How and When to Wean Your Baby From Swaddling

Swaddling can be a magical thing in those first few months – mimicking the sensations baby felt in the womb by keeping them all snuggly and contained in these wonderful contraptions. Swaddling is one of the 5 S’s in Harvey Karp’s “Happiest Baby on the Block” and helps prevent the startle reflex that so often wakes little babies. In combination with other tactics Dr. Karp outlines, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking, swaddling also has the benefit of helping to calm a crying baby. So, if you were like me as a first time parent, I deployed these strategies like no other – with great results. But then, my anxiety kicked up a notch when my little guy was breaking out of the swaddle and approaching the milestone of rolling on his own. What was I going to do when I could no longer rely on this amazing soothing technique? To help alleviate those questions and fears, check out these tips to help you with identifying the right time to make the leap, along with ideas on how to transition them out of the swaddle.

When Should I Wean From Swaddling?

Most babies will give clear signals they are ready to transition out of the swaddle. Like my son, he was no longer easily settled when we attempted to swaddle him and was often breaking out. On average, babies start to show these signs around 3-4 months of age. Sometimes they are ready to transition from swaddling at nighttime, but will remain swaddled during naps. This can be the case because it is a lot tougher for baby to settle into daytime sleep at this age then nighttime sleep. This is okay to continue as long as baby has not started to roll over on their own.

Which brings us to the rolling milestone. For safety reasons, if your baby has started to roll on their own and they are still swaddled, you should remove the swaddle right away. This will allow them the access to their arms/hands if they should roll over during sleep and allows them to push up and have freedom of movement. If you notice this happening and you haven’t had a chance to do any sort of transition out of the swaddle, that is okay – you may see a couple tough nights of sleep as they figure out their new found freedom of movement, but soon they will settle in. Give ample opportunities to practice tummy time during the day and trust that they will eventually master the roll and maybe even become a tummy sleeper (or thumb sucker!).

Tips to Wean From The Swaddle

There are many ways you can go about proactively weaning from the swaddle – and many products than can help you as well! Here are some ideas and tips:

  • Practice the one-arm out technique: At about 2-3 months of age, you can attempt to swaddle only one arm at bedtime. If they are not settling easily and seem upset, then swaddle both arms and try again in another week or two. If they seem okay with the transition, move ahead with one arm out for a week, then move to both arms out. I often recommend still using the swaddle around their midsection after both arms are out to continue to provide that secure and cuddly feeling the tightness provides.
  • Decreasing the tightness of the swaddle: If baby is not rolling, you can attempt to continue with the swaddle, but not as tight as you normally wrap. This allows you to gradually lessen their dependency on the swaddle and they can then move their arms slightly around on their own. With this technique, I would eventually suggest moving to the one-arm out or both arms out they become comfortable with a decrease in tightness.
  • Transition with the help of these awesome products: A popular product that many people talk about is the Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit, which can help aid in the transition from the swaddle. This product is appropriate if your baby has not yet mastered rolling on their own. It provides more structure then a regular non-swaddle sleep sack, but allows baby to move their arms and legs slightly. Another product I was recently introduced to is called the Zen Sleep Sack from Nested Bean. This is a fabulous invention for those babies that are calmed by the weight or tightness of a sleep sack. It contains a softly weighted section on the middle of the chest area of the garment that mimics the touch of a hand that mom or dad may place on their child to calm. You can also go the route of a traditional sleep sack that provides the cozy feeling without the restriction. Halo Sleep Sacks are a big hit in our house and can also work great to keep baby warm at night.

How To Help Baby Adjust

If your little one is having a tougher time with the transition, make sure you pay close attention to their sleep cues and make sure you are offering them sleep as soon as possible to avoid them going to bed overtired. At this age, respond to them quickly if they start fussing to help them ease back into sleep. You may have to sit crib side for a while to provide comforting support to help them fall back asleep. If you haven’t done so yet, creating a soothing bedtime routine will also help provide your baby comfort and security as they are learning how to navigate sleep without a swaddle. Here is an article on how to create an awesome bedtime routine – which you can begin as early as 6-8 weeks of age.

Still struggling? If your little one is over 18 weeks old, you can start to look into some gentle sleep coaching methods to teach your baby how to fall asleep independently. Reach out to Elizabeth today and schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation to talk about your family’s sleep goals.

About Elizabeth Sarles

Elizabeth Sarles is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach and the owner of Nite & Day. She lives in Edina, Minnesota with her husband Lien, two little guys – Lien and Harrison, and her first baby (and bed-hog), Eddie the Yorkie.

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