Swaddling works well for many parents as a way to keep their babies warm and cozy. It has also been proven to be a great way to settle a fussy baby and help them get to sleep.
As well as replicating the feeling of being in the womb, it can curb the effects of your little one’s Moro reflex which can sometimes cause them to startle awake in response to small movements or sounds.
While this is all great, the truth is the swaddle has a very short life span. After merely 2-3 months, it starts to become unhealthy for the baby and must be traded for another sleeping aid, or simply removed completely in what some parents call the cold turkey swaddle drop.
In this blog, we’ll explore 5 golden rules when it comes to helping your baby transition from the swaddle to a sleep sack or other type of baby garment.
Why Is the Transition Necessary?
Ultimately, swaddling should only be introduced when your baby is a newborn until they show signs of significant development (increased strength in the legs, hips and arms)
Essentially, you should stop swaddling your baby when they start to roll over which will happen between two and four months. However, the official recommendation is that swaddling should stop at the age of 2 months (8 weeks), according to organisations like the American Academy for Paediatrics.
If you fail to do this, your baby might end up rolling themselves onto their tummies while wrapped up in the swaddle and unable to move, which is a serious health risk and cause of SIDS.
Any future item of clothing you choose should give them free use of their arms and hands so they can keep building their mobility and strength without facing any risk of suffocation.
You should stop swaddling your baby when they start to roll over which should be between two and four months.
Issues Faced when Swaddle Transitioning
The biggest issue parents face when they start swaddle transitioning is their babies suddenly stop sleeping well. With such a big change like this, it can be possible for some kids to be completely derailed from their usual sleeping pattern and crying incessantly through the night.
While this can be hard in the short-term, the good news is that your little one is at a great age for you to implement healthy and sustainable sleeping practices that will set them up well for when they’re older.
During this period, we’d advise you to stick to a plan and look forward to more reliable sleep in the months and years to come. While being able to swaddle your baby to sleep is a dream, it’s one that will always need to come to an end in exchange for new approaches to baby sleep that will create long-lasting sleeping skills and routines.
Rule 1 - Get the Timing Right
Some believe that swaddling should stop when a baby has started to show clear signs of being able to roll over. This will come from increased mobility and strength in the hips and legs as well as overall maturity of other muscles which allow for increased movement.
Other signs to look out for are your baby trying to kick off their blanket or generally struggling to get free of the swaddle wrap.
As this can happen as late as 4 months, it is believed that swaddling can be continued until this point. However, for those who are more cautious and want to adhere to recommendations by the AAP and CDC, swaddling should stop at 2 months no matter what.
This is the most reliable way to avoid the dangers of suffocation or strangulation that might come from a swaddled baby who has rolled over onto their front.
As such, we believe it’s best to line up your transitioning method from just before the 8 weeks mark and implement it promptly, whether that’s a new baby garment made to help your little settle or removing the swaddle completely and seeing how your baby gets on sleeping in just a onesie.
Rule 2 - Choose Your Approach to Swaddle Transitioning
There are a few different approaches parents can take to swaddle transitioning. The option you choose might depend on a few things, including your broader attitude to parenting.
1. Partial Swaddling
Simply removing one or both arms from the swaddle can be a way to get started with the transition. This means you’re not implementing too many changes for your child but giving them much greater freedom of movement.
Having the arms free will significantly lower the risk that they become stuck on their tummies, but you must still monitor your child carefully because they won’t have freedom in the leg area.
If your baby takes this well, you can then consider removing the swaddle completely or move them towards swaddle transition products like the sleep sack.
2. Cold Turkey
Some parents find that using the cold turkey approach is the best way to move their children towards greater sleep independence and increased mobility. While this does work for many, it’s also true that some children will struggle with such a drastic change.
By removing the blanket or swaddle product entirely, they may feel a bit “naked” and bare, which, as you might have guessed, can lead to an inability to sleep well.
Stick with this long enough and it might work out eventually, however, if your baby shows signs that they’re not coping well, it’s always possible to introduce a swaddle transition product.
