Swaddling, one of the oldest baby-calming techniques out there, is said to be so effective because it reminds the infant of being in the womb. Yet, there are a few problems that come with relying on this restrictive kind of comfort.
The first is that your baby won’t always enjoy being tightly bound in a burrito-style wrap. Often occurring after about 4 months, when your child’s muscles will be developed more significantly, they will try to flex their new strength and dexterity by struggling free of their wraps.
Secondly, while swaddling offers initial health benefits in terms of promoting better sleep and reducing the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), these advantages start to tail off as your baby grows older. And continuing with the swaddle past a certain point, when your baby is able to roll over, will actually pose a serious threat to their health, by increasing the chance of suffocation.
Finally, swaddling for too long can impact the proper growth of your baby’s hip joints, which can lead to infant hip dysplasia. So, for these reasons (and a few more below), it’s useful to know what the best alternatives are to swaddling to help your little one have a great night’s sleep.
When your child’s muscles will be developed more significantly, they will try to flex their new strength and dexterity by struggling free of their wraps.
Reasons to Stop Swaddling
- The swaddle is no longer calming - One of the main purposes of a swaddle is to calm them, so if that’s not working, it’s time to look for other ways to soothe your child before sleep.
- Difficulty wrapping your baby up - The swaddle wrapping process doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And many parents find it tricky to get right every time (with the right amount of tightness around the body and freedom of movement around the hips).
- My baby wants their arms out - A traditional swaddle restricts arm movement, but many babies like having the use of their arms (often so they can suck their thumb).
- I’m concerned about too much leg restriction - Hip dysplasia is a common swaddling concern that leads many parents to drop the swaddle or look for an alternative.
- My baby is rolling over - It’s time to stop swaddling when your baby shows signs they’re starting to roll over. This is because you never want your baby to roll themselves onto their front and get stuck there!
Premade Swaddle Wraps
If you didn’t know already, there are actually two types of swaddles:
- Traditional swaddle blankets: These are simply large, thin blankets that you can use to wrap the baby up in the perfect burrito shape. They’re often sold as “swaddle blankets” but can be used for many other things too. Equally, parents can use an appropriately sized cloth or sheet and turn this into a swaddle themselves.
- Premade swaddle sacks and pouches: A shortcut to the same destination,. many baby brands offer parents a helping hand by creating an easier-to-use swaddle garment that comes with some kind of pre-cut shape and easy attachment (like velcro or snaps). This is designed to make it much easier to fix the perfect swaddle wrap.
If you want to see our own take on the swaddle pouch, check out the Zippy Swaddle!
Every baby is different, and many parents might have their own preferences about which option they like best when choosing from the various options on the market today. A few features to look out for with premade swaddle pouches are:
- How is the garment fastened or attached? Consider what is the easiest and most practical option for you (elastic, velcro, clips, snaps etc.).
- Is the size adjustable? Some premade swaddle wraps are one-size fits all, which in theory is great, but be careful that the product actually fits perfectly for your baby’s proportions.
- Is the material suitable? You should always be mindful of the materials you’re buying for your little one. Fabrics that are too heavy can easily cause your baby to overheat at night.
Discover more information about baby clothing materials in our blog: What Should My Baby Wear to Sleep? — The Right Products for the Right Time.
Every baby is different, and many parents might have their own preferences about which option they like best when choosing from the various options on the market today.
Baby Sleep Sacks and Sleeping Bags
There are some truly great baby sleep sacks and sleeping bags out there today. Designed to offer similar restrictive comfort to the swaddle, yet providing more freedom of movement, they are often the perfect compromise for parents and children who don’t like the swaddle.
These are often termed swaddle transition products and can be a stepping stone to pajamas and a life of complete sleep independence, where no sleeping aids are needed at all.
Our own version of the baby sleep sack, the Zipadee-Zip, comes with star-shaped pointed sleeves that allow children to feel enclosed and protected, while giving them a good amount of movement, especially when their muscles develop and they start rolling around more freely.
We wanted to capture the same kind of sensation of being in the swaddle and the womb, but wanted to avoid any of the drawbacks that come with wrapping up your baby too tight. The result is a kind of wearable blanket meets bodysuit, that infants enjoy right the way up to 24 months!
When looking for the best swaddle for your baby, you might come across the term wearable blankets. These are basically one-piece outfits that enclose almost all of your baby's body, providing cozy warmth while allowing for significant movement of the limbs.
The size, fabric type, tog rating, zip position and more can vary depending on the specific product and brand. They sometimes come with armholes and neck openings, or integrate wearable sleeves that encase your baby’s body.
Arms Free Swaddle Blankets
Many babies don’t completely hate the swaddle, but just want to be able to use their arms more freely, rather than have them tucked down at their sides or chest. In this situation, you can opt for a baby sleeping bag, or even an arms free swaddle wrap, that frees your baby’s arms while still enclosing your baby’s body like the swaddle.
Drop the Swaddle
Sometimes the best swaddle for your baby is no swaddle at all! One of the simplest alternatives to the swaddle is to simply drop it and let your baby sleep without any supportive baby clothing at all.
All you need to do is dress them in suitable clothing for nighttime sleep and see how they fare. Many parents choose this method as a way to reduce sleep reliance early on, hoping to encourage overall independence and healthy long-term sleeping habits.
A Gradual Transition
You can choose to drop the swaddle gradually by implementing a number of steps leading to a complete removal of any swaddle, or swaddle transition products. This can involve working your way through various products that offer increasingly less restriction as you go, or by only using the swaddle at certain times, such as during daytime naps.
The main idea is to ease your baby through the process, watching carefully whether they show any serious signs of discomfort.
The Cold Turkey Method
The fastest way to completely stop swaddling is to use the cold turkey method. However, it’s important to note that this is a huge change for your child, and can lead to a few rough nights of sleep, with your baby trying to readjust to life outside the swaddle.
According to a study carried out by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the University of Turku, the time taken to fall asleep reduces to an average of 20 minutes by the age of 6 months. If your child is still taking too long to sleep, or not sleeping at all without the swaddle, then you might have to rethink your approach.
Sometimes the best swaddle for your baby is no swaddle at all!
Sometimes, the best alternative to the swaddle is to find other more creative ways to calm your baby and get them ready for bedtime.
Promote Relaxation with a Bedtime Routine
Ultimately, the quality of your child’s sleep starts long before you put them in their crib. Having the right environment and routine can seriously improve their ability to wind down and get ready for a long night’s sleep.
The most important thing to implement is consistency. You can do this by planning a set routine of activities that you use each night before sleep, such as bathtime, cuddles, or reading them a book.
Ultimately, the quality of your child’s sleep starts long before you put them in their crib.
Motion is a great technique for calming your baby. Whether you use a rocking crib, a swing, or simply rock them gently in your arms before you put them down to rest each night, the motion can help to calm and soothe your little one before bed.
White Noise and Other Sounds
White noise can be naturally calming for humans. And babies especially enjoy sounds like rainfall, static or even the vacuum cleaner in some cases. Obviously you don’t want to kill the mood with anything too loud or abrasive, but you can look for the perfect sound to calm your baby before they’re ready to sleep.
If you’re at a loss for what to use, simply search YouTube for white noise options, and you’ll have plenty to choose from.
Choosing the Best Swaddle Alternative for Your Baby
Whether you decide to slowly transition your child out of the swaddle, or you're keen to drop the swaddle as soon as possible, rest assured there are a number of great alternatives you can choose from. And if you want to drop the swaddle cold turkey, that’s also okay.
The most important thing is that you are always aware of your child’s needs and preferences and implement the methods you are both comfortable with.