The swaddle is a parenting favorite around the world. With its ability to keep your little one snug, warm and secure, many parents use this method for their newborns to help ease them into the world and encourage more peaceful sleep in their initial months of life.
Having said this, it’s not something that can last forever, and you’ll find yourself needing to transition your baby from the swaddle around the three to five-month mark. if you swaddle your child for too long, there are also several health risks your child could face.
In this blog, we cover the importance of swaddle transitioning and how you can implement it easily and safely using different methods, such as swaddle transition products.
What is Swaddle Transitioning?
Swaddle transitioning is the act of preparing your baby for life without the swaddle. For all babies that have been swaddled since birth, it’s an important part of getting them ready for life outside the womb and developing strong independent sleeping abilities.
‘Transitioning’ is the keyword here, and the process should be seen as a bridge from one phase to another. The end goal being when your child can sleep completely free of any baby sleeping aids.
Swaddle transitioning helps to make sure that things happen smoothly, and your child does not feel completely lost without the protection of the swaddle but is still encouraged to develop their mobility and development in a way that the swaddle can prevent when used past a certain age.
Swaddling can even become dangerous as your baby starts to become increasingly mobile and enjoys testing out their new skills while lying in their cribs. As well as increasing the chances of them flipping over onto their front so that they’re trapped face down within their swaddle position, research also shows that swaddling tightly is strongly associated with developmental dysplasia of the hip.
Without removing the swaddle completely, and all at once, swaddle transitioning helps give your baby plenty of room to move her legs and feet, and in particular, flexibility for her hip movement.
Swaddling can even become dangerous as your baby starts to become increasingly mobile and enjoys testing out their new skills while lying in their cribs.
Swaddle Transition - When to Start?
While there is no strict age that you should stop swaddling your child, research on the topic has suggested that maybe there should be, due to the increased health risks that come with swaddling your child when they’re too old.
One sign that it’s time to start considering swaddle transition products is when your baby starts to turn, roll, and flip onto their side. While this is adorable to see, having a baby face down in their swaddle and unable to free themselves is incredibly dangerous. It also greatly increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Another clear sign is when it looks like our baby has lost love for the swaddle position. After months of blissful calm in their tiny burrito-style wraps, they may start to squirm, wriggle, and push themselves free of the swaddle. If you see this kind of fighting against your swaddles, don’t persist with them anymore and start phasing in swaddle transition products.
We’ve talked a great deal about the Moro Reflex (Startle Reflex) on Sleeping Baby, so please feel free to check out our extensive blog on the topic. However, as a quick summary, you can start to think about swaddle transitioning when your baby’s Moro Reflex is decreasing significantly.
As the swaddle is one of the best ways to reduce the Moro Reflex and create a secure and protective space that reduces involuntary movement responses, if this is no longer a concern of yours, then you can start to swaddle transition.
Finally, consider swaddling transition products when it looks like your child might be overheating inside their swaddles. Although they are a great way to regulate temperature from birth, due to your baby’s sensitivity to their surroundings, they should eventually learn to acclimate themselves using other baby sleeping clothing products - including pajamas when they are ready for it!
Signs For When To Stop Swaddling
- Increased mobility and nighttime activity (wriggling and kicking inside their swaddles)
- Discomfort and fussiness when placed inside the swaddle
- Rolling over due to increased arm and neck strength
- Sudden sleeping difficulties after typically sleeping well during the night
- Decreased Moro Reflex (Baby Startling)
The Science Behind Swaddles and Swaddle Transitioning
Expanding on the Moro Reflex and what it is can help you grasp the science behind swaddles and swaddle transition products better. Essentially, the Moro Reflex is a natural response all babies have when they experience some kind of disruption or imbalance in their immediate environments. It could be as simple as a slight movement of their sleeping position, or a distant sound.
These things will include the feeling of falling in your baby, causing them to suddenly reach out with their arms. This can happen a lot when you try to place your child down in their crib after they fall asleep in your arms. The change in position can ignite a sharp and sudden reaction that jolts your baby awake, crying out in discomfort.
Swaddle products, such as the Zippy Swaddle, help to counteract the Moro Reflex by creating a womb-like environment for your little one by restricting their movements. It reduces, and can even stop the Moro Reflex completely as it removes their exposure to external stimuli and prevents them from suddenly reaching out with their arms as they would normally do when startling.
As your baby grows and becomes less reliant on this womb-like sensation, they will prefer not to be swaddled too tightly (or at all, past a certain age). Being fully wrapped in something that is restrictive to movement can have a negative effect on your baby’s sleep and development.
Swaddle products, such as the Zippy Swaddle, help to counteract the Moro Reflex by creating a womb-like environment for your little one by restricting their movements.
Proven Swaddle Transition Steps
If your baby is showing signs of not needing to be swaddled anymore then you’ll need to transition them out of swaddling. Here are some recommended steps you can follow!