3. Swaddle Transition Products
One of the most straightforward and common ways to tackle this period of development is to transition from swaddle to sleep sack. All you need to do is choose your preferred clothing item and use it instead of the swaddle after 2 months.
Not every product is going to work for your child so it’s worth considering the different design elements of your sleep sack.
One of the most straightforward and common ways to tackle this period of development is to transition from swaddle to sleep sack.
Rule 3 - Gather the Essential Items
If you want to transition from swaddle to sleep sack, you will obviously need to find the right sleep sack in advance. And when there are hundreds of different options on the market, it’s best to start looking sooner rather than later. Types, fits, accessories and even fabrics can differ greatly between brands.
Some will allow the babies arms to be completely free while others will encase them in a kind of wearable sleeping bag.
The most important things to look for are:
- Increased mobility and freedom of the arms
- No restriction of the hip area to allow for growth and development
- A fit that is still cozy and warm
Our Zipadee-Zips are designed especially for this important phase of development. We wanted to make sure parents had an alternative option for babies who still loved the respective comfort of the swaddle, without compromising on any areas that could lead to dangerous risk factors of SIDS.
Take a look for yourself, but we believe what we created was a garment that provides similar "edges" or womb-like environment to the swaddle while providing babies the freedom to roll and use their arms and hands safely.
Today there are some really great clothing options that help parents transition from swaddle to sleep sack - giving kips a well-needed stepping stone from the swaddle to the pajama.
Rule 4 - Remove Barriers to Good Sleep
Dark and quiet is the best environment for your baby. You might think that some kind of night-light or mobile phone will help soothe them, but they can actually distract your baby to the point that sleep will be unachievable.
It’s important to do this anyway, but during the transition period, make sure you pay extra attention to removing any barriers that might exist to good baby sleep. This includes turning off any TVs or electronic devices in the room and any nearby rooms, as well as using dark (or blackout) curtains to completely remove any additional lighting from outside.
If there is too much background noise coming from the street, you can consider adding some white noise to the mix so that these noises become diffused or masked by a more soothing sound.
Dark and quiet is the best environment for your baby.
Don’t Pick Your Baby up Straight Away
Give your swaddle transition method a chance to work before you step in and soothe your baby. They may feel a little unsettled by a switch from swaddle to sleep sack, for example, but with some time, they may adjust nicely to this new clothing option and fall asleep just as well as they did in the swaddle.
Don’t Just Rely On the Sleep Sack
The right swaddle transition product can do wonders, but you can’t solely rely on it to help your baby sleep. If they are overtired, overstimulated, hungry or unable to relax properly for any other reasons, it’s obvious that your new sleep sack isn’t going to be that much help.
When approaching baby sleep, make sure you approach it holistically by creating a checklist of all the things your little one needs before they’re set up for a good night’s rest.
Rule 5 - Create a Bedtime Routine and Stick to It
With no consistent routine, children will have trouble settling down for bed and sleep quality may suffer. Whether it’s for daytime naps or nighttime sleep, children will benefit from following a series of steps which might include a bath, massage, cuddles, stories, or a lullaby sung by a parent.
When your child is going through a change from the swaddle to the sleep sack, having a strong routine in place can really help. It’s also just as important for new parents who are starting to develop their own routines and cycles in relation to their newborns. Having a fixed set of activities can help to synchronise the whole house so that everyone is working towards the same goal of better sleep.
How to Help Your Baby Transition from Swaddle to Sleep Sack
Transiting is a process that might take time. If your baby is struggling without the swaddle, it might be necessary to keep them partially swaddled for certain nap slots to ease them into things if your baby has not started rolling over yet.
Equally, getting this process right might simply take patience. A few nights of patchy sleep might be the price you pay for your baby eventually taking to their new sleep sack.
If your baby is struggling with the switch, experimenting with different soothing methods can really help. Some babies transition better when there’s soothing music or white noise in the background during nap time or bedtime.