First things first, swaddling a newborn can be an excellent tool. It mimics the feeling of confinement that they experienced in the womb and can be very calming and comforting to a majority of babies. It also helps with the “Moro” reflex, the startle reflex where they throw their arms out uncontrollably. This tends to wake a sleeping baby and can last up to 6 months of age. But having their arms down and wrapped tightly tends to help with that.
However, it can become a sleep prop. Meaning, no matter what, your little one refuses to sleep without being swaddled. It becomes a love-hate relationship at a certain age where your baby thinks they need a swaddle, but also don’t like it that much anymore. Because babies become so experimental with their movements and they like to move, practice kicking and rolling around, they’re most likely going to break free of the swaddle, no matter how tightly you wrap it, and then demand that you re-swaddle them in a not so pleasant way.
A good rule of thumb is, at 8 weeks, start the transition out of the swaddle. Start by leaving one arm out at nap time for a few days. Then the other arm for a few more days before removing the swaddle. Bedtime is a great place to start experimenting with no swaddle because it tends to be the easiest time of the day to get a baby to fall asleep.
If your baby has already started rolling over in their sleep or breaking out of the swaddle, no matter what their age is, the swaddle material itself is now a safety hazard and must be removed, leaving you no time for a gradual transition.
If your little one, isn’t so little anymore and you’re contemplating sewing together a few blankets to continue swaddling, STOP! There will be no successful way to wean out of the swaddle now because it has become such a prop and a habit that anything less than being tightly wrapped up in their normal swaddle is going to be a cause of concern for the baby.
There are a lot of products out there that claim to help with transitioning from a swaddle, but do your research. Some hold the legs straight down and pressed together, which can cause hip dysplasia and dislocation, or look like thick snow suits, that just make it harder for your little one to move, which will become very frustrating for them, very quickly.
However, I have found a fantastic transition option from the swaddle that a lot of parents swear by, the Zipadee-Zip. It’s shaped like a star fish and allows a baby to move around freely and safely while still providing the enclosed, cozy sensation that helps to relieve the startle reflex. You can check it out at www.sleepingbaby.com.
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Life is hard when you're not sleeping. As a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I teach families how to live a well-rested life.