Wondering when you should stop swaddling your little one? Find out when you can transition young babies out of their swaddle and how to make the transition easy.
I loved wrapping Evelyn into a baby burrito each night by swaddling her.
Up until she was 10 weeks old or so, we swaddled her at bedtime and swaddled for naps too. It was an effective way to soothe her while keeping her startle reflex from waking her up. She always seemed to enjoy the sense of security in being swaddled and never fought it.
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.
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When to Stop Swaddling
As soon as babies start rolling over in their sleep from their back to their front, it’s the right time to stop swaddling them. Even if they start to show signs that they might roll over soon, 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 reason for this is that the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome increases if a swaddled baby rolls to their side, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The AAP doesn’t give an exact time of when to stop swaddling your baby, more of a general recommendation based on each baby’s development. And we know that each baby develops at different speeds!
This can be around 2 months old all the way up to 5 months of age for older babies, depending on your baby’s development. Here are some signs that your baby is ready to stop being swaddled:
- They can get one or both arms out of the swaddle
- They can get out of their swaddle completely
- Baby starts rolling over from back to front
You can learn more about the pros and cons of swaddling in this post.
Do I Really Need to Stop Swaddling at 8 Weeks?
You may have read in a parenting article or seen mentioned in social media parenting groups that you should stop swaddling at 8 weeks.
Is that true? Do you really need to?
While many safe sleep recommendations say to stop swaddling at the first sign of rolling over, the most conservative recommendations say to stop swaddling at 8 weeks.
So, do you really need to stop that young? That is a decision only you can make. Your pediatrician can be a great resource for making the decision that is best for your baby.
This will come at different times for different babies.
Why Do You Stop Swaddling at 8 Weeks?
So, why do some recommendations say to stop swaddling at 2 months or 8 weeks? This is because sometimes, babies roll over as early as 8 weeks.
It isn’t common to roll that young, but because it can happen, some experts feel the safest thing is to have an across the board recommendation that all babies stop being swaddled at 8 weeks.
You’ll also usually see 8 weeks recommended in evidence-based parenting or safe sleep groups on social media, despite the first sign of rolling being recommended by the leading pediatric organizations in both the US and the UK.
Hip dysplasia used to be a concern when it came to swaddling, but there is much more awareness now on making sure swaddles fit loosely at the hips.
You don’t need to stop swaddling at 8 weeks to prevent hip dysplasia, provided your baby’s swaddle fits properly.
Is Swaddling Past 4 Months Bad?
Swaddling past 4 months can be dangerous. Many babies have either already started to roll over or will start in a matter of days or weeks, and rolling while swaddled is not safe.
You can’t predict when a baby will try to roll for the first time, and if your baby is 4 months and not yet trying, it will likely be sooner rather than later.
Also, the older a baby gets, the more they get to used to sleeping while swaddled and the harder it can be to adjust to sleeping without the swaddle.
Safety and an easier transition are both great reasons to stop swaddling around 3 to 4 months of age.
Another reason you want to go ahead and move away from the swaddle by 3-4 months old is to give your baby access to their arms for easier self-soothing.
This is especially true if your goal is eventual independent sleep!
How Do You Know When Baby is Ready to Transition Out of Swaddle?
The most obvious signs to stop swaddling is your baby showing signs of rolling over.
If you see this, it is time to stop swaddling cold turkey. You don’t want to spend time slowly transitioning out of the swaddle, as that would present a safety risk.
If your baby isn’t showing signs of trying to roll, but is around 3 months old, you could move towards a transition swaddle. Or if you prefer, you could stop swaddling cold turkey.
Waiting for the startle reflex to be gone is not a reliable sign, as some babies start to roll before it is gone.
Signs Baby May Start Rolling Soon:
- Pushing up on their arms or hands during tummy time
- Rocking back and forth while lying on their back or even start rolling onto their side
- Lifting their head and shoulders up when lying on their stomach
- Crossing one leg over their body
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How Do You Transition Out of Swaddling?
