Transitioning from the swaddle: everything you to need to knowUpdated Oct 07, 2022
Need to say goodbye to the swaddle? The time comes when all babies have to transition to being swaddle free and having their arms available for safe sleep. This transition often goes well, but in this article, we’ll cover some strategies for when you want to prepare in advance for this move, or if your baby needs a little more help to adjust.
IN THIS ARTICLE
When to transition out of a swaddle
Some newborns love their swaddle! It can help increase total sleep time as it helps to reduce wakings due to the Moro reflex. The Moro reflex is often quite dramatic, causing your baby to quickly extend their arms and legs out as if they’re falling. It can cause them to suddenly wake, and may even cause upset. Swaddling helps to keep the arms and legs from extending and can reduce the startle. Swaddling can also help babies feel secure and replicate the safety and coziness they experienced in the womb.
However, as newborns get older, they may naturally start breaking free or resisting their swaddle. Some babies, albeit still happily swaddled, will start to show signs of rolling and will need their arms free for safety reasons.
Most babies will transition out of the swaddle around 2 - 3 months of age. Some babies transition just fine, however, others need a bit more help moving away and being arms free.
Best way to transition your baby out of swaddle
Ideally, you’d work on practicing this new way of sleeping before your baby starts to show signs of rolling. That gives lots of time to play with and you can gradually move away from the full swaddle little by little over a couple of weeks. Taking your time may also help to reduce any anxiety you have about making changes to sleep routines!
First, we suggest starting with nights, then moving to naps. The transition could look like this:
Go cold turkey! This may be suitable for families who have calm, settled babies who don’t spend periods of time fussing or get overtired easily. You can always try this method and if your little one gets upset, settle them with your usual settling technique such as patting if required. If you’ve given it a go and found it too challenging, then try method 2 or 3 below.
Remove just one arm from the swaddle for a few days (word of caution: follow your manufacturers’ recommendations, some swaddles don’t allow for one arm out). Then you can remove both arms from the swaddle leaving just the legs swaddled. Finally, remove the entire swaddle. Then, work on naps.
If you’re still struggling with the Moro reflex waking your baby: remove the swaddle (or part of the swaddle) at bedtime only to start. Re-swaddle on their first-night waking. If your baby gets upset, then use your usual method such as patting, cuddling, or rocking to help calm them down. This can help make the process more manageable by limiting overtiredness, which is sometimes inevitable during a transition like this.
When bedtime becomes a bit easier, you can stop swaddling when your baby wakes up during the night.
Now, move to naps. You can start with the first nap of the day to get them used to the new way of sleeping and then move on to the other naps, or if your baby has done well up to this point, transition them to being swaddle free straight away.
Note: If you’re taking a gradual approach and your baby starts showing signs of rolling during the process then we need to remove the swaddle completely. This doesn’t mean your baby will get upset straight away and some babies transition really well. You may experience a bit of temporary disruption to your baby’s sleep as they get used to having their arms loose. However, their hands are now free to suck on, and new soothing strategies may emerge.
Signs to transition your baby out of the swaddle
You may notice your baby doesn’t startle in the same way, as the Moro reflex lessens over the first few months of life. If it’s not causing wakings, or they jerk but aren’t awoken fully, then you can start to transition to being swaddle free.
You may also notice that your child may start resisting their swaddle or breaking free. This is a good sign they’re ready for change.
If your baby shows signs that they’re starting to roll then it’s time to transition straight away. They may be lifting their upper body more, or rolling onto their shoulders and reaching out. Your little one’s lower body may also show more signs of strength and their hips start to twist. If this is the case, we need to immediately remove the swaddle to help keep your kiddo safe.
8 Tips and tricks for transitioning baby out of swaddle
Plan ahead for the swaddle transition so you have time to introduce gradual changes before your baby starts to show signs of rolling.
Start with bedtime first, typically this is when there’s the most sleep pressure, and it will be easier for your baby to fall asleep with changes to their usual patterns or routines.
If your swaddle allows, try for one arm out at first before transitioning to both arms out. Remember to check the manufacturers’ recommendations.
For naps, start with the first nap of the day and then progress to others.
Prepare for a transition period. It may (or may not!) have an impact on sleep. Persevere through this time as your baby learns new settling methods.
You may want to consider a transitional product such as the Magic Merlin Sleepsuit and Zipadee-Zip, for example. Many sleep sacks provide a similar sense of security and coziness.
If your baby is generally calm and settled with their sleep you may want to consider going cold turkey and just stopping the swaddle. Many babies will adjust better than we think.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend weighted swaddles and other weighted items. If you use one of these products then transition to a non-weighted swaddle or to being swaddle free.
Q: How long does it take to transition out of swaddle?
Some babies will transition with minimal fussing and are able to sleep without a swaddle overnight. However, for some this will feel very different and they may still have a strong Moro reflex. For these babies, if they aren’t showing signs of rolling, you can take a more gradual approach, typically transitioning over a couple of weeks.
Q: How do you help a baby transition out of a swaddle?
Removing one arm at a time can help to make this transition to being swaddle free. Or, you may want to start with bedtime, when the pressure to sleep is at its greatest. You can always re-swaddle at the first wake if your baby struggles to resettle (as long as they haven’t started to show signs of rolling).
Q: When should you transition your baby’s arms out of a swaddle?
Babies will need their arms free as soon as they start to show signs of rolling. This helps to keep their hands free should they roll onto their front during sleep. You may also want to transition babies who are starting to resist or break free from their swaddle.
Q: My swaddle isn’t designed for one-arm or no-arm use. Should I take one arm out anyway?
No. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Q: My baby is struggling to transition out of swaddle. What should I do?
There are products on the market designed to make the transition away from the swaddle easier. Many parents have had success with transitional products, such as the Magic Merlin Sleepsuit and Zipadee-Zip for example. Many sleep sacks also provide a sense of security and coziness.
Q: When should you transition your baby out of a swaddle?
When your baby starts to roll you should transition straight away. You’ll also want to transition your baby when they start to resist or break free from their swaddle. If they haven’t started to show signs of rolling, you can make a gradual transition around the 2 - 3 month mark. If you bed share or bring your baby into bed at night then remove their swaddle. Bedsharing, when swaddled, is not recommended.
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.