How to Transition Out of a Swaddle Without Losing Sleep
- Dreamland Baby
- Written By
- Julia Pelly, MPH
We talked with Elizabeth Pantley, the author of the internationally acclaimed book, "The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night," to find out why swaddling works, when you need to stop swaddling your baby, and how to create a smooth transition for your baby. Read on to learn everything you need to know.
Why Do We Swaddle Babies
Many parents begin swaddling their baby in their first days or weeks of life. While swaddling is the norm in our culture and many others around the world, you might wonder why we swaddle as opposed to just laying a baby blanket on top of our babies. It turns out the answer makes a lot of common sense.
“After nine months of living in a snug body-hugging, pretzel-folded space, your newborn can find it very unsettling to be put on their back on a flat surface,” Says Pantley, “yet this is the safest way for your newborn to sleep to protect against SIDS.” Swaddling helps create a safe, womb-like experience for your baby; many parents find their little one falls asleep faster and stays asleep longer when they’re swaddled.
How to Swaddle Safely
Before we talk about when to stop swaddling your baby, it’s important to understand the conditions that make swaddling safe. To make sure baby is able to rest without risk, parents should follow some essential do’s and don'ts:
• Always place swaddled babies on their back to sleep.
• Use a firm mattress that is otherwise free of clutter.
• Never bedshare with a swaddled baby,
• Make sure your swaddle is not too loose or tight: your baby’s legs should be able to bend up and out (froggy style) to protect their hip development but the swaddle should be tucked tightly enough to prevent it from coming loose and possibly moving over your baby’s face.
• Choose a lightweight, breathable fabric as your swaddle. If creating a registry, make sure the swaddles you choose follow this tip.
• Help your baby avoid overheating by ensuring the layers under their swaddle are appropriate to the room temperature.
When to Stop Swaddling a Baby
While swaddling can be a great way to ease your baby’s transition from womb to world, it’s not a practice that you can expect to last forever. As babies grow and develop new motor skills, swaddling becomes less necessary and can become less safe.
As a rule, you should stop swaddling right away when your baby is able to roll from their back to their side or tummy. When a swaddled baby rolls to their side or tummy, they’re not often able to roll to their back without the aid of their arms, and there is a possibility that their face could become pressed to their mattress.
Rolling isn't the only indicator that it’s time to begin the swaddle transition. If you’ve noticed your baby is getting strong enough to kick the swaddle blankets free or too loose, or you want to practice safe bedsharing, it's time to transition out of swaddling.
How Do You Transition Out of a Swaddle?
Don’t panic! The end of swaddling doesn't have to mean the end of the sleep your baby (and you) have been enjoying. Parents for all of time have successfully transitioned their baby out of swaddles, and you can too! Here’s how to make your swaddle transition as peaceful as possible.
“If you have a squirmy baby who continues to wiggle out of the blanket, yet doesn’t sleep well when unswaddled, you might consider a premade swaddling blanket that uses Velcro, zippers, or snaps rather than tucking long pieces of fabric.” Says Pantley.
“Another option for a squirmy baby who still enjoys being swaddled is to wrap your baby snugly around the torso only with a lightweight muslin blanket or Velcro swaddler, but keeping both his arms and perhaps even their legs untucked, so that your little one has the freedom to move around, plus the ability to push up or shove blankets out of the way.” Says Pantley.
Whether buying a premade swaddlingblanket or simply wrapping your baby differently, the key to going from fully swaddled to fully not-swaddled is to give your baby a bit more freedom each night over the course of a couple of weeks. “You can begin by leaving only one arm out of the swaddle, then, a few days or a week later, leave both arms out. Keep your baby’s middle snugly swaddled and legs loosely swaddled as usual for a week or two, and then experiment with letting them sleep fully unswaddled.”
Whatever you do, says Pantely, avoid cutting the swaddle cold-turkey. “This gradual approach often works better than just stopping the swaddling suddenly.”
Armless sleep sacks (kind of like a sleeping bag with arm holes) can serve as an intermediate step between swaddling and sleep-freedom or can be what you put your baby to sleep in for the next several months or even years. “These sacks give a little one who likes to be swaddled a similar tactile sensation, rather than going straight to normal pajamas or bare legs.” Says Pantley, “A pair of socks can also help your baby feel more contained.”
Tips For Sleeping Without a Swaddle
While most parents would prefer to have through-the-night sleepers, the consistency of infant (and toddler, and even big-kid sleep) often ebbs and flows as kids move through different developmental stages and life changes. No matter what life changes are happening, though, there are things you can do to keep your baby’s sleep as regular as possible.
When removing swaddling from your baby's routine, do your best to keep everything else you do as similar as possible. “Weaning from any bedtime-related factor is a time when a bedtime routine shines,” Says Pantley, “If you don’t have a specific bedtime routine for your baby, begin using one prior to weaning.”
To create a good bedtime routine, do your best to follow the same sequence of events leading up to bedtime for a couple of weeks. Your bedtime routine doesn’t have to be elaborate, but a few consistent steps, like a book, a song, and clicking on a special sound or light machine, help create an expectation for sleep.
And, as with everything baby-related, taking a few deep breaths can make all the difference. Getting into a new groove can take a little time and practice, but it will happen. In the meantime, “Be patient with your baby and with yourself!” Says Pantley
Julia Pelly, MPH
Julia Pelly, MPH, is a writer, birth and postpartum doula, La Leche League leader, and founder of Your Postpartum Plan. As an expert in maternal and child health, she helps parents plan and prepare for all the big things parenthood will ask of them. Julia lives in North Carolina with her partner and four young children.