when can a baby sleep without a swaddle (3)

When Can A Baby Sleep Without A Swaddle?

Understandably, you might worry your baby won’t sleep as well without her swaddle. But rest assured, even if your baby initially has a tough time transitioning, she’ll eventually get used to it.

Remember, you still have lots of tools at your disposal for helping your little one sleep. Establishing a calming bedtime routine with a predictable pattern — like a bath, feeding, rocking and a lullaby or a story — can help your baby unwind and, hopefully, fall asleep.

Creating a soothing ambience by dimming the lights, speaking softly and playing white noise can help too. And finally, don’t discount the power of touch: Infant massage can calm a fussy baby and get her in the zone to fall asleep.

And even though you can no longer use a swaddle blanket, you may still be able to use a swaddle-sleep-sack hybrid to bridge the transition. You could also go straight to trying a regular sleep sack — basically, a wearable blanket that, depending on the model, your child may be able to continue to use well into toddlerhood (though you may need to size up as she gets bigger).

Swaddling is a smart sleep strategy for newborns. But once your little one is about two months old and reaches the point of trying to roll or kick free of her swaddle blanket, it’s time to move on. Here’s to the next exciting phase of babyhood!

You may experience a hitch in your transition from swaddle to wearable blanket. If your baby wants to feel “tucked in,” as they did in a swaddle, you can try a different method.

Put your baby on their back with their feet near the bottom of the crib. Place a blanket over your baby, but make sure it doesn’t reach higher than their armpits.

Then tuck the blanket securely into the sides and bottom of the crib. Doing this will make them feel tucked in and reduce the risk of suffocation.

You should stop swaddling your baby when they start to roll over. That’s typically between two and four months. During this time, your baby might be able to roll onto their tummy but not be able to roll back over. This can raise their risk of SIDs.

FAQs About Baby Sleep

Babies don't have to be swaddled. If your baby is happy without swaddling, don't bother. Always put your baby to sleep on his back. This is true no matter what but is especially true if he is swaddled.

The average age to stop swaddling babies is around 3 or 4 months old after the four-month sleep regression begins. Most are being unswaddled by 5-6 months old at the latest.

Swaddling your baby with one or both arms out is perfectly safe, as long as you continue to wrap her blanket securely. Some newborns prefer being swaddled with one or both arms free from the very beginning. Another swaddle transition option: Trade your swaddle blanket for a transitional sleep sack.

Most pediatricians and the chair of the task force for the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep recommendations advise that parents stop swaddling babies at two months.

Typically by the age of 6-7 months old, your little one is rolling over on his own, meaning that it is time to stop swaddling.

Transitioning Your Baby Out of a Swaddle

When it’s time to stop swaddling your baby and change their sleep routine, you’ll need to transition them. Some babies may be used to sleeping in a swaddle. Taking them out of it might upset them and cause them to cry more during bedtime. 

Create a brief transition to help them adjust to their new sleeping method. You should take the wrap away when they show signs of rolling over. You can replace the full swaddle with a wrap that meets your baby’s developmental stage. Be sure to keep their arms free while they’re sleeping. 

You can still wrap your child with the same method you used for swaddling. Just keep their arms out. You can also use a sleep sack or blanket as helpful tools during the transition.  

In a sleep sack, your baby can move around a little. This is different from no mobility with their swaddle. Getting to move around and build their strength is good for their growth. But if they roll over in the night, place them back on their back. Using a sleep sack is also helpful for getting your baby ready to sleep with a blanket when it’s safe.

Once your child is done with the sleep sack, you can transition them to a wearable blanket. This will get them closer to sleeping with a blanket when they’re older. A wearable blanket lets them move their arms and legs freely without hazards.

After wrapping and unwrapping your baby more times than you could count, stopping swaddling can feel like the end of an era. And if her swaddle blanket has become an integral part of her sleep routine, you might worry that stopping could seriously throw things off.

The good news is, that all babies eventually adjust to sleeping without a swaddle. And, of course, you could certainly try stopping cold turkey to see how your baby responds. You never know — she might sleep just as well as before!

But if you suspect that wouldn’t be the case (or you don’t want to risk a bad night’s sleep experimenting), you can also try a more gradual approach. Here’s how to do it:

  • Start by swaddling your baby with one of her arms out of the swaddle.
  • A few nights later, after she’s gotten used to having one arm out, move on to swaddling her with both of her arms free.
  • A few nights after that, stop using the swaddle blanket altogether.

Swaddling your baby with one or both arms out is perfectly safe, as long as you continue to wrap her blanket securely. Some newborns prefer being swaddled with one or both arms free from the very beginning.

