Have you recently welcomed your little one? If so, you are probably becoming well-versed in diaper changes, feeding times, and swaddling your newborn baby. Swaddling is done by wrapping your baby in a snug blanket. The practice of swaddling has been used for hundreds of years and is an effective soothing tool for multiple reasons.
A swaddle helps your newborn baby by recreating the womb environment, calming a colicky baby, and muffling the Moro (startle) reflex. The tightly wrapped swaddle allows your newborn baby to feel safe and secure—and can also help your little one fall asleep faster. As your baby grows, their need for a swaddle blanket also changes. Here are key pieces of advice on the best time to stop swaddling your baby and how you can safely and effectively transition into a sleep sack.
When to Stop Swaddling
It is important to determine the age-appropriate time to stop swaddling your baby. As your baby grows, so does their need for increased movement throughout the day and night. If your baby is swaddled too long, it can start to limit their mobility. Most babies will transition out of the swaddle between 2 to 3 months old.
Signs to Know When to Stop Swaddling
There are different indications to watch for that will let you know when it is time to move your baby out of the swaddling practice.
Baby is showing signs of rolling
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that it is no longer safe to swaddle your baby when they are showing interest in rolling or has started to roll. Signs your baby is starting to roll include rolling hips side to side, getting their body up on their shoulder, and/or moving in a circle when they are on their back (while kicking their legs). Your little one does not have the arm mobility needed in a swaddle if they were to roll and this also increases the risk of SIDS.
Baby is starting to resist the swaddle
As your baby grows, so does their strength. It is normal to see some resistance as you first start swaddling your newborn baby, but between 2-3 months your baby who was once comforted by the swaddle might resist the snug environment again. This is normal. Resisting the swaddle is a cue that they are ready to have their arms free.
Baby is breaking out of the swaddle
If your little one is now able to break out of the swaddle and unwrapping the fabric, it is no longer considered safe sleep.
The startle reflex has diminished
As your baby grows, the Moro reflex decreases. When you notice the sudden jerking movements are not happening as often, you can transition your little one out of the swaddle.
How to Transition From a Swaddle
Now that your baby is showing you the signs they are ready to move out of the swaddle, it is time to start the transition to a sleep sack. There are multiple ways to go about this transition, including a gradual transition, a cold turkey approach, or using a transitional suit. Let’s elaborate on these options.
This technique is a great way to transition your baby out of the swaddle if they are not yet rolling, but are showing other signs they are ready to move into a sleep sack. You would start with one arm out for about three nights while keeping one arm still snug in the swaddle. After three nights of having one arm free, you can move to both arms being out of the swaddle, but still swaddling your baby’s body. The last step in this gradual process would be to move from the swaddled body to a traditional sleep sack. I recommend using the same progression during the day for naps as you are at night.
This is the perfect option if you prefer a rip-the-bandaid-off approach or your little one is already rolling. You would move from the swaddle to a sleep sack within one night and then follow with the next day’s naps. Although there might be a few nights of sleep disturbances, this is usually the fastest approach. If you are looking for the best sleep sacks, check out our favorites!
Use a transitional suit
The last option to move from swaddle to sleep sack is to use a transitional suit. The purpose of a transitional sleep sack or suit is to further muffle the startle reflex and help your baby adjust to a less contained sleeping environment. The transitional suit is best if your baby is not rolling. If you prefer to use a transitional suit, I highly recommend Swaddle Sleeves! You would use the transitional sleeves or suit for 3-4 weeks before moving to a traditional sleep sack.
How to Help During the Sleep Sack Transition
Some babies will seamlessly transition from the swaddle to a sleep sack without disturbances, whereas others will need some help with soothing. If your little one is experiencing more night wakings or having a harder time falling asleep, I suggest introducing white noise (if you aren’t already using it). White noise at a low volume is a calming sound to your baby and will help them settle to sleep.
It is also appropriate to use a ladder technique to help your baby settle and fall asleep. The soothing approach is where you start with minimal intervention and systematically (30 seconds to 1 minute at each step) add in more soothing tools. I suggest starting with a long drawn-out shush, inserting a pacifier, and then moving to patting/rubbing your baby. The next step in the ladder is to pick them up until calm or back to sleep before laying them down in their safe sleep space. It is common to have to use the soothing ladder technique throughout the first few days of the swaddle-to-sleep sack transition.