Stopping Swaddling: A Guide to How and When

Updated March 26, 2019


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For many moms and dads, the time for stopping swaddling doesn’t come easy. We’ve all been through it! And when you’ve seen the magical effects of the swaddle on your child, you can’t really imagine what life would be like without it.

“Stop swaddling!? But how will my baby get to sleep?” I hear you asking. It sounds daunting, I know, but with a bit of persistence, patience, and guidance, you and your child will get through it.

You see, despite your baby relying on swaddling for comfort and warmth which sends them snugly to sleep, you will need to kick this habit for safety reasons. This guide aims to arm you with information, tips, and tricks to make it easier for you to stop swaddling altogether.

The Benefits of Swaddling

There’s no denying that swaddling has many practical benefits for both you and your baby. Hence why so many parents are so reluctant for when the time comes to stop, here are just some of the major ones:

  • Longer and sounder sleep
  • Reduces frequency of jolting awake by Moro reflex
  • Soothes colicky babies
  • Parents get more sleep at night
  • Keeps baby from scratching their face during sleep
  • Keeps baby in a supine position
  • Keeps baby comfortable and warm
  • Elimtaes need for crib comfort items that increase SIDS risk
  • Baby feels less anxious

When to Stop Swaddling?

It’s true, you will miss the days of seeing your cherished little one, wrapped up snug and sleeping soundly like a pea in a cozy little pod. But stopping swaddling is quite an important milestone in their life and it’s a matter of safety.

Swaddling is fine if your baby is restricted to lying on their back, and if the swaddle is made properly so that the baby has room to move their legs to avoid hip dysplasia. We have another article going into more depth and discussion about swaddling safety which you are welcome to read.

But once your baby reaches between the ages of 4 and 6 months, and sometimes before that, they start to become more motile; rolling over and using their legs, kicking around more vigorously as they strengthen and exercise their muscles.

At this stage, swaddling is likely to increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), as for example, if the baby rolls over onto their front, without their arms free to support them, it could potentially result in suffocation. (1)

By stopping swaddling, they’ll also be taking steps towards sleep independence, which is not something they will reach for quite some time yet, but ditching the swaddle are the first foundational steps in that direction.

With that being said, here are some signs you should be looking out for which can be an indication that the time for swaddling is coming to an end.

Signs That Indicate When to Stop Swaddling

  1. They’re able to roll over onto their tummy
  2. Fighting against you when you try to swaddle them
  3. Your baby manages to wriggle out of the swaddle or loosen it themselves
  4. Your baby and wakes more frequently or the swaddle no longer soothes them to sleep
  5. They display less startle reflex (Moro reflex)

Do I Need to Stop Swaddling Immediately?

No, you don’t have to stop swaddling all at once if it’s not right for you or your baby, it can be done gradually over a period of time. Some babies go on being swaddled past the 6-month mark, while others may stop much sooner.

After all, you know your baby better than anyone else and so you should stop swaddling when you feel it is the right time to. Just ensure that you are aware of when is the right time and that you are aware of the risks that come with swaddling, particularly when it comes to prolonged swaddling.

It is worth noting, however, that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does suggest that the ages between 4 and 6 months are generally the best time to stop. And you will want to ditch the swaddle quickly if they have started rolling onto their tummies quite often.

When you do determine it is the right time to commence: “operation stopping swaddling” you can decide to do this gradually or all at once. The following tips will give you some direction for either of these options.

Stopping Swaddling Gradually: Practical Tips

Swaddling With Arms Out

You can try this before they reach 4 months old if you wish to begin weaning them off swaddling before they grow out of it.

Start out by swaddling your baby with one arm free. If they don’t like it, keep both their arms inside the swaddle for another week or two and then try again. Once they have become accustomed to sleeping this way, then move onto swaddling with both arms out.

Use a Swaddle Transition Suit

A swaddle transition suit is a useful product to help your baby get used to sleeping without being swaddled. They help by making your baby feel secure and snug just like they do in the swaddle but their arms and legs are free to move.

