Transitioning out of the swaddle

Transitioning out of the swaddle

Rebecca Michi, Sleep Consultant Rebecca Michi, Sleep Consultant

While a swaddle is highly recommended, moving away from the swaddle becomes increasingly important as your baby grows. So when should you transition out of the swaddle and how? In this blog Rebecca Michi, sleep consultant, gives you the answers to these questions and great tips for the next steps after swaddling.


Why swaddling a baby?

Chances are, you swaddle your child. A swaddle is a great way of preventing your little ones' startle reflex from waking them and creating a snug, secure feeling. I always recommend families swaddle their newborns; they were so lovely and snug in the womb, and now they're on the outside; it feels so different. When things feel different, we all struggle to sleep as we don't feel as comfortable. 

As your baby grows, moving away from the swaddle becomes increasingly important.

Baby in swaddle

Photo from ergoPouch

There are a few reasons for this. First, as your baby gets older, they will start to roll over. This can be dangerous if baby is swaddled and they roll over; they won't be able to push up with their hands. They're stuck! Second, the swaddle can inhibit movement and development as the baby gets older and more active. Babies need to be able to move their arms and legs to develop muscle strength and coordination.

If you're unsure when to stop swaddling your baby, a good rule of thumb is to start transitioning around four months old. I like to have families begin transitioning from the swaddle at the latest when they see their child trying to roll over. If you start at that point, you have some time to work on this gradually and don't need to go cold turkey, as you would if you wait until your child is confidently rolling over.

How do you transition out of a swaddle?

There are a few things you can do to make the transition out of a swaddle easier for both you and your baby. It will depend on how your child is swaddled as to how you'll want to transition out of the swaddle.

If your child swaddled in a sheet or blanket

Step One: If your child is swaddled in a sheet, you can begin to make the swaddle a little looser over a few nights. 

IMPORTANT: You will want to make sure that your child continues to sleep safely and that the swaddle cannot come undone. 

Making the swaddle loser gives your child more and more wiggle room whilst they're sleeping and will help them become more comfortable sleeping with more arm movement.

Step Two: Swaddle with one arm out. Make sure the swaddle continues to be secure and cannot come undone.

One arm out of swaddle

Photo from ergoPouch

Step Three: The next night, pop the first arm back in and swaddle with the other arm out.

Step Four: Swaddle with both arms out. 

The swaddle continues to be nice and snug around your child's chest.

If your child is swaddled in a swaddle

Some swaddles make it easier for you to transition from swaddling by having snaps at shoulder level so you can work on introducing sleep with arms out. Check if your swaddle can transition.

Step One: Have your child sleep with one arm free.

Step Two: The next night, pop that arm back in and have the other arm out.

Step Three: Sleep with both arms out.

If your swaddle doesn't convert to arms out, or you don't have time for a gradual transition because your child is rolling, you will need to go cold turkey and no longer swaddle. This may feel like a big step, and it is, but your child will get comfortable sleeping unswaddled.

Lulla doll in doll sleeping bag

What to expect?

Whenever we make changes to how your child sleeps, we can expect sleep to get wonky and more challenging. 

When you transition from swaddling, your child may have difficulty falling asleep and waking more often. That's okay.

If you have the time to transition out of the swaddle gradually, it's not all-or-nothing. You can have your child sleep with both arms unswaddled for the beginning of the night. If they are often waking, you can pop one arm in for the remainder of the night.

As your child becomes more comfortable sleeping with arms out, they will sleep for longer stretches, and you won't need to pop their arm back in.

It usually takes around three nights for your child to get comfortable with changes to sleep. The more time your child spends sleeping out of the swaddle, the easier time they will have sleeping without the swaddle. 

It's not always easy; even when you take a more gradual approach, you can expect some challenging nights.

What next?

What will your child wear to sleep once they are no longer swaddled? 

Well, they don't need any covers; you can dress them so they are comfortable. Lots of families will move from a swaddle to a sleep sack. A sleep sack is a wearable blanket that will keep your child warm and safe as there are no loose blankets in the sleep area.

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