Wondering how to stop swaddling your baby? With new AAP guidelines that urge parents to stop using a swaddle earlier than ever before, you may be wondering just how you’ll transition out of the swaddle. It can be a little tricky but there are a few proven strategies that you can use!
Swaddling not only helps your baby sleep better, but it also helps them sleep longer by reducing wake-ups from their startle reflex. Amazingly, swaddling has also been shown to reduce babies’ anxiety levels!
But, there comes a day when you will have to stop using a swaddle. Maybe it’s when they show signs of starting to roll over from their back to their tummy and it becomes a safe sleep hazard, or when they start resisting the swaddle so much that it just basically stops working for you.
Either way, rest assured that you will be able to transition out of the swaddle and your baby will continue to sleep well, even while unwrapped. Follow my tips below for a smooth transition from swaddle to sleep sack.
When Should You Stop Swaddling Your Baby?
Swaddling becomes a safety risk once your baby starts rolling over onto their tummy. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you stop swaddling your baby when they show signs of being able to turn over or onto their side. The AAP used to recommend that you stop swaddling around 3.5-4 months of age, but have changed the recommended age to as young as 8 weeks.
For those of us that have had babies under the previous guidelines who were swaddled until 4+ months of age, 8 weeks feels pretty early to drop the swaddle. But in the name of safety, dropping the swaddle at this earlier age is a good rule of thumb.
Another clue that it’s time to ditch the swaddle is when it no longer comforts your baby. If they’re spending more time trying to wiggle out of the swaddle, or if they don’t seem as comfortable in the swaddle, it may be a sign that they’re ready for something different.
How to Stop Swaddling Your Baby
Change isn’t easy for anyone. And it’s important to remember that the younger the baby, the harder it is for them to communicate to us.
A swaddle is a source of comfort for your baby; it’s something that makes being in the world feel a little more like being in the womb. When changing your baby’s sleep environment, approach it gently, slowly, and with sensitivity. Remember to be patient and know that it may take 2-3 days (or even longer) for your baby to get used to their new sleep arrangement.
For many families, transitioning out of the swaddle means transitioning to the crib. To make this transition easier for you and baby, I recommend having your baby nap in their crib once a day well before this point so that they’re used to sleeping in the crib.
Method #1: Leave one arm out of the swaddle to gradually transition out of the swaddle
Transition your baby out of the swaddle gradually by leaving one arm out of the swaddle. By transitioning out of the swaddle more gradually, you can help your baby get used to being unswaddled.
This process works best with a swaddle sack like the Halo Sleep Sack.
Here’s how to stop swaddling your baby with the Halo Sleep Sack:
- Swaddle your baby with one arm out of the swaddle. If your baby isn’t ready for this, you will know right away because they won’t be able to sleep well; in that case, simply try again in a week or two.
- If your baby is sleeping decently after a few days with one arm left out of the swaddle, begin leaving both arms out of the swaddle, but keep their belly wrapped in the swaddle. (This is easy to do with the Halo Sleepsack.)
- After your baby is sleeping consistently, you can stop swaddling their belly and switch to a wearable blanket.
Another way to do this would be to switch to an arms-only swaddle and keep your baby’s legs unswaddled. After using this for a couple of weeks, you would then leave one arm out of the swaddle (as suggested above).
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The Anna & Eve arms-only swaddle can be used to effectively transition your baby out of the swaddle – as long as they don’t need the comforts of a full wearable blanket. If you just need to keep your baby’s arms by their side, this arms-only swaddle does the job!
Method #2: Use a swaddle transition suit to help muffle your baby’s startle reflex
Swaddle transition suits are designed to continue to muffle your baby’s startle reflex in a way that’s similar to how a swaddle works. These suits can be very helpful in getting your baby accustomed to sleeping without the swaddle. You shouldn’t need to use these for more than a few weeks; after that point, you can switch to a wearable blanket.
When it comes to finding a swaddle transition suit that works for you, it may require a little trial and error. Every baby is different and what works for one baby might not work for another. Be patient with this process.
Also, note that some of these suits can run a little warm, so you must make sure that baby won’t overheat in these. Don’t use these when your baby has a fever. Talk to your pediatrician for sleepwear guidelines.
The Baby Merlin’s Magic Cotton Sleepsuit is essential! Although it’s manufactured in China and isn’t organic, it is often hailed as a life-saver for parents whose babies have a hard time letting go of the comforts of the swaddle. Personally, both of my babies used this and I recommend it to all my friends.
The Merlin suit offers babies the support and warmth of the swaddle but has open hands and feet to help with circulation. And, it still helps contain your baby’s startle reflex (which is one of the key benefits of swaddling), so it’ll usually allow baby to continue to sleep longer stretches once they’ve left the comforts of the swaddle and their bassinet.
It’s a good idea to have one of these on hand, so you might want to register for this because it runs a little pricey. Since it’s not organic, you’ll just want to make sure to wash this well before use. If your little one sleeps well with the Merlin suit, keep an extra one on hand for when baby’s diaper leaks because they do take a little extra time to dry.