Another swaddle transition option: Trade your swaddle blanket for a transitional sleep sack. These swaddle wrap/wearable blanket hybrids offer a similar snugness to a wrap but don’t come with the risk of potentially being kicked off while your baby is sleeping.

If you choose to use one of these sleep sack products, keep in mind that you’ll eventually have to transition your baby out of that too — either because she outgrows it or because it, too, becomes unsafe as she starts moving more.

Ultimately, there’s no one best way to stop swaddling — so do what you think will work best for your baby and you. And if you’re unsure or have questions, reach out to your baby’s pediatrician.

Dangers of Continued Swaddling

when can a baby sleep without a swaddle (2)

There has been much debate about the positives and negatives of swaddling. Ultimately, it is up to you and your family if you choose to swaddle your newborn.

Ignoring your baby's signs trying to roll over can be dangerous if you continue to swaddle them. If your baby is fussy and moving more, they can overheat while swaddled. Signs of being overheated include: 

  • Sweating
  • Damp hair
  • Flushed cheeks
  • Heat rash
  • Rapid breathing

After two months, you should reevaluate your baby’s sleeping situation. Stop swaddling if someone is watching your child for you or they’re moving around. Swaddling can be dangerous for babies at any month if it’s not done the right way. 

Because of this, some child care centres refuse to swaddle babies. Some doctors suggest it could be dangerous for children to be swaddled after two months. 

Another danger of continued swaddling is the increased risk of SIDs. It is also possible that your baby could overheat if dressed for bed improperly. Keeping the swaddling blanket too tight can restrict breathing and cause hip problems. 

If the swaddle blanket is too loose, there’s a risk of the blanket unravelling and suffocating your baby. Following safe swaddle practices can reduce these risks. 

If the baby isn’t swaddled correctly or rolls onto their stomach while swaddled, this can be very dangerous.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) describes when an otherwise healthy baby under 12 months dies suddenly without a known cause.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 3,600 sudden unexpected infant deaths in the United States each year, and 38 per cent of those are classified as SIDS.

SIDS often happens during sleep. Babies who are swaddled can suffocate in their sleep if placed on their stomach or rolled onto their stomach.

A swaddle that’s too loose can also be risky because the baby’s arms can get free, leaving a loose blanket that could end up covering their mouth and nose. Babies should never be put to sleep with loose blankets because this also puts them in danger of SIDS.

Another risk that comes with poor swaddling is hip dysplasia. In the womb, a baby’s legs are bent up and across each other. If legs are straightened or too tightly wrapped together, the joints can be dislocated and the cartilage damaged. It’s important to allow the baby’s hips to move around and spread apart.

Hips can move, and it’s not too tight, but arms are kept in. You should be able to fit your hand between the blanket and the baby’s chest.

Some swaddling products and sleep sacks are available that don’t involve folding. The same safety precautions listed above apply to these products. If you’re unsure about a product, ask your pediatrician before using it with your baby.

At What Age Should You Stop Swaddling

Not every parenting question has a straightforward answer. But the issue of when to stop swaddling is pretty clear-cut: You should ditch the swaddle as soon as you notice your little one becoming more active and attempting to roll over.

That can happen as early as two months, the safest time to stop swaddling. Though many babies roll over at around 3 or 4 months old, bidding the swaddle farewell should happen earlier when your baby starts showing signs of trying to roll.

What makes this the best age to stop swaddling? Once your baby is mobile to the point where she could kick off her blanket, the blanket poses a possible suffocation or strangulation hazard. (Remember, safe sleep rules say no loose blankets or bedding in the crib or bassinet until your baby’s first birthday, at the very earliest.)

And it’s not just a safety issue. Once your baby is more mobile, being confined to a wrap can prevent her from practising age-appropriate motor skills. And that could be not good for her development. 

With all this considered, you might be wondering whether it makes more sense to stop swaddling even earlier, say when your baby is a month old. Unless your baby signs being more mobile and attempting to roll over, there’s no need to stop swaddling quite that early, especially if it seems to help your baby sleep better.

But if you want to stop sooner — maybe you’re tired of the whole swaddle wrapping thing or your baby doesn’t seem to sleep any better with a swaddle than without — it’s perfectly fine. Babies don’t need to be swaddled, and some snooze more soundly without being wrapped up.

Before you give up on swaddling altogether, you might want to consider looking into a Velcro or zipper swaddle wrap. Some parents find them easier to use, and some babies prefer them to old-fashioned blankets.

