Wondering when to stop swaddling your little one? Find out when you can transition your baby out of their swaddle and how to make the transition easy.
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Swaddling provides a cozy, womb-like environment that can help babies feel safe and warm. Swaddling can calm fussy babies, keep the startle reflex from waking them, and help babies to sleep better.
But at a certain point it becomes unsafe to continue swaddling your baby.
When to Stop Swaddling
The recommendation of the AAP is to stop swaddling baby at the first sign of rolling.
This can be between 2–5 months of age, depending on your baby’s development.
As soon as your baby starts rolling over, it’s time to stop swaddling them. Even if your baby starts to show the signs of rolling, you should start to transition them out of the swaddle.
It’s not safe to have a swaddled baby roll over and can be a risk factor for SIDS.
The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome increases if a swaddled baby rolls to their side, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Signs that your baby is close to rolling over:
- Pushing up on their arms or hands during tummy time
- Rocking back and forth while lying on their back
- Starting to roll onto their side
- Lifting their head and shoulders up when lying on their stomach
- Crossing one leg over their body
How Do You Know When Baby is Ready to Transition Out of Swaddle?
The most obvious signs to stop swaddling is if your your baby starts rolling over or shows signs of rolling.
If your baby isn’t showing signs of rolling, but is around 3 months old, you could start a gradual transition, since it’s likely that rolling will happen soon.
Waiting for the startle reflex to be gone is not a reliable sign, as some babies start to roll before it is gone.
Do I Stop Swaddling if My Baby Breaks Out of the Swaddle?
If your baby is able to break out of the swaddle, but isn’t showing signs of rolling, then I still recommend transitioning out of the swaddle.
This is what my daughter was doing. No matter how tight we wrapped her, she was able to break out of her swaddle.
For three days in a row, we found her crumpled up swaddle at the foot of her crib.
Safe sleep guidelines are to keep all loose objects out of the crib. A broken-out-of swaddle becomes a loose object and a potential hazard for your baby.
How To Transition Out of the Swaddle
There are three different ways I usually have families tackle the transition:
- Cold Turkey
- Gradual Transition
- Use a Transitional Swaddle
Stop Swaddling Cold Turkey
This is the method we used and it went surprisingly well!
We started with nighttime sleep and followed our same bedtime routine that night. When it was time to go to sleep instead of swaddling her, we used a sleep sack.
A sleep sack is a wearable blanket that covers baby’s legs, chest, and stomach. It’s a safe way to keep your baby warm at night, without any loose blankets in the crib.
It also gives your baby plenty of room to move their legs freely inside the sleeping bag.
You can learn more about a swaddle vs sleep sack here.
She went down well that night and slept about the same amount of time that she had been. She seemed to love having her arms free and slept with them spread open!
I’m not sure if she was ready to drop the swaddle, or just an easy baby, but this method worked for us, making it a smooth transition.
If your baby has trouble sleeping those first few nights without the swaddle, you could help them by doing the Shush Pat.
Swaddle with One Arm Out
This is a great way to transition out of the swaddle slowly. It usually takes a week to drop it completely.
With this method, you swaddle your baby like you normally would, but leave one of your baby’s arms out. This lets them slowly adjust.
Nights 1–3: Swaddle them with one arm in and one arm out. Start at night time and then do the same for swaddling for naps.
Nights 4–6: Swaddle them with both arms out, but their midsection will still be swaddled.
Nights 7 and on: Drop the swaddle completely and move to a sleep sack.
Switch to A Transitional Swaddle
Transition swaddles keep your baby’s chest swaddled while your baby’s arms move from fully swaddled to partially swaddled, to arms out completely.
These transition swaddles allow your baby to move around freely and safely while still having that snug feeling.
How Long Does it Take to Transition Out of Swaddle?
Some babies transition out of a swaddle more easily than others.
Typically, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to make the transition fully.
Expect that your baby may need more sleep support during the process.
Laid back, go-with-the-flow babies tend to adjust very quickly and more spirited babies tend to take a longer to adjust.
Continue your baby’s bedtime routine and offer nighttime support if needed.
Video on Dropping the Swaddle
Watch the video below where Amy will cover when to drop the swaddle and how to safely transition your baby out. Sometimes it helps to hear someone explain them versus reading a blog post.
How Do I Stop the Startle Reflex Without Swaddling?
The startle reflex can make dropping the swaddle feel really challenging. Sometimes your baby needs to transition out of the swaddle, but will still wake themself up from the startle reflex.
If you have to stop swaddling before the startle reflex disappears, unfortunately there’s not a great way to stop the startle reflex.
The Zipadee-Zip is one of the best transition swaddles for the startle reflex because it still keeps baby’s arms and hands somewhat contained. It’s also a great choice if you’re worried about baby’s hands getting too cold while they’re sleeping.
The good news is that within a month or two, the startle reflex will usually disappear and no longer wake your baby.
Other Tips to Help Drop the Swaddle
Here are a few additional tips to help you transition out of the swaddle:
- Make sure you have an optimum sleep environment set up including using white noise machines and nursery blackout curtains.
- If you haven’t already, you can introduce a transitional item such as a pacifier at this point to help your baby self soothe. Your baby may have also found their thumb by now, and can soothe that way.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule to prevent an overtired baby.
- Pay attention to your baby’s wake times. See a sample 4-month sleep schedule here, which is when most babies are dropping the swaddle.
- I don’t recommend making the transition from a swaddle to a sleep suit, like the Baby Merlin magic sleepsuit. This is just another sleep item that you’ll eventually have to wean your baby out of and is not safe once your baby can roll.
- Avoid using loose blankets in the crib. Babies can sleep with a blanket after 1 year old.
If your baby has a hard time transitioning out of the swaddle, just remember that it’s temporary. They’ll get used to this new way of sleeping within a couple of weeks.
Stick with your same sleep schedule and routine and know that it will get better.
If your baby is 16 weeks old, you can help them learn to self-soothe by using a sleep training method or soothing technique. Be sure to grab the Baby D.R.E.A.M. System if you need more help with the process of getting your little one to sleep!
Get Better Sleep with The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System
If you want someone to walk you through the process of sleep training, let me help. The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System is for babies 4 months through 2.5 years old. I’ll walk you through how to establish daily routines, sleep schedules, and sleep training techniques to help you break the sleep associations you no longer find beneficial! Check it out here.