Swaddling helps keep babies asleep when they still have their Moro reflex. And, swaddling your newborn is almost always a great idea! But, unfortunately, all good things come to an end and it’s eventually time to stop swaddling. This post will help you decide when it’s time to stop swaddling and share 3 easier ways to transition based on my many many years of experience as a sleep consultant working with thousands of parents just like you.
What You’ll Learn In This Article:
- Age and Reasons to Stop Swaddling Your Baby
- How to Stop Swaddling – 3 Ways to Transition
- Will Your Baby Sleep Worse Without the Swaddle?
- What about unswaddling at nap time first?
- How Long Will It Take To Stop Swaddling?
When To Stop Swaddling Your Baby
Swaddling is a great way to soothe and comfort your baby, but it can become a habitual sleep association that prevents your baby from sleeping through the night. By keeping your baby swaddled, they may struggle to learn a way to self-soothe. And, if they have a pacifier, they won’t be able to put the pacifier back in themselves. This means you could be up all night with the baby!
While most people use swaddling as a soothing technique for newborns, and then phase it out around 3 or 4 months old, some babies still enjoy being swaddled when they are 6 to 9 months old. Unfortunately, it’s not always safe to do.
Here are a few general guidelines to help determine when to stop swaddling your baby:
Age and Reasons To Stop Swaddling Your Baby
- The average age to stop swaddling baby is around 3 or 4 months old, after the 4 month sleep regression begins. Most are being unswaddled by 5-6 months old at the latest. If your baby still enjoys the swaddle, and it’s still safe to swaddle, you can consider one of the products below.
- 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 switch to a safe swaddling option. We recommend The Miracle Blanket if you’re trying to keep the swaddle a bit longer. Alternatively, you might consider the Nested Bean or Love To Dream Swaddles.
- Swaddled babies should NEVER sleep face-down. So if your baby is trying to roll or starting to roll over onto their tummy while they sleep, it’s time to stop swaddling your baby immediately. Remember, when it comes to swaddling, safety first! Some babies are rolling from back to tummy as early as 2 months old so keep that in mind.
- Make sure that your baby is not swaddled all day long. Swaddling for sleep is fine, especially during the newborn stage, but babies need lots of time to move freely as well. This is so that they can grow stronger and develop their 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 (also known as sleep coaching), you will likely want to stop swaddling. Part of the sleep training process involves helping your child learn to self-soothe. 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.
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How to Stop Swaddling – 3 Ways to Transition
1. Start With the Legs
The majority of babies struggle the 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 altogether.
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 altogether. 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. Is your baby rolling onto his or her tummy or breaking out and having loose blankets in their sleep space? If so, you need to unswaddle immediately.
Even if safety isn’t an issue, some babies’ personalities do better simply by 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. Keep in mind 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. 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!
How Long Does It Take To Stop Swaddling?
In my 15+ 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 pace. 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. During that time, your baby’s sleep may be affected. This is normal! (Hang in there!) Once your baby is used to sleeping unswaddled, sleep should return to normal.
Hope this gives you everything you need to know about when and how to stop swaddling your baby!