Babies are rapidly changing and growing their first year of life. Do they ever really stop?

Just when you get one phase figured out, they are on to the next and the learning curve takes a sharp turn.

If you mastered the tight, burrito swaddle only to discover that your growing little one can now get his arms free, it may be time to break him from his swaddle.

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When and How to Transition from a Swaddle

When to stop swaddling: Signs to look for...

  • When baby can roll over (typically around 3-4 months).  His arms must be free to be safe and prevent suffocation.
  • When baby can consistently break arms out of the swaddle, it may be a sign that he no longer needs to be snuggled in tight to sleep.
  • When baby has outgrown the Moro reflex (4-5 months), he is less likely to startle himself awake and doesn’t need his arms secured to his body.
  • If baby resists being swaddled, then he may be telling you he doesn’t need it.

How to transition: tips to try

  • All babies are different, so pay attention to your own baby’s signals and then slowly wean from the swaddle. Stopping cold turkey is usually not the best option.
  • Make changes during nap time and don’t tackle nighttime until swaddle-free naps are going well.
  • Try wrapping with just one arm in at first; if you notice which arm tends to break free, leave that one out first.
  • Next leave both arms out and tuck swaddle under armpits.
  • If your baby is having a hard time settling down for sleep, he may respond when you put your hand on his chest. Of course, once he is soothed, remove your hand and step away.
  • To decrease the chance of SIDS, babies should be put to sleep on their back, but once a baby can roll over, you can no longer ensure they will remain on their back. You must check with your pediatrician first, but putting your baby to sleep on the tummy after they can roll over may be an effective way to transition to being swaddle-free. Look in on your baby regularly for a while to make sure they are safe.
  • If your baby has outgrown the swaddle try a sleep sack, which can offer the warmth and safety of a swaddle without putting unnecessary blankets in baby’s crib.

Sleep re-training

As you transition baby from the swaddle, he may have forgotten that he can fall asleep on his own, which may make for a few rough naps or nights. Be consistent with all your regular bedtime routines and go back to the sleep training methods with which you first found success.  

I don’t remember the transition to being swaddle-free as a major event in our house, but I also don’t remember a lot of things from the first year (it’s all kind of a blur).  When my daughter was consistently breaking out of her swaddle, I continued to zip her into the SwaddleMe, but tucked the wings under her arms and secured the Velcro snuggly. I followed all of her regular bedtime routines and she seemed to adjust fine.

I say that not to brag (because few things have been that easy), but to put things in perspective. Sometimes forgetfulness is a blessing; the hard things in the moment don’t seem so hard with a little distance. So don’t fear another transition because they will never stop changing. Life is full of hard things that can be great teachers if we let them.

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How do you break your baby from the swaddle?

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This post provides content and discussion related to health, wellness, and related subjects.  The words and other content provided in this blog including links, should not be considered medical advice and should not be construed as such. Any health/wellness information should not be considered an alternative or replacement for information given to you by a licensed physician. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with a licensed physi­cian.

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Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.



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