When To Stop Swaddling Your Baby: 6 Signs To Watch For
How do you know when to stop swaddling your little one? This is an important question to ask, especially for your baby’s safety.
Swaddling is a great technique to help your baby feel safe as they adjust to life outside of the womb. We understand the many incredible benefits of this ancient technique, which is why we created swaddles that are 100 percent breathable and help prevent overheating.
But the older your little one gets, the less they need this method to help them feel calm or fall asleep.
Also, while swaddling has lots of great benefits for newborns, there comes a time when your baby is just too old to be swaddled and swaddling can become more harmful than helpful.
When is this stage? And if it’s time to stop swaddling, how exactly do you help your little one transition?
You’re asking all the right questions. So, without further ado...
How Long Should You Swaddle Your Baby?
Is there a particular age you should stop swaddling your little one? What’s the hard-and-fast rule to follow? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always so straightforward.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents start to wean their infants off swaddling when they begin to show signs of trying to roll over. They add that “many babies start working on rolling at around 2 months of age.”
But not all babies start that early. Other studies have shown that babies will typically begin rolling somewhere between three and six months of age.
Aside from rolling over, it’s also worth noting that not all babies enjoy being swaddled and may become restless quicker than others. For some, it might make sleeping difficult, resulting in a fussy baby and sleep-deprived parents.
So, if you find your little one isn’t happy in the swaddle anymore, don’t feel like you have to wait it out. It’s perfectly fine to stop swaddling before your baby reaches a certain age or begins to break free from the swaddle during the night.
As each child is unique, it’s essential to look at other indicators (outside of just age) that they’re ready to leave swaddling behind. That’s what we’ll dive into now.
When To Stop Swaddling: 6 Signs
1) Consistently Breaking The Swaddle
Is your little one getting strong enough to break out of their swaddle blanket?
While this may not be a definite indicator that it’s time to stop swaddling, the concern here is that every time they punch or kick away the blanket, this leaves loose fabric in the crib.
Unfortunately, having loose swaddles in the crib is a possible strangulation or suffocation hazard. And this doesn’t just apply to swaddles — bedding, blankets, clothing, and any other type of loose fabric is a danger for your little one.
Sadly, of the 3,500 sleep-related infant deaths recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year, many cases are caused by items in the crib, like loose bedding.
If your baby is breaking free from the swaddle at just a couple of weeks old, they’re obviously still very little and not ready to stop being swaddled. You might just need to brush up on your swaddling technique to make sure your baby is secure in the swaddle.
On the other hand, if they are older, this might be a sign that they no longer want to be swaddled.
2) Having No More Startle Reflex
Like all other babies, your little one was born with a startle reflex (commonly known as the Moro reflex).
In a nutshell, this is an involuntary response that usually happens when your baby is startled by a sudden movement, a loud noise, or any unfamiliar stimulus in their environment.
Your baby might quickly stretch out their arms and legs in front of them, and then just as suddenly curl back into a fetal position.
Babies will often startle themselves awake and start crying. This reflex can make it difficult for your baby to get a good night’s rest.
If you’ve been swaddling your little one for a while, you might have noticed that doing so helps to reduce startling because your baby will feel as safe and secure as they felt in the womb.
At around four to five months is when infants usually outgrow the startle reflex. So, if your little one is no longer showing signs of this reflex, they may no longer need to be swaddled.
Expert tip: a huge part of helping your baby feel comfortable in a swaddle is using gentle and breathable fabrics, like the ones in our Newton Baby Organic Swaddle Blankets.
These swaddle blankets are made from 100% organic muslin cotton. This material is super soft and feels light and gentle on your baby’s delicate skin!
3) Being Fussier Than Usual
Babies can be fussy for many different reasons. They might be hungry, tired, sleepy, hot, or going through a growth spurt.
But if your little one is suddenly waking up in the middle of the night after previously sleeping well, it could be an indication that it’s time to transition out of swaddling.
That being said, it’s not best to just assume that a fussy baby no longer needs to be swaddled. But it’s important to pay attention to your little one’s cues.
If they are displaying other signs and are also extra fussy, they could be communicating that they want to break free from the swaddle for good.
4) Rolling From Back To Tummy
One of the most challenging things about parenting is that there is no “rule book.” What works for one parent may not work for you.
Because of this, many parenting “guidelines” end up being open to your own interpretation and unique circumstances. But not this one.
When it comes to swaddling, there is one clear indicator that your little one has outgrown this phase, and that is: they are becoming more mobile.
If your baby rolls onto their tummy while sleeping, having them in a swaddle can be dangerous because they might not be able to roll back over on their own with their arms and legs confined.
