has started to disappear and having the arms free helps immensely with the ability to find her fingers for self-settling.
How To Stop Swaddling
When it comes to how to stop swaddling your baby, you have 3 basic options.
Option 1: Cold Turkey
If your baby has rolled or is showing any signs of rolling (swaddled or unswaddled), you'll want to drop the swaddle cold turkey. That means tonight!
You can also drop the swaddle cold turkey if you are ready to be done with it for any other reason or you think your baby would sleep better without the swaddle. Some babies just don't like being swaddled.
Do your bedtime routine as normal and put your baby to bed as usual but without the swaddle. She may have a hard time sleeping in the beginning, but she will eventually be just as happy sleeping swaddle-free as she was when swaddled.
Option 2: One Arm At A Time
This is an option if your baby is not showing any signs of rolling and you prefer to transition out of the swaddle a little more gradually.
Night 1-2: take one arm out of the swaddle
Night 3-4: take the other arm out of the swaddle
You can customize this and spend as many nights on 1 arm out as you need before moving to both arms out.
Swaddle brands that easily allow you to remove only one arm include Love to Dream (for arms up) and Halo (for arms down). Bonus: both of these brands allow you to use your former swaddle as a sleep sack once your baby is swaddle-free!
Option 3: Part Of The Night
This is another option if your baby is not showing any signs of rolling and you prefer to gradually stop swaddling your baby.
Unswaddle one or both arms until the first time your baby wakes up. Then, swaddle as normal for the rest of the night. Every 2-3 nights, try to make it a little bit longer before re-swaddling your baby.
What Happens After I Drop The Swaddle?
Wondering how to keep your baby comfy and cozy in bed once the swaddle is gone? Wearable blankets, commonly called sleep sacks, are a great option! These keep your baby cozy without the safety risk of a loose blanket.
When choosing a sleep sack, be sure to check the manufacturer's sizing guidelines before you order. It is important that the sleep sack be roomy but not too big; you don't want her to wiggle completely inside and wind up with her face covered. Proper sizing is key!
Also, check the manufacturer's fabric recommendations. Many companies make sleep sacks in various weights of fabric designed for differing climates and weather conditions.
Another perk to using a sleep sack is it acts as a sleep cue for your baby. Putting on the sack means time for sleep!
Of course, it is also perfectly fine to not use a sleep sack at all. Your baby can be very cozy in only pajamas. Just remember, no loose blankets or sheets!
You Can Do This
Dropping the swaddle can seem scary, but you and your baby can do this! Some babies adjust right away and it takes other babies a couple weeks to fully adjust, but all babies can eventually learn to sleep well without the swaddle.
You've got this!
Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.
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