How to Transition Out of the Swaddle

Swaddles, sleep sacks, and wearable blankets are terrific products because your newborn spent nine months curled up and cozy on the inside, and these products help to create that same warm and comforting feeling on the outside. 

Swaddling during the first eight weeks of life is a terrific way to help your baby feel secure while they are being held or while they are sleeping. But as your baby grows it becomes important developmentally to let their arms free. I’m going to take you through a few ways you can transition out of the swaddle and share my favorite products.

When Should I Stop Swaddling My Baby?

Weaning from the swaddle can be overwhelming. It’s always scary to mess with anything in your baby’s sleep environment for fear that you’ll upset the delicate balance that may be allowing you all to rest well at night. But as you’ll soon realize with parenthood nothing is permanent and as your baby grows and changes you’ll have to adapt. 

After the first 8-12 weeks your baby will show signs of wiggling and beginning to roll to their side. This is a great time to start thinking about moving away from the swaddle. Most parents stick with swaddling their baby because of the moro reflex which is a startle reflex all babies have when they are born. They suddenly throw their arms out to the side and become briefly stiff or rigid. Sometimes their hands will fly up and hit themselves in the face or with hands free they aggressively rub at their eyes and noses causing them to scratch their faces. It can take some time and practice for your baby to outgrow this piece of their development but they’ll get there. 

It’s important to be out of the swaddle as soon as your baby shows any signs of rolling. This can happen as early as 8 weeks or not until 16 weeks. Every baby is different but once your little one flips onto their belly they need their arms free so they can start learning to push their face up off the surface of the floor. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics babies can begin learning to roll between 4 and 7 months.

Here are 5 signs your baby is getting ready to roll:

  • Controlled lifting of the head and shoulders during tummy time
  • Ability to turn their body onto their shoulder
  • Getting really wiggling and turning in a circle when laying on their back
  • Rocking hips side to side
  • Using the legs to lift or turn onto their hips

My Baby Breaks Out of the Swaddle. Is it Time to Stop Swaddling?

Great question! And it depends. If your baby is showing signs of rolling and breaking out then yes it’s time to lose the swaddle. But if there’s no rolling in sight there are other reasons they may be breaking out or fighting the swaddle.

  1. Active Sleep- Before about 16 weeks your baby experiences sleep in 2 stages. REM sleep and deep sleep. REM sleep is a very active stage of sleep; your little one may twitch and jerk which causes them to break out of the swaddle.
  2. Overtiredness- Being overtired can cause more crying and agitation in your baby. If they are overtired and you’re trying to get them ready for bed but they are protesting and upset it can make swaddling very difficult. You can avoid overtiredness by watching your baby’s wake windows and sleepy cues.
  3. Growth- Your newborn is growing at an incredible rate! As they get bigger they also get stronger. Make sure your baby is in the right size/fit swaddle. 

How Do We Transition From the Swaddle?

Ok, your baby has started rolling or completely resisting the swaddle and you’re ready to make the transition. Here are a few options:

  1. Cold Turkey: Choose an arms-free sleep sack and just make the switch. Some babies handle this very well but others may resist the change.
  2. One Arm Out: Keep one arm out when you put them down for the night or for naps. This can be a nice half-step and give them partial freedom and some extra time to adjust.
  3. Half Night: This is a good option if your baby isn’t really showing signs of rolling but they either fight the swaddle or you just feel in your gut it’s no longer working for you. Put them down at bedtime in their new sleep sack. When it’s time for a night feed (usually after 1 am) and it’s time for a diaper change, go ahead and swaddle them when they are dry and full. This may help you get some better sleep for the second half of the night and give your baby a chance to adjust.

The Butterfly Swaddle is an excellent transitional swaddle that can go from full swaddle, to partial, to not at all; Use from birth clear through the transitioning process. This swaddle permits plenty of arm movement but will give your baby the freedom to press their arms up under their chest even when fully swaddled. Because the outer wrap can be used with or without the sleep sack, this gives swaddling versatility in hot and cold environments. Combined with the high-quality materials the swaddle is made from, your babe will be kept at optimum temperature (per safe sleep guidelines of keeping nursery between 68-72 Degrees Fahrenheit). 

It can take a couple of weeks to really get the hang of rolling and sleeping in a new sleep sack. This age usually accompanies the 4 month sleep regression which can make sleep feel more difficult. Lots of practice rolling during the day is a huge help when learning a new physical skill. I know it can feel overwhelming to adjust anything when it comes to your baby’s sleep environment but safety always comes first and your little one is amazing. I help a lot of parents during this time, it is full of change and growth. Book a call with me so we can move you through these changes with ease and set you up for success down the road.

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