Even with a breathable mattress in your little one’s crib, having a swaddled baby roll onto their tummy is too dangerous to leave to chance.
Besides being a safety concern, confining your little one in a swaddle once they’re moving around more can affect their motor skills development. We don’t want that!
5) Fighting Being Swaddled
If you’ve just started swaddling and find your little one trying to resist it, that’s perfectly normal in the beginning. Remember that your baby has just recently gone through birth, so there’s a lot for them to take in!
You can expect your baby to resist being swaddled for a little while as they begin to get used to being snuggled up like a burrito. This is normal and is no cause for concern.
However, there comes a time when your baby just starts putting up a full-on fight with you when you try to swaddle them. This can be lots of kicking, punching, and maybe some crying.
If this is the case and they are a little older, it may indicate that they want to sleep more freely.
6) Sleep Training
Another reason you might be considering ending the swaddling phase is if you’re wanting to start sleep training with your little one.
Sleep training is the practice of teaching your baby to fall asleep (and stay asleep) by themselves through self-soothing techniques.
This might involve your baby sucking their thumb or rubbing their head to help them fall asleep. To be able to do that, they’ll need to have their arms and hands free from a swaddle.
Whether your little one is ready for sleep training depends on a variety of factors, including their current feeding schedule and their weight. Before you start sleep training, it’s best to consult your pediatrician.
But if you’ve realized that your little one is displaying some or most of the signs mentioned above, you’re now ready to allow them to sleep swaddle-free.
The only question is: how do you make this transition as smooth as possible? Keep reading to learn a few techniques you can use to ensure your little one sleeps soundly throughout this big life change.
How To Transition Your Baby Out Of The Swaddle
Instead of a gradual transition from the swaddle, some parents decide to go cold turkey. Of course, you can do that. And if you’re lucky, your little one might sleep soundly from their first night out of the swaddle.
But if you suspect your baby might have difficulty adjusting and would like to ease them out of the swaddle, the following techniques can help.
1) The One Arm Out Method
Starting the transition by placing one of their arms out while still having the other arm swaddled is very common (and effective).
In addition to easing your baby through the transition process, this technique helps if your little one still has a little Moro reflex present. Having one of their arms securely tucked will help to reduce the disturbance of jerking movements.
It can be beneficial to try this method during your baby’s nap time at first. This gives you the opportunity to observe how quickly they’re able to settle without interrupting your own sleep cycle in the process.
2) Both Arms Out Of The Swaddle
After your little one has been sleeping soundly with one arm out for a few days, you can leave both arms out of the swaddle.
They may get a little fussy at first because they’re not used to sleeping without being swaddled. But your baby will soon learn to adjust, so you may need to give it some time.
3) The Legs Out Method
While some babies feel most comfortable having their arms free from the swaddle first, others will transition out of a swaddle easier by having their legs out before their arms.
If you try this method and your little one keeps themself awake by kicking their legs against the mattress, switch to one of the other techniques and try again later.
4) Removing The Swaddle
After a few days of having both arms or legs out, you can try to let your little one sleep without a swaddle.
As babies are unique, some might take a couple of days to get used to this, while others won’t need that much time to adjust. It really just depends on your baby.
But don’t worry; they’ll get there!
5) Alternating Swaddling And Sleeping Freely
Another method you might like to try is alternating between swaddling your baby and letting them sleep freely, depending on the time of day.
For example, you could begin by letting your little one sleep unswaddled during their naps and swaddling them again to sleep through the night, or vice versa.
While this might sound counterintuitive, letting your baby have some sleeping freedom slowly before removing the swaddle altogether can actually be very effective for some babies.
These techniques might require some trial and error to figure out which method works best for your little one. Practice patience, and soon enough, your baby will be swaddle-free for good.
How Long Does It Take For Babies To Adjust?
Any significant changes to your little one’s sleep routine will take some time to get used to — for both you and your baby.
While each and every baby is different, it’s perfectly natural to wonder how long you should expect the transition process of weaning from the swaddle to take.
Generally speaking, most babies will begin to adjust to sleeping without a swaddle within one to two weeks, maybe even within just a few nights if you’re lucky.
If it’s been four weeks or more and your little one is still struggling to sleep without being swaddled, consult your pediatrician to rule out other factors that may be affecting their sleep cycle.
Tips For Helping Your Baby Sleep Without The Swaddle
If your baby has never slept without a swaddle, it can be a little confusing to them. To help make this process smoother, take a look at our tips below.
1) Maintain A Consistent Bedtime Routine
Just because the swaddle is gone doesn’t mean everything else needs to change.
Give your little one some comfort in consistency by maintaining the same bedtime routine you had while they were being swaddled.
