New parents know swaddling a newborn baby is a simple and effective way to calm a fussy baby and help them sleep more. Unfortunately, there comes a time when you need to unwrap your little baby burrito for health and safety reasons.
When this time comes, you’ll be in for some difficult nights. But I’m here to help you learn when to stop swaddling, how to transition, and how to make the whole swaddle-free sleep process easier.
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At What Age Should You Stop Swaddling?
Typically, babies start transitioning from the swaddle between 2 and 6 months, with four months of age being the average.
The age can be different for every baby. You are looking for developmental signs that your baby is ready or needs to transition (according to safe sleep guidelines).
To clarify, your baby’s age will not tell you when you need to stop swaddling. The signs of readiness, which we will discuss below, will tell you when the right time is.
The most important things to consider when finding the right time to transition are:
- Whether the baby is showing signs of rolling.
- Whether they need more freedom to move in their sleep.
Remember that even though these are general numbers, your baby might be an outlier and need to stop swaddling much earlier or might enjoy the swaddle to an older age.
Pro Tip: When it’s time to stop swaddling, it’s also time to ditch the bassinet and move your baby to a crib or mini crib.
Here are the two major signs to look for when it comes to your baby and swaddling:
You must stop swaddling immediately once your baby can roll from back to front.
Your baby’s arms, hands, and legs are all restricted in a swaddle. If they roll onto their belly, it would be difficult–or impossible–to roll back. Your baby could become trapped on their belly and suffocate face-down in their crib.
Being on the belly is a very dangerous place for a baby. It is shown to cause an increased risk of SIDS (or sudden infant death syndrome), according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
If your baby is showing signs of rolling, you must stop the swaddle immediately cold turkey for the baby’s safety. Do not use a gradual method to transition from the swaddle.
At What Age Do Babies Start Rolling?
Babies can start rolling at any age. My son started rolling at eight weeks 🙄. He didn’t do a full flip all at once… But I noticed he could easily roll from his back to his side. I decided to stop swaddling then, as I was too nervous about him rolling to his belly in his sleep.
Here are the best times to see if your baby can roll:
- You’ll likely see them trying to roll when they play on the floor or have tummy time.
- If your child is in daycare, ask them to alert you if they notice your child trying to roll during the day.
2. Breaking Out Of The Swaddle
The second sign that it’s time to transition from the swaddle is if your baby consistently breaks out of it. Those little Houdinis are crafty and can seemingly escape no matter what!
If you notice your baby breaking out of their swaddle, you should start transitioning right away. Your baby is ready for more movement in their sleep, and the loose fabric in the crib from the swaddle blanket unraveling can be a choking hazard and risk of suffocation.
Even if your baby isn’t completely free from the swaddle, it might become free enough for the blankets to cover their face or become tangled in an uncomfortable or dangerous position.
How Long Can You Swaddle a Baby?
If your baby is approaching the 4-6 month mark, isn’t rolling (totally normal, BTW), and isn’t showing signs of readiness, it might be appropriate to keep swaddling. Check with your pediatrician that they are comfortable with you swaddling past the 4-6 month mark.
Some babies might develop flat spots on their heads from being in the same position all night. And your pediatrician might have other concerns about extended swaddling.
If you get the green light to keep swaddling, enjoy those precious nights 😴
Should You Transition From The Swaddle Early?
Even if your baby isn’t ready, you might decide to transition from the swaddle. Here are two common reasons I hear from parents:
1. Sleep Training
Get the green light from your pediatrician before starting a sleep training program. Most infants will outgrow their swaddle before they start sleep training or shortly thereafter.
The transition from a swaddle to a wearable blanket can be difficult. You can get ahead of the curve by transitioning from the swaddle simultaneously.
You might see early sleep training success if your little one is still in the swaddle. Typically, you’ll get a major regression once you take the swaddle away.
2. Gradual Transition
If your child isn’t rolling or escaping the swaddle, there is no urgent need to transition from the swaddle. This means you can take your time and take a more gradual approach.