1. Partial Swaddling
If your baby is outgrowing the swaddling phase. You can start transitioning them gradually by removing one of their arms from the swaddle. Usually their dominant arm is the best choice here. This provides them with slightly more mobility yet keeps most of their bodies protected within the swaddle.
Also if your child is still experiencing the Moro Reflex, having one arm within the swaddle will still add some resistance to their jerking movements. Eventually, if your child takes this move well, you can release both arms and just swaddle them from the chest down. This will allow them to have much greater upper body movement, while still keeping their lower halves warm and cozy.
2. Monitor their Progress
Once you have tried removing your baby’s arms from the swaddle, observe how it affects their sleeping abilities. A little fluctuation in their pattern is normal when any change is made to their sleeping routine, so don’t worry about that too much. Instead, look out for how long it takes to settle down at night and whether they consistently wake up more than normal.
If things are looking difficult after a couple of weeks of this, it might be too early to move on to using swaddle transition products and you may need to keep swaddling for another few weeks before they’re ready.
3. Swaddle Transition Products
Once your baby is fine with having their arms out of the swaddle, it’s now the exciting time to start using swaddle transition products. As well as enjoying the fact your little one has progressed to their next stage of development, you can indulge yourself in incredibly cute and adorable swaddle transition products designed to offer increased flexibility without completely removing the comforting sensation of the swaddle.
We recommend the Zipadee-Zip (naturally). The slight resistance in the wing-span allows your little one to move around freely while still enjoying the kind of complete enclosure that they enjoyed so much in the swaddle.
This has especially been designed to offer support to babies who still experience the Moro Reflex too as your little one will have the same feeling of reaching the "edges" of a womb-like environment when they suddenly startle. Additionally, this enables them to keep building their rolling and other movement skills.
4. Watch for Your Baby Rolling Over!
Once your baby is comfortable using swaddle transition products, look for how their rolling over abilities quickly develops. Anywhere from three months and onwards, you’ll witness your baby start rolling over onto their side or tummy.
If your child looks comfortable, happy, and mobile in their swaddle transition products at this stage, then you’ve effectively bridged the gap between the swaddle and children's clothing for older toddlers. If you’ve chosen a product like the Zipadee-Zip, you can keep using this until your child is up to three years old.
Other swaddle transition products might need to be phased out a little sooner if they restrict your child’s movement and ability to develop more flexibility and strength.
To understand other important baby milestones and how they might affect your baby’s ability to sleep, read our blog: From Baby Rolling Over to Crawling and Walking — Baby Milestones to Celebrate.
Anywhere from three months and onwards, you’ll witness your baby start rolling over onto their side or tummy.
Cold Turkey Swaddle Transitioning
There’s no strict rulebook when it comes to swaddle transitioning. Some parents find that using the “cold turkey” approach is an effective way to phase out the swaddle. This involves removing the blanket or swaddle product entirely and simply seeing how your baby reacts. Some will actually adjust quite quickly to this new reality, while others will still crave some kind of restrictive comfort.
It’s really up to you how you approach this, but look out for signs of discomfort with any route you take and modify your approach as you go. If your child is rolling over quite early in their development, and you find them face down in their cribs, you may be prompted to simply remove the swaddle completely as soon as possible, to remove any health risks.
How to Buy Swaddle Transition Products
You’ll probably have your favorite swaddles already, but here’s a useful checklist for buying swaddle transition products for your baby, as they move out of the swaddle stage.
- Size - pick the most suitable size for your baby
- Design - the swaddle transition product is not too tight or too loose
- Mobility - allows for freedom of movement, especially for the hips and lower body
- Material - products that are warm yet breathable (we recommend durable synthetic blends)
- Thickness - appropriate weight for climate
- Stretchiness - offers stretchy comfort and leg mobility
- Ease of Use - easy to put on, take off, and wash!
For more advice on choosing the most appropriate sleep clothing for your child at the right time, take a look at our blog: What Should My Baby Wear to Sleep? — The Right Products for the Right Time
Should I Use Swaddle Transition Products?
There’s no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this. Your parenting style and child’s personality can govern how you approach the swaddle transition stage and whether you choose to make use of various swaddle transition products like the Zipadee-Zip.
To offer babies a greater range of motion while keeping them secure and comfortable in a womb-like environment, swaddle transition products are a great choice to help ease your baby through their developmental milestones. If your child seems unattached to the swaddle however, then, by all means, you can let them embrace life without the swaddle altogether!
Our final advice is to remember that adjustments to your babies' sleep life, whether it's through their sleep clothing, nighttime routine, or daytime nap schedules, can disrupt ‘normal’ sleep for 1-2 weeks. If your baby is still showing signs of discomfort or inability to sleep after this period, consider how adjusting your approach slightly builds the best possible environment for long and restful sleep.