If you swaddle your newborn, one of the first big transitions you will make is out of the swaddle. For some parents, this can bring on a lot of anxiety and many worry it will disrupt their child’s current sleeping habits. I promise you, it is possible to still maintain healthy sleep habits even through this change! Here’s everything you need to know about how to smoothly make this transition:
Why is swaddling important and helpful to my baby's sleep?
All babies are born with a natural reflex, known as the Moro reflex (or startle reflex). This reflex is present at birth and often disrupts newborns sleep by startling them awake, especially when sleeping on their back (which is recommended by the AAP for SIDS prevention). Swaddling dampens this reflex by recreating the safe, snug, and secure environment of the womb. While in the womb, your baby is snug and feeling a lot deep pressure on their entire body. Once they are born, they are exposed to this whole new, BIG world and your little one is on sensory overload. A swaddle simply helps your baby sleep more peacefully.
Why do I need to transition my child out the swaddle?
Safety: once your child is able to roll, the swaddle becomes a safety hazard. Your little one needs their arms available to help push their chest and face away from the mattress if they roll to their belly during sleep.
Development: The Moro reflex naturally disappears between 3-6 months. However, swaddling your baby longer than 12 weeks of age can lead to a delay in the disappearance of this reflex. Dropping the swaddle also give your baby the opportunity to practice other developmental skills, like rolling!
When should I transition my child out of the swaddle?
In order to help your baby stay on track developmentally I recommend beginning to transition out of the swaddle around 8 weeks at the earliest and 12 weeks at the latest OR when your child begins to show signs of rolling.
** If your baby starts to roll over, you MUST end swaddling so they have their arms available to lift their body and head**
How do I help my child make this transition?
Option 1: Gradually transition out of the swaddle. Follow the steps below:
Swaddle like normal, but leave one arm out
For the next nap or night waking, Swaddle the arm that was free before and wrap the other arm in the swaddle
Continue switching back and forth for each sleep period and/or night waking
After 3-4 days, leave both arms out, swaddling from the chest down (still lose at the hips)
After a few more days, remove the swaddle completely and make the transition to an open arm sleep sack
You can also use transitional sleep sacks like this Love to Dream Swaddle that allows you to unzip one arm out, rather than wrapping one arm.
Avoid using weighted sleep suits (like the Magic Merlin) or weighted sleep sacks (like Nested Bean or Dreamland Baby). These are no longer recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) because the added weight poses a risk a restricting an infants ability to breath effectively. It is best to keep it simple and move straight into a regular, non-weighted sleep sack.
Option 2: Go straight into an open arm sleep sack.
Here you will simply switch over to a sleep sack for all sleep periods, dropping the swaddle all together.
* If your child is already rolling or very close to rolling, this is the option you will choose.
Will sleep be disrupted during this transition?
You may have a few rocky nights as your child adjusts to their new freedom, but do not be discouraged. This is normal! Remaining consistent with your normal routines and responses is key. You want to avoid creating new associations while your child is learning to sleep without the aid of a swaddle. Keep moving forward and your child will adjust within a few days or up to a week.
Other ways to help during the transition:
1. Start a consistent bedtime routine. Babies are able to recognize as early as 8 weeks of age, so if you haven't already, this is the perfect time to begin working on a bedtime routine! This will help cue your baby that sleep is coming and when done consistently they will quickly learn to recognize the steps and anticipate what is coming.
2. Practice new skills during the day. Tummy time is so important and a great opportunity for your child to strengthen the muscles used in rolling. Practicing throughout the day will help them master this new skill more quickly.
If you are a parent approaching this transition, do not be intimidated. It’s a natural developmental milestone and simply means your child is growing! Let’s celebrate that! If you have questions about sleep sacks, you can read more on this blog!
If your baby has never slept well or sleep has not come as easily since dropping the swaddle, let’s connect! Together we can work on building a foundation of healthy, restorative sleep for your little one.