Setting up good sleep habits is important for your baby’s physical health and emotional well-being. And an important part of healthy sleep is the position your baby sleeps in. While the swaddle is a favorite option for parents around the world, there comes a time in every infant's life when it needs to be left behind.
As well as being a necessary step for achieving independent sleep, dropping the swaddle is important for reducing the various health risks that come with swaddling for too long. For example, according to numerous health organizations around the world, your child could be exposed to a higher chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and stunted hip development. Naturally, it is because of these concerns that many parents become stressed when it comes to the transitioning phase.
To help you out during this period, we’ve rounded up 10 of the most common FAQs relating to swaddle transitioning and in answering some important questions, we hope to remove some of the dread surrounding one of your child’s important early development milestones.
While the swaddle is a favorite option for parents around the world, there comes a time in every infant's life when it needs to be left behind.
When Should I Stop Swaddling?
There is no definitive answer to this. Within reason, you can stop swaddling your baby whenever you feel it’s best. However, most pediatricians and child health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ advise that parents stop swaddling babies at 2 months.
Generally, most parents manage to phase their children out of the swaddle around 3 or 4 months and some a little later than this. To foster greater sleep independence, it’s advised to start the process whenever your baby seems up to the task, but if they clearly need the swaddle for longer, it’s okay to phase it out over a more prolonged time frame.
The most important thing is that you start to drop the swaddle when your little one starts rolling over and look out for the important signs below.
What Are the Signs I Should Start Swaddle Transitioning?
It’s natural that as babies get older, they will eventually start to reject swaddling. However, some will seem content to enjoy this position well past the 4-month mark and even up to 6 months. In these situations, you should aim to look closely for the different signs that you should start swaddle transitioning.
Baby Rolling Over?
Swaddled babies shouldn’t sleep face down. This is a golden rule that shouldn’t be broken no matter what, as ‘face down sleep’ has been known to increase the chance of suffocating and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
So, if your baby is rolling over onto their tummies, you should be extremely careful they don’t land themselves in a dangerous position at night when sleeping by transitioning them out of the swaddle ASAP.
If your baby is consistently breaking free of the swaddle each night, this is a good time to start transitioning. Otherwise, they could be left alone with loose blankets in their crib, which is another safety hazard for young infants. It’s also a clear sign that your baby isn’t completely content being swaddled anymore and might be ready for a safer swaddle transition product like the Zipadee-Zip.
No More Moro Reflex?
The Moro reflex is one of the major reasons parents use the swaddle. Because of the restrictive, comforting nature of the position, children are much less likely to wake up at night from startling caused by their Moro reflex kicking in.
When it appears that your child is no longer exhibiting the Moro reflex, at around 4-5 months, consider this one less reason to use the swaddle and start to phase it out. For more information about the Moro reflex, take a look at our blog: Moro Reflex: How to Stop it so that your Baby can get a Good Night’s Sleep.
If your little one suddenly stops sleeping as well as usual or shows clear signs that they’re unhappy when you use the normal swaddle method, this might also be the right time to start transitioning. However, be advised that baby insomnia can stem from many causes, so do your best to rule out other reasons for sleep disruption as well.
Changes in temperature, lighting, noise levels, and baby sleep clothing can all cause discomfort and make it harder for your child to sleep.
Taking the Initiative
If you’re getting ready to start sleep training, figuring out how to sleep without the swaddle is one of the first crucial lessons you need to teach your child. Part of the sleep training process involves helping your child learn to self-soothe, and babies can’t do this sufficiently if they’re still being swaddled.
If you want to take the initiative and promote strong sleep independence early, then consider taking a proactive decision to stop using the swaddle around the 2-month mark.
If you’re getting ready to start sleep training, figuring out how to sleep without the swaddle is one of the first crucial lessons you need to teach your child.
Do I Need to Stop Swaddling When My Baby Rolls Over?
Avoiding situations where your baby is face down is the main objective. If your baby manages to flip themselves onto their front, the restriction of the swaddle could keep them stuck in that position. Initially, swaddling actually helps prevent rolling to the stomach so you don't want to stop prematurely. However, swaddling must stop when your baby can fully roll.
How Long Does Swaddle Transitioning Take?
Most babies adjust to sleeping without a swaddle blanket within 1-2 weeks. However, it can take longer for younger babies who are still experiencing the Moro reflex regularly and will wake up more frequently without their swaddle. Other age and development factors might mean your baby finds it harder to drop the swaddle, however, if your baby is still not sleeping properly past 4 weeks, consider whether it is too early for the transition period. It’s often better not to rush this kind of thing.
Remember, any changes to your baby’s sleeping pattern can seriously disrupt their sleep cycles. Be prepared that removing the swaddle will almost always result in some kind of difficulty sleeping. Don’t be concerned that your little one suffers a momentary lapse and experiences a few sleepless nights. Persevere for at least a week and monitor their behavior carefully. Their sleep should gradually return to normal in due course.
What If My Child Can’t Sleep Without The Swaddle?
Some babies who are not highly dependent on swaddling for comfort might not be phased by the new lack of swaddling. Others are simply great self soothers and will quickly adjust to whatever sleeping challenges that face them. But not all parents are so lucky...
For babies who are dependent on the swaddle and rely on it to drop off, removing the swaddle could seriously disrupt both daytime and nighttime sleeping. As we’ve mentioned above, it’s important to push forward past any initial rough patches, but it’s also possible you might have to pause and come back to things later.
If you have a younger child, it’s completely normal that they need a few more months in the comfort of the swaddle. We also recommend introducing swaddle transition products to create a more gentle switch from one phase to another, especially for babies around 2-3 months old who still crave that womb-like environment.
