How is swaddling like a pacifier? (Sounds like the first question in an I.Q. test, doesn’t it? 😉 Don’t worry – no I.Q. test today!)
Seriously, though, that’s a question worth asking. Even though swaddling your baby and offering your baby a pacifier are different activities, there are some similarities.
Swaddling also helps when babies still have their Moro reflex so they won’t knock the pacifier out!
Swaddling and Pacifiers As Sleep Associations
While both swaddling and offering a pacifier are great ways to soothe and comfort your baby, both can quickly become habitual sleep associations.
Parents who initially love swaddling their babies, or popping in a pacifier, may not be feeling the love when they find themselves getting up every 20 minutes at night to re-do the swaddle, or to replace the pacifier!
And so, with both swaddling and pacifier use, there comes a time when parents start asking themselves, “Can I stop doing this yet? Should I stop doing this yet?”
We’ve answered this question already, when it comes to pacifier use – check out our article How And When To Help Your Baby or Toddler Stop The Pacifier for tips.
Today, we are going to answer that question for swaddling. Specifically, we’ll look at when to stop swaddling your baby, and how to stop swaddling your baby.
When To Stop Swaddling Your Baby
The first question many parents have is, “When should I stop swaddling my baby?”
The good news is that there is no hard-and-fast answer to this. You can stop swaddling your baby whenever you feel it’s best. You know your baby best, after all!
While most people use swaddling as a soothing technique for newborns, and then phase it out around 3 or 4 months, it’s not uncommon to swaddle babies when they are 6 to 9 months old. Most older babies will eventually start to reject swaddling, but that’s not true for all babies. Some will continue to sleep better while swaddled well past 6 months old.
Here are a few general guidelines to help determine when to stop swaddling your baby:
Guidelines To Stop Swaddling Your Baby
- The average age to stop swaddling baby is around 3 or 4 months old.
- Newborns are born with a startle reflex, called the Moro Reflex. Most babies don’t outgrow it until 4 or 5 months of age. So be careful about stopping the swaddle too early. If your baby’s Moro Reflex is still strong, she may startle herself awake at night and during naps.
- If your baby is able to break free of the swaddle, this isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s time to stop swaddling. However, if your baby is consistently breaking free of the swaddle every night, and if that means you have loose blankets in the crib, then it’s time to either stop swaddling or to switch to a safer swaddling blanket. We recommend The Miracle Blanket.
- Swaddled babies should NEVER sleep face-down. So if your baby is starting to roll over on to her tummy while she sleeps, that is a strong sign that it’s time to stop swaddling your baby. Remember, when it comes to swaddling, safety first!
- Make sure that your baby is not swaddled all day long. While swaddling for sleep is fine, especially during the newborn stage, babies need time to move freely as well so that they can grow stronger and develop their gross motor skills. If your baby spends all of their time asleep AND awake being swaddled, it might be time to gradually stop swaddling during awake time.
- If you are getting ready to start sleep training, or sleep coaching, you will likely want to stop swaddling. Part of the sleep training process involves helping your child learn to self-soothe, and babies usually need to be unswaddled in order to learn to self-soothe.
We personally stopped swaddling sometime around 4 months old with both of our boys. This was mainly because we started sleep training and the Moro reflex was virtually gone.
How to Stop Swaddling – 3 Ways to Transition
1. Start With the Legs
Most struggle most with having their arms free, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to have your legs out. Kicking the mattress can be fun (and too distracting to sleep!)
So, sometimes you can test the waters by swaddling with your baby’s legs out, arms in, for a couple of nights. If that goes well, you can then swaddle with one arm out for a few nights. And, then you can try to stop swaddling all together.
2. Start With the Arms
This is probably the most common method to stop swaddling a baby. First, swaddle your baby with one arm out but one arm swaddled. You can do this for a few nights and then unswaddle both arms. At this point, most people would simply stop swaddling all together. See below for recommendations for what baby should sleep in after you stop swaddling.
3. Cold Turkey
If safety is an issue, you should NOT take a slower, gradual path to stop swaddling. If your baby is rolling onto his or her tummy or breaking out and has loose blankets in their sleep space, you need to unswaddle immediately.
Even if safety isn’t an issue, some baby’s personalities do better just making changes quickly. It might make for a couple of rougher nights, but better sleep faster is always a good thing.
To stop swaddling cold-turkey, simply transition right away to a wearable blanket or sleep sack. See below for our recommendations. It might be a few rougher nights, but your baby will adjust. And, many times, babies adjust faster than we expect!
Will My Baby Sleep Worse Without the Swaddle?
For babies who are not highly dependent on swaddling for comfort and are great self-soothers, it could be easy to stop swaddling. Your baby may sleep just as well, or maybe even better, without being swaddled! For babies who are becoming increasingly resistant to the swaddle, maybe they will welcome it!
If your baby is very dependent on being swaddled to sleep, it may be tough to stop swaddling.
There’s no way to predict it, but just give it a try and you can always go back to the swaddle if things take a bad turn.
In general, the best way to stop swaddling a baby is to do it gradually. Eventually, you will build-up to the point where you are not swaddling at all. The idea is that this slow, gradual transition makes it easier for a baby to get used to sleeping unswaddled without losing a lot of sleep. This helps you avoid a lot of sleep loss, too!