It comes in cotton and microfleece, but for safety reasons, I recommend choosing cotton, as synthetic fabrics such as fleece aren’t breathable and can therefore lead to overheating. (Fleece is made from polyester.) If your baby runs hot, you can also consider this ventilated sleep suit but I personally haven’t tried it myself.
Please note that once your little one starts rolling over in the Merlin suit, it’s time to stop using it altogether.
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The Zipadee-Zip is another product designed to help parents with transitioning baby out of the swaddle. Its special design helps contain a baby’s startle reflex and features star-shaped pointed sleeves that allow your baby to move around freely in the crib while still making them feel snug.
We tried out a Zipadee-Zip for a few weeks and while it helped, we didn’t find it to be an amazing, miracle sleep item. But this product has a huge following as well, and at the end of the day, it’s really about what works for you and your little one. It’s worth a try at the very least!
For some families that didn’t have success with the Merlin suit or the Zipadee-zip, the Love to Dream Organic Swaddle has worked wonders. This product allows you to keep baby’s arms up (which many babies prefer) in a natural sleep position. This swaddle is made from 95% GOTS-certified organic cotton and 5% elastane.
A lot of the moms I know loved this swaddle. It didn’t work very well for us but all babies are different. My son just kept putting his hands in his mouth and ended up drenching the swaddle – to the point he couldn’t sleep. But some babies take really well to this swaddle.
Designed to help control the startle reflex, the Halo Easy Transition Sleepsack is another option to consider. With a snug fit around the arms, it gives your baby a light feeling of security, which can be helpful as you transition out of the swaddle.
This sleepsack is good for that stage in-between swaddling and using a wearable blanket. It’s also a good option to use once your baby starts rolling over in the Merlin sleepsuit (but isn’t quite ready for a looser wearable blanket). It has a two-way zipper, which makes it easier to change diapers at nighttime.
Method #3: Temporarily use a sleep lounger for supervised naps in the crib
A sleep lounger like the Snuggle Me Organic or Dockatot helps provide a similar feeling of comfort to your baby and can be very helpful in transitioning them to the crib. However, these are not safe for unsupervised sleep and I personally only used one when I was in the room and could watch the baby as he napped. In fact, you should ask your doctor if this is safe for your baby to use in the crib, even while supervised.
This would be safest without any sleep sacks or sleepsuits; if you are going to use one of these, just put your baby to sleep in their pajamas and stay nearby. Eventually, after your baby has become accustomed to sleeping in their new environment, you can remove the sleep lounger and dress your baby in a wearable blanket.
Babies love these and they provide a cozy space that “hugs” your baby. You can also use these for playtime, tummy time, and travel. We loved ours!
The Dockatot is another popular lounger. It is designed to mimic the comforts of the womb and give your baby a snug feel. Like the Snuggle Me, it is great for playtime, tummy time, and life on-the-go with your baby.
Method #4: Go cold turkey and use a wearable blanket
Depending on how old your baby is and how ready they are to sleep without their arms swaddled, this option just may work for you. If your baby is older than 4 months and her startle reflex has gone away on its own, you may not even need to do anything other than simply stop using a swaddle. Just dress your baby for bed and use a wearable blanket if needed.
But the only way to know if this will work for you is to try it. I have some friends who stopped swaddling their baby cold turkey, and it worked out fine for them. But their babies were old enough and ready to sleep without the aid of a swaddle or swaddle transition suit. So just keep that in mind.
If your baby’s startle reflex is still in high gear, you may not have much success with this method right now. The good news? You’ll know right away if this method works for your baby.
That’s it for how to stop swaddling your baby! I hope one of these methods works for you. And trust me, all of a sudden one day, you’ll realize that your little one has gotten used to sleeping in their crib and you might not even need to continue using a swaddle transition product.
Or, they might start rolling over or moving around, at which point, the products listed above are no longer considered safe because they can constrict baby’s movement in their sleep. Once you’ve hit either milestone, you can switch to using a wearable blanket over your baby’s pajamas.
Sleep well! I know you’re probably so so tired, but hopefully you’re managing to get in some rest and self-care.
Founder and CEO | The Gentle Nursery. Yasmine is the CEO of Biomeology, a company that makes supplements for mothers and babies. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, a doula in training, and a Functional Nutrition Coach.
Yasmine’s driving mission is to help reduce the rates of disorder, disease, and trauma in mothers and children and to inspire others to lead a healthier, happier, and non-toxic life. After learning about the toxic chemicals found in mainstream baby products, Yasmine created The Gentle Nursery to help other parents make healthy choices for their babies. With a 10-year background in research, analytics, and leadership for a Fortune 100 company, Yasmine applies the same principles and attention to detail to every article she writes and researches. Yasmine’s advisory team includes an amazing team of moms, medical professionals, chemists, and other experts that help ensure accuracy and perspective. Yasmine is the author of The Baby Registry Handbook.