For babies who are dependent on the swaddle and rely on it to drop off, removing the swaddle could seriously disrupt both daytime and nighttime sleeping.
If you’re concerned your baby will find it too difficult to make the switch, the best way to stop swaddling is to do it gradually. Simply forcing the issue could result in a lack of sleep for everyone involved. The trick is to read the signs and implement slow and gradual swaddle transitioning so your baby can get used to sleeping unswaddled. Read on for specific methods on how you can do this.
What Happens If I Don’t Swaddle Transition?
Babies who are swaddled too tightly and for too long may develop a problem with their hips. Studies have found that straightening and tightly wrapping a baby’s legs can lead to hip dysplasia, which is an abnormal development of the hip joint.
Also, swaddling promotes extra deep sleep. While this might sound like a good thing for a baby, it is potentially harmful in some situations where they might find it hard to wake up from an unsafe sleeping situation.
Also, waking up and crying is a basic sign that your baby needs something, whether that’s feeding, changing, or a change of position. Not being able to wake up properly could prevent them from communicating their basics needs, and having them met.
Finally, as we’ve mentioned, swaddling once your baby can roll over increases the risk for SIDS as it is less likely that they will be able to roll back over to their back when in the swaddle, causing them to sleep face down.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 3,500 infants die annually from sleep-related deaths and many may be a result of children not sleeping on their backs, which is widely recommended by children’s health organizations around the world.
What Methods Should I Use for Swaddle Transitioning?
There are a few tricks and techniques that parents around the world rely on when it comes to swaddle transitioning. Below is a list of the most popular.
One Arm Out
Start with one arm out for a couple of nights before releasing both arms completely from the blanket. You can adjust how many nights you do this for, gradually letting your baby sleep without relying on the full swaddle blanket while still giving your baby the security and comfort they’re used to.
Swaddle Transition Products
Putting your baby in a sleepsuit, sometimes referred to as a baby sleepsuit, baby sleep sack, or wearable blanket, is another effective method to transition out of a swaddle. Some suits, like our own Zipadee-Zips, are designed to offer extra mobility while retaining the enclosed comfort of the swaddle.
As you can learn from our testimonials, swaddle transition clothes can be a great bridge for children who are heavily reliant on the swaddle to help them fall asleep.
Partial Night Swaddling
Another method is a partial night swaddle. This involves letting your baby start off sleeping without the swaddle (if possible) and introducing it only if they wake up, or show signs that they’re unable to drop off. The goal is to let your baby go for longer stretches of time without needing the swaddle before eventually removing it completely.
What Is the Cold Turkey Method, and Does It Work
Some parents prefer a more direct approach by simply removing the swaddle altogether past a certain point. This is known as the “cold turkey” approach and requires you to let your baby sleep without any swaddle or swaddle transition products to see how they react. Some will instantly adjust, while others may require a few nights to adjust.
Keep in mind that the cold turkey method might not be the best option for babies who are not good at self-soothing and this approach could also seriously disrupt delicate sleep patterns — so choose your battles wisely!
Some parents prefer a more direct approach by simply removing the swaddle altogether past a certain point. This is known as the “cold turkey” approach.
Don’t be ashamed if cold turkey doesn’t feel right for you, or your parenting approach. Many start early and take it slow. If needed, take your time through this process, allowing your little one to graduate to each phase. Rushing can produce anxiety for both you and your little one.
What Are Swaddle Transition Products?
There are several products on the market that can make the transition from swaddling easier. These items have been specially designed to cater to this unique phase by offering greater mobility and freedom of movement while retaining a strong sense of comfort and safety.
The Zipadee-Zip, for example, provides similar "edges" or womb-like environment to the swaddle while providing babies the freedom to roll and use their arms and hands safely. The star-shaped pointed sleeves and star-fish design actually lets children keep developing important skills like rolling over without you having to worry about them getting stuck on their front.
Other swaddle transition product designs will cover the baby’s bottom half in a swaddle while freeing up the arms completely. Just make sure that whatever product you choose allows for sufficient freedom around the hips for healthy bone development.
Should I Stop Swaddling During Daytime Naps?
You don’t actually have to stop swaddling during nap time and bedtime simultaneously. It may be easier for you to stop using the swaddle during the day than it is at night. Alternatively, if your child doesn’t have a problem sleeping at night, you may be easily able to transition your child out of the swaddle at bedtime.
There’s no perfect sequence to this, but understanding that you don’t need to remove the swaddle completely can help you to ease your little one through the process.
Soothe Your Baby to Sleep
As your infant might find it difficult to sleep when you first remove the swaddle, having a few soothing techniques can go a long way. And this could be the hidden key to helping them transition out of the swaddle and reduce your stress levels during this sometimes challenging time.
There are many ways to consider offering some additional comfort to your baby, and as a parent, you’ll probably have a few ideas of your own already. Below are a few more ideas you can add to your arsenal.
- Play soothing music or white noise in the background
- Rock your baby to sleep
- Use a pacifier
- Massage your little one
- Keep a regular sleep schedule
- Maintain a good room temperature
- Dress your baby in the right clothes for the right time
Don’t Give Up
Swaddling is a great way to help a baby transition from the womb to the world but it can’t last forever. When it’s time to transition your baby away from the swaddle, whether they’ve shown signs that it’s the right time or you want to take the initiative, keep in mind that the struggle is one shared by millions of parents around the world.
Don’t give up and remember that sleeping soundly without the swaddle is the first major step towards achieving strong sleep independence and good sleeping habits for life!