But, seriously? What if Sleep Is a LOT Worse Without the Swaddle?
If safety isn’t a concern, yet, consider keeping the swaddle a bit longer. No need to rush.
Or, you can stop swaddling in an even more gradual fashion!
Just because you unswaddle your baby at bedtime does not mean he has to stay that way all night!
Consider swaddling both arms and/or legs after the first night-waking. Although he might start the night sleeping just an hour, for example, that can quickly increase over a few nights as your baby adjusts to having his arms and/or legs free.
What about unswaddling at nap time first?
Another option is to start unswaddling at nap time. Although you might feel it’s “inconsistent,” keep in mind that day and night sleep are handled by two different parts of the brain. Let your baby get used to “freedom” one step at a time.
Of course, you should note that a baby who was once sleeping through the night may not do that while adjusting to sleeping without the swaddle. Keep in mind that it might take a week or two for her to get used to not being swaddled and getting used to having her limbs out.
And, what about the Moro reflex?
If your baby’s Moro or startle reflex hasn’t stopped, it might be especially difficult and you might swaddle her again and try again a few weeks to a month later.
Babies change very fast in the first year that something that didn’t work at one time might work great just two weeks later. You must be patient and give your baby time to adjust.
However, I find that even some babies who still have the Moro reflex adapt very quickly over a period of a few days to a week. You might just give it a try!
3 Products To Help Stop Swaddling
Anna & Eve Swaddle Strap
There are also some products on the market that can make the transition from swaddling easier.
The Swaddle Strap, by Anna & Eve is honestly the coolest swaddling product (those Amazon reviews don’t lie!). The Swaddle Strap works well in its own right as a swaddling tool; it’s great for warmer months when a full swaddling blanket is just too heavy, and it also makes diaper changes so much easier. You can use it as a tool to wean from the swaddle as well. By using the Swaddle Strap, you can swaddle your baby’s arms snugly while leaving her legs free. This is a great first step to transitioning away from the swaddle altogether!
Love To Dream Swaddle Up SwaddleUp Blanket
The Love To Dream SwaddleUp Blanket is one of my favorite products to recommend. I never got to use it because either I didn’t know about it or it didn’t exist when my boys were babies. But, we’ve had many families recommend this product to us in the past 10+ years we’ve been around. My favorite part about this blanket is it helps you transition away from swaddling in a more gradual fashion so you can do it when your baby is truly ready. When your baby is ready to stop being swaddled, simply zip off one or both of the “wings.” It’s that simple!
Very similar to the Love To Dream SwaddleUp Swaddle blanket, the Woombie offers you to keep your baby’s arms in or keep them out for a nice transition away from swaddling when your baby is ready. It’s comfortable and breathable for your baby and we hear from families who use this one all the time, too!
Of course, I wouldn’t purchase a product that you didn’t already have JUST to transition away from swaddling! If your baby is older, don’t bother. Buy a wearable blanket instead.
What Should Baby Sleep In After You Stop Swaddling?
For safe sleep, your baby should sleep in a wearable blanket or sleep sack. And, we have recommendations for the best products to consider!
Another product we love? The Zipadee-Zip. This awesome blanket is specifically designed to help you stop swaddling your baby, and make the transition away from the swaddle an easy one. The Zipadee-Zip offers babies a bigger range of motion than a traditional swaddle (which means that babies can practice self-soothing and can be a little ‘squirmier’), but it also provides enough constraint that it helps babies feel secure. This is a great product for older babies who may be attached to being swaddled but who are just getting too big, and to mobile, to be swaddled at night.
Bitta Kidda Baby Soother Sleeping Bag
The Bitta Kidda Baby Soother Sleeping Bag is a simple sleep sack with two unique twists. It has a flap that can function as a piece of a baby blanket for your baby to self-soothe through the night. If you’ve heard of the blankets and toys with the “tags” that’s what this is. My son LOVED playing with his tags and this is a safe way to have that ability when nothing is supposed to be in the crib with your baby. Even better is that your baby can’t lose their lovey! And, as you know, a lovey can help your baby sleep better. The second unique thing about this sleep sack is the diagonal zipper that makes diaper changes easy peasy.
Of course, if you don’t want anything fancy, we find the Halo Sleepsack works great! They aren’t too expensive and have a nice variety of styles and sizes.
How Long Does It Take To Stop Swaddling?
In general, in my 10+ years of experience as a sleep consultant, I have found that most babies adjust to sleeping without a swaddle blanket within 1-2 weeks, on average. If they are younger babies who learned to roll early but still have the Moro reflex, these babies sometimes take 3-4 weeks or more, depending on age and development. All babies develop at their own rate, in my experience. Some things just can’t be rushed.
A final word, remember that any time you are weaning from a sleep association, the process can disrupt sleep. This means that if you decide to stop swaddling your baby for sleep, your baby may stop sleeping through the night initially. The process of transitioning away from swaddling can take a week or so, and during that time, your baby’s sleep may be affected. This is normal; once your baby is used to sleeping unswaddled, sleep should return to normal.