There are a variety of different sleepsuits that you can find but we would recommend the Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit which can be found with several vendors and you can check it out on Amazon by following this link.

Swaddle transition suits are not the only products that can help though, there are also wearable blankets, the zipadee-zip, swaddle straps and our favorite, the Woombie. The convertible Woombie, which you can view on Amazon by clicking here, allows you to choose between the arms being within the swaddle blanket or free.

Check for the Moro Reflex

Babies are born with a reflex called the Moro reflex or more commonly known as the startle reflex. It’s where a baby is startled awake for no apparent reason and swing their arms and legs outwards.

It’s a similar feeling to when you have had a sensation of falling as you sleep only to wake up confused and a little bit shocked. They eventually grow out of this reflex after they reach about 6 months old.

Swaddling the baby helps to keep them soothed and stop them from jolting themselves awake when the experience the Moro reflex. Check that the startle reflex is not happening as often before stopping swaddling.

Remove the Swaddle

Once your baby has gotten used to sleeping with their arms free, they are certainly ready to toss the swaddle aside altogether. Try getting rid of the swaddle or your swaddle transition product of choice and see if they sleep well.

If not, you can always revert back to swaddling arms free for a few days and then try again. This is the graduated method of stopping swaddling and it’s quite simple to achieve with a little patience and persistence.

Stop Swaddling Cold Turkey: Practical Tips

Stop Swaddling Cold Turkey Practical Tips

If you feel that you need to stop swaddling quite soon, or even immediately there’s no harm in going cold turkey. It can, however, upset your child and you may be in for a rough ride while they get used to sleeping without the swaddle.

Introduce a New Association to Sleep

The reason stopping swaddling quickly can be rough is that your child has come to associate the swaddle with going to sleep. Therefore, they may feel that they could not sleep without it. Therefore, try introducing new objects for them to associate with sleep.

Pacifiers are the typical item parent’s use. They’re safe, unlike having stuffed toys which present a suffocation hazard and they’re soothing for the baby.

Using particular sounds like white noise generators or baby light show projectors are also things to consider as the baby associates the sounds and projections with sleepy time and may have a much easier time drifting off.

Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule

They may still stir, or waken during the night for feedings at the time you choose to stop swaddling but still, you should aim to put them to bed at the same time every night.

Babies under 6 months old have not yet developed a circadian rhythm, but they will still learn to associate sleep with the bedtime routine, such as the lighting in the home, as well as certain noises that occur around bedtime. (2)

Cozy Sleep Environment

When they are put to bed, or for daytime naps, the swaddle used to contribute a lot to their comfort and their warmth which you are now (from a place of love) removing. Yet they will still need to feel as comfortable and warm without it.

Therefore, ensure that it’s not too cold or hot when they are put to bed and that the room they sleep in is cozy, friendly and remember to keep the lights dim. Avoid moving bedrooms or transitioning from a bassinet to a crib at this time until they are used to sleeping without a swaddle.

Try at Nap Times First

In all honesty, to stop swaddling cold turkey doesn’t pan out all too well the majority of the time and it often leads to the baby being uncomfortable and unable to get to sleep.

If you are going to try it out, do it at nap times instead of at night to test their reaction. You can also be at hand to console them and that way they aren’t going to be waking the all house up in the middle of the night.

In Conclusion

Swaddling can be such a great help during the first half a year or so of your child’s life, but due to the safety risks that come along when the baby is able to wriggle and roll, swaddling sadly has to be stopped eventually.

Stopping swaddling can be relatively easy, depending on the personality of your baby and how much they rely on swaddling. It’s best to take it easy and begin to stop swaddling earlier than the 4-6 month mark by getting them used to sleeping with just one arm out at first.

Once they’re used to that, it’ll be much easier to get them to sleep without the swaddle later on instead of having to stop swaddling cold turkey.

Either way, don’t worry too much about stopping swaddling as you and your baby will get through it with some persistence and they’ll eventually become familiar with other sleep associations to keep them soothed and comfortable during the night.

References

  1. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/practicing-safety/Documents/swadling101.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440010/

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