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 very different activities, there are some similarities, aren’t there? Specifically, both swaddling and pacifiers are designed to comfort to fussy babies, and help them to relax (and hopefully, to fall asleep!)
And here’s another similarity – 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 how to stop swaddling your baby, and when to stop swaddling your baby.
When To Stop Swaddling Your Baby
The first question many parents have is, “When can I (or 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!
Remember that while most people use swaddling as a soothing technique during the newborn stage, and then start to phase it out around 3 or 4 months, it’s not uncommon for babies to be swaddled when they are 6, 7, 8, even 9 months old. Most older babies will eventually start to reject swaddling, but that’s not true for all older babies; some will continue to sleep better while swaddled well past 6 months.
That said, here are some general guidelines you can use to help determine when to stop swaddling your baby:
- The average age to stop swaddling baby is around 3 or 4 months of age.
- Newborns are born with a startle reflex, called the Moro reflex, and 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 his swaddle, this isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s time to stop swaddling. However, if your baby is consistently breaking free of his 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 his sleep AND awake time swaddled, it might be time to gradually stop swaddling during his awake time.
- If you are getting ready to sleep train, or sleep coach, you will likely want to stop swaddling first, before you begin sleep training. Part of the sleep training process involves helping your child learn to self-soothe, and babies need to be unswaddled in order to learn to self-soothe.
How To Stop Swaddling Your Baby
For babies who are not highly dependent on swaddling for comfort and are great self-soothers, or for babies who are becoming increasingly resistant to the swaddle, it will probably be easy to stop swaddling. But if your baby is very dependent on his swaddle to sleep, it may be tough to stop swaddling! Fortunately for you, we have tips. 🙂
In general, the best way to stop swaddling a baby is to do it gradually. This means starting by leaving one arm, or one leg, unswaddled at first. From there, you can gradually move to leaving both arms, or both legs, unswaddled. 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.
There are also some products on the market that can make the transition from swaddling easier. One is the Swaddle Strap, by Anna & Eve. This 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!
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.
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.