Once your child starts rolling or fighting their swaddle, you need to transition immediately (cold turkey), which is difficult for babies to get used to.
A gradual transition is typically more peaceful for both the parent and the child.
How To Transition From The Swaddle
So, you are finally ready to start the transition process. Here are some different methods to do it.
Remember that just because you start with one transition method doesn’t mean to are stuck with it forever. If it’s not working, it’s ok to try something else!
1. Cold Turkey
If you are transitioning your baby based on safe sleep recommendations (your baby is showing signs of rolling or breaking out of its swaddle), you will need to go cold turkey. No more swaddles for comfort, naps, or nighttime sleep.
You might still consider the cold turkey method if you don’t need to transition for safety reasons. Why not try if your baby responds well to a cold turkey approach?
- Nap Time Transition: Remove the swaddle for naptime only. Allow your child to settle without the swaddle in a low-pressure environment like a nap.
- Arms Up and Out: Change your infant’s swaddle position over a few days.
- Position the hands up by your baby’s face.
- Then, free the hands from the swaddle.
- Then, take one arm out of the swaddle.
- Then, take the other arm out of the swaddle.
- Then, take both arms out of the swaddle.
- Finally, remove the swaddle completely.
- Swaddle for Part of the Night: Start your nighttime routine as normal, but don’t swaddle the baby. Let them fall asleep without it. If you have subsequent night wakings or feedings, use the swaddle to calm them if they need it. If this doesn’t work, try the reverse: swaddle at bedtime, but remove it later in the night after a feeding or diaper change.
Why Is Transitioning From The Swaddle So Hard?
For some lucky parents, transitioning from the swaddle is quick and easy… But for most–myself included–it is a long and challenging process.
You might wonder what makes transitioning so hard, especially if your little one was constantly trying to break out of their swaddle, to begin with!
The answer is the Moro reflex, your baby’s startle reflex. Babies will throw their heads back and spread their arms and legs when a sound, movement, or touch startles them. This reflex can even wake babies in their sleep.
The swaddle prevents the arms and legs from flailing, making babies less likely to wake up. If your baby still has the Moro Reflex (which starts to disappear naturally between 2-4 months) when you transition from the swaddle, it may start waking them up frequently at night.
Mom-to-mom: this is a grueling time for everyone involved, and I wish I had the magic answer as to how you are supposed to survive those days or weeks on very little sleep… But I do not 😔. I can tell you that it will get better over time.
Transitional Swaddles And Swaddle Alternatives
Some transitional swaddles are available to help bridge the gap between a swaddle and a sleep sack. I must have tried at least ten transitional sleep sacks for my son then; some worked better than others.
Once he was big enough to wear Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit (around four months), our sleep problems started to improve.
Pro Tip: The Magic Sleepsuit was developed by a mom and pediatric physical therapist desperate to help her son sleep #momsrules.
Below are some of my favorite swaddle transition products. I used all of them except the Zipadee-Zip and the Swaddle Strap (I didn’t know about them when my kids were young!). If none work, try a sleepsack or sleepsack with sleeves to help muffle the Moro reflex.
- Start a Nighttime Routine: The consistent bedtime routine signals your baby that it is time for a long sleep. They will learn the difference between naps and nighttime sleep much quicker.
- I don’t want to toot my horn too much 🥳 because things can change… But since my son was about nine months old (he’s almost two now), we’ve been doing the same evening routine, and by 7 PM he’s actually excited to go upstairs for bath, book, and bed.
- Example Bedtime Routine:
- Bottle or Nurse
- Book or Lullabies
- Rock and White Noise
- Awake Windows: As your baby gets older and more alert, pay attention to their awake time (called awake windows) and make note of any sleep patterns.
- Temperature: Keeping your baby warm but not too hot is a full-time worry if you ask me. Whenever you use new swaddles, wearable blankets, or pajamas, do a temperature check when you put them in the crib and again a few hours later. Being too hot or too cold can wake babies in their sleep. Overheating is a serious health and safety concern.