Like many new parents, I remember dreading having to transition out of the swaddle for the first time. We were finally in a good sleeping routine and starting to get longer stretches of night sleep. I didn’t want to disrupt my baby’s sleep, but I knew following safe sleep guidelines while she slept was the utmost importance.
The transition went much better than I thought it would. If you’re getting ready to transition your baby out of the swaddle or swaddle blanket, the good news is that you can do it following these simple steps. Any disruptions to your baby’s sleep will be temporary!
If your baby is starting to roll over, it might be time to transition them out of the swaddle. There are a few different methods you can use to transition them.
There’s the cold turkey approach, or the gradual approach. See below for how to do each one and decide the best way to stop swaddling for your family.
Stop Swaddling Cold Turkey
This is the method we used with Evelyn and it went surprisingly well! The main reason we stopped swaddling, was because around the time she was 10 weeks old, she could get herself completely out of her swaddle by shimmying out. (She’s a baby Houdini—see the photo above!)
For three days in a row, when I went to get her in the morning, the swaddle was crumpled at the bottom of her feet. You don’t want any loose objects in baby’s crib, so I knew it was time to transition her.
We started with nighttime sleep and followed her same bedtime routine that night. When it was time to fall asleep instead of swaddling her, we used a regular sleep sack.
A sleep sack is a wearable blanket that covers baby’s legs, baby’s chest, and stomach and is a safe way to keep your baby warm at night, so there aren’t any loose blankets in the crib. You can learn more about a swaddle vs sleep sack here.
It also gives your baby plenty of room to move their legs freely inside the sleeping bag. See some of the best sleep sacks 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 just ready to drop the swaddle, or was 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.
Stop Swaddling Mid Night
This is a gradual transition and the method my friend used for transitioning her baby to the crib and it takes a more gradual approach.
If your baby isn’t rolling yet, but you suspect the time is getting close, you can put them to bed swaddled. When they wake up in the middle of the night to eat, you can move them out of the swaddle and into a sleep sack, feed them, and then put them back down. They’ll wake up without a swaddle, getting them used to this transition period gradually.
Try this for a few days until they seem ready to go to bed without a swaddle completely.
Swaddle with One Arm Out
This is a great way to transition and takes a couple of days.
With this method, you swaddle your baby like you normally would, but leave one of baby’s arms out. This lets them slowly adjust.
You can swaddle them like this for a few days with their right arm out, then add the other arm out, so just their body is swaddled. Eventually you will stop swaddling them during nap time as well.
The Love to Dream swaddle makes transitioning this way super simple! You can unzip the arm part off of their swaddle so baby’s hands are free.
This is also the way I have my clients stop swaddling when they are transitioning out of the SNOO.
Switch to A Swaddle Alternative
A benefit of using one of the transitional swaddle products can be that your baby’s sleep is less disrupted than it is by dropping the swaddle cold turkey.
Transition swaddles keep your baby’s chest swaddled while your baby’s arms move from fully swaddled to partially swaddled to free from the swaddle.
There are swaddle alternatives that allows your baby to move around while still having that snug feeling. See some of the best transition swaddles to see which items we recommend.
These can help with the Moro reflex, and if baby’s arms are out, these can be safe for babies to roll in. This is a great option if you’re having trouble figuring out how to get baby to sleep without the swaddle.
How Long Does it Take to Transition Out of Swaddle?
Some babies transition out of a swaddle more easily than others.
Typically, you can expect it to 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 little bit longer to adjust.
Continue your baby’s bedtime routine and type of nighttime support and encourage your baby that they can do this!
How Do I Stop the Startle Reflex Without Swaddling?
The startle reflex can make dropping the swaddle feel really challenging. Sometimes baby needs to make the 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 without swaddling.
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
Avoid common sleep mistakes and follow these tips, which eases the 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—a huge benefit of thumb sucking!
- Keep a regular sleep schedule to prevent an overtired baby. Pay attention to those 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 swaddle transition 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!
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