  • The average age to stop swaddling a baby is around 3 or 4 months old after the four-month sleep regression begins. Most are being unswaddled by 5-6 months old at the latest. If your baby still enjoys the swaddle, and it’s still safe to swaddle, you can consider one of the products below.
  • Newborns are born with a startle reflex, called the Moro Reflex. Most babies don’t outgrow it until 4 or 5 months of age. So be careful about stopping the swaddle too early. If your baby’s Moro Reflex is still strong, she may startle awake at night and during naps.
  • If your baby can break free of the swaddle, this isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s time to stop swaddling. However, if your baby is consistently breaking free of the swaddle every night, and if that means you have loose blankets in the crib, then it’s time to STOP swaddling or switch to a safer swaddling blanket. We recommend The Miracle Blanket if you’re trying to keep the swaddle longer. Alternatively, you might consider the Nested Bean or Love To Dream Swaddles.
  • Swaddled babies should NEVER sleep face-down. So if your baby is trying to roll or starting to roll over onto their tummy while they sleep, it’s time to stop swaddling your baby immediately. Remember, when it comes to swaddling, safety first! Some babies are rolling from back to tummy as early as two months old so keep that in mind.
  • Make sure that your baby is not swaddled all day long. While swaddling for sleep is fine, especially during the newborn stage, babies need time to move freely as well so that they can grow stronger and develop their gross motor skills. If your baby spends all of their time asleep AND awake being swaddled, it might be time to stop swaddling during awake time gradually.
  • If you are getting ready to start sleep training or sleep coaching, you will likely want to stop swaddling. Part of the sleep training process involves helping your child learn to self-soothe, and babies usually need to be unswaddled to learn to self-soothe.

We stopped swaddling sometime around four months old with both of our boys. This was mainly because we started sleep training, and the Moro reflex was virtually gone.

Stop Swaddling – 3 Ways to Transition

when can a baby sleep without a swaddle

Start With the Legs

Most babies struggle the most with having their arms free, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to have your legs out. Kicking the mattress can be fun (and too distracting to sleep!)

So, sometimes you can test the waters by swaddling your baby’s legs out, arms in, for a couple of nights. If that goes well, you can then swaddle with one arm out for a few nights. And then you can try to stop swaddling altogether.

Start With the Arms

This is probably the most common method to stop swaddling a baby. First, swaddle your baby with one arm out, but one arm swaddled. You can do this for a few nights and then unswaddle both arms. At this point, most people would stop swaddling altogether. See below for recommendations for what baby should sleep in after you stop swaddling.

Cold Turkey

If safety is an issue, you should NOT take a slower, gradual path to stop swaddling. If your baby is rolling onto their tummy or breaking out and has loose blankets in their sleep space, you need to unswaddle immediately.

Even if safety isn’t an issue, some babies’ personalities do better simply by making changes quickly. It might make for a couple of rougher nights, but better sleep faster is always good.

To stop swaddling cold turkey, simply transition right away to a wearable blanket or sleep sack. See below for our recommendations. It might be a few rougher nights, but your baby will adjust. And, many times, babies adjust faster than we expect!

5 Signs It’s Time To Stop Swaddling

Startle reflex starts to go away

One of the biggest reasons for swaddling newborns is to help them soothe through more, or startle, reflexes. All newborns are born with this reflex, but it usually starts to fade between 2 and 4 months old. If you notice your baby “startling” less, it’s usually a sign that the time to transition out of swaddling is right around the corner.

The baby starts waking up more frequently throughout the night.

If it suddenly seems like your baby is waking up more than usual, especially if they’re waking up crying or fussy without needing to be fed, it might be because they’re getting uncomfortable in the swaddle. They may be trying to break free or get an arm out and wake themselves up.

Baby breaks out of the swaddle.

If you find your baby was able to wiggle an arm out or completely unwrap the swaddle while they sleep, it’s no longer safe to be swaddled as it creates loose fabric in the crib, increasing the risk of SIDS. 

The baby starts showing signs of rolling over.

If your baby is working on their rolling skills, it’s time to make the transition to prevent the baby from rolling onto their stomach while sleeping and not being able to roll back. 

Baby starts fighting being swaddled.

Some resistance is normal when swaddling, especially when you first try it on your baby. But if they start full-on fighting the swaddle as they get older, it’s a sign they are ready to sleep arms free.

Conclusion

Infant crying and parent exhaustion often trigger marital stress, child abuse, postpartum depression, infant sleep deaths (from unsafe sleeping practices), breastfeeding struggles, car accidents, maternal obesity, etc. 

Studies even show that improving a baby’s sleep significantly reduces the risk of obesity in the early years. So, it turns out that swaddling—with its ability to reduce fussing and boost sleep—is a critical tool for improving the whole family's health!

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