This might include a warm bath, a nighttime feed, and a lullaby or bedtime story before putting your little one down to sleep while they’re drowsy but still awake.
2) Create A Soothing Atmosphere
You can create a calming environment for your little one through small things such as dimming the lights in their room, playing calming music, or using a white noise machine.
A gentle baby massage might also help them wind down and is a great opportunity for a bit of bonding time.
3) Ensure Your Baby’s Crib Setup Is Safe And Comfortable
If your little one’s crib, mattress, and sheet aren’t comfortable, they’re going to struggle to get to sleep whether they’re swaddled or not.
This transition period is the perfect time to reassess your baby’s needs and make sure their sleep setup is safe and conducive to optimal sleep.
Check that their crib is still in good condition, free from any loose slats or hardware, and has no cracks in the wood.
Next, make sure your baby’s crib mattress is meeting their needs. The mattress should be firm, breathable, and easy to clean to ensure no allergens (like dust and mold) can get trapped within its fibers.
Our Crib Mattress is specially designed to keep your little one safe and comfortable while they sleep. It’s 100% washable and recyclable with no hidden nasties like glue or latex.
Better yet, it’s built to last your baby throughout their toddler years, so you don’t need to worry about whether our mattress will stand the test of time.
Lastly, make sure your baby’s crib sheet is fitted and snug against the mattress. Like we mentioned earlier, loose fabrics like swaddles or sheets can be a hazard for your little one, so it’s crucial to keep sheets tight.
Our Organic Cotton Sheets are designed to fit any crib mattress like a glove, giving you peace of mind while your baby sleeps. The organic cotton muslin is soft against delicate skin while allowing your baby to breathe easily through the fabric.
Once you know your little one’s crib is as safe and comfy as can be, you can rest assured that you’re doing everything you can to make the transition out of a swaddle as smooth as possible.
4) Swap The Swaddle For A Sleepsack
Swapping the swaddle for a sleepsack can be a great way to help ease your little one into a different way to sleep. Many parents use this technique, and it can help your baby continue to sleep soundly — and safely.
These products come in a few shapes and sizes; however, they usually feature armholes in the torso area with an enclosed leg area, much like a sleeping bag.
Sleepsacks allow your little one to have a greater range of motion and freedom of their arms. This is important because babies need to be able to roll themselves onto their backs if they flip onto their stomachs during the night.
Sleepsacks still provide a sense of security and comfort for your baby as they sleep without the risks that come with swaddling older infants.
5) Make Sure The Temperature Is Just Right
If your little one is too hot or too cold, it can make falling asleep and staying asleep difficult. The optimal room temperature to help your baby sleep is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, keeping your baby comfortable throughout their sleep can also depend on what clothing they wear to bed.
If you notice your little one wakes up with damp hair, flushed cheeks, a sweaty back, or a heat rash, this is an indication that they’re getting too warm while they sleep. Rapid breathing can also be a sign that they’re too hot.
Whether you’re keeping your little one snug in a sleep sack or they’re starting to wear pajamas, ensure the fabric is light and soft to keep your baby at ease without overheating.
6) Try Using A Pacifier
Pacifiers are a safe and healthy way to help your little one fall asleep more easily, particularly during a transition period like weaning from a swaddle.
Ensure your baby’s pacifier is right for them by choosing a size that’s appropriate for their age. It’s also important to inspect the pacifier regularly to make sure it doesn’t have any loose parts that might be hazardous.
When you put your little one down with their pacifier to go to sleep, don’t leave it attached to any straps or fastenings, as this can lead to sleep-related injuries such as suffocation or choking.
If your baby isn’t a huge fan of a pacifier, that’s OK, too. Try some of our other methods listed above to assist their new sleep routine instead.
7) Don’t Give Up
Hearing your little one cry more than you’re used to or having them wake up constantly during the night while they adjust to this change can be difficult.
But it’s important to keep at it and maintain consistency with your transition out of the swaddle. It’s especially crucial if your baby has started to roll over as there’s no going back to swaddling from that point forward to guarantee your baby’s safety.
Try to resist immediately picking your little one up every time they cry. We know it’s hard, but this gives your baby a chance to self-soothe, which is what this transition is all about.
Here’s To The Next Phase Of Your Baby’s Development!
If you chose to swaddle your newborn, then you already know about the incredible benefits of this ancient strategy.
But once you realize that your little one is breaking free from the swaddle, they’re becoming more mobile, their startle reflex has reduced, or they are fighting the swaddle, then it might be time to make the transition to swaddle-free sleep.
And don’t be too sad about this inevitable transition. Pretty soon, there will be another exciting milestone to come!