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Transitioning Out of the Swaddle

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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Perhaps you’ve heard that newborns long for the womb those first few months after birth. They love the security of feeling snug while sleeping, and this is exactly what swaddling offers. However, babies can’t be swaddled forever. Let's talk about when to stop swaddling and how to transition out of the swaddle.

When do I stop swaddling?anchor

There isn’t a universal age for coming out of the swaddle; instead, you’ll want to stop swaddling when your little one is showing signs of rolling.

Common signs of rolling: 1) Controlled lifting of head and shoulders during tummy time 2) Ability to get body up on the shoulder. 3 ) Kicking their legs and scooting in a circle when on their back. 4) Rolling the hips side to side. 5) Using legs to lift the hips.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)(1), we typically see babies begin to roll around 3-4 months. If your baby is in this age range but not yet showing signs of rolling over, there is no reason to stop swaddling yet. However, once a baby can roll onto their tummy, it’s no longer safe for them to be swaddled because they need their hands free to push up from the mattress. 

Expert Tip: If you’re unsure about swaddling in the first place, check out my blog all about swaddling and swaddle safety. I’ll walk you through all of the research so you can make the best decision for you and your baby.

Taking Cara Babies Classes

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Are you worried that transitioning out of the swaddle is going to cause a major disruption in sleep? My classes can help. I’ll teach you strategies that will give you the confidence to navigate not only this transition and any future bumps along your journey. You don’t have to struggle alone. Choose your baby’s age to get started:

My baby breaks out of the swaddle. Does this mean I should stop swaddling? anchor

It depends! Breaking out of the swaddle can happen for different reasons. 

If your baby breaks out of the swaddle and is showing signs of rolling, this does mean it’s time to stop swaddling. 

However, there are other times we see babies break out of swaddles that have nothing to do with rolling. Let’s talk about those reasons and how to help keep your baby swaddled safely:

  • Active Sleep - You may see your baby break out of the swaddle during very active sleep (which is a normal part of newborn sleep!). Be sure that the swaddle you are using is following the guidelines for swaddle safety

  • Overtiredness -  Your baby may also fight the swaddle or break out of the swaddle when they’re overtired. You can help avoid overtiredness by watching your baby’s sleepy cues and wake windows

  • Growth - Keep in mind, as babies get older, they grow bigger and stronger. This can make it easier for them to break out of the swaddle. Be sure your baby is in the correct size for their height and weight and that you swaddle snugly.

  • Type of Swaddle - I highly recommend using swaddles that velcro (Use code takingcarababies) or zip to make safe swaddling easier. Different babies do prefer different swaddles, so you may need to find the one that works best for your baby. If your baby is still breaking out of the swaddle with a velcro or zip design, consider one of these: the Norani Snugababe (Use code TakingCaraBabies) and the Swaddle Sleeves Pod (Use code CARA10) both have a hands-down design that makes it more difficult to break out of the swaddle and helps avoid loose bedding. 

Should I stop swaddling when my baby rolls to their side?anchor

It depends on your baby’s age and individual development.

For newborns in those early weeks: Typically, when a brand new baby appears to roll to their side, it’s due to an involuntary muscle flexion called the newborn curl. This is not actually a sign of rolling, which means you don’t need to stop swaddling simply because you see the newborn curl. In fact, when done correctly, swaddling actually helps babies sleep safely on their backs. (Of course, talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns.)

For babies who are older: If your baby is able to get their body up onto their shoulder (typically seen between 3-4 months according to the AAP(1)), this is a sign of rolling rather than that involuntary newborn curl. When we see signs of rolling, it’s time to stop swaddling.

If you have any questions, please talk with your pediatrician. 

How to transition out of the swaddle:anchor

Here are four options to help you with transitioning out of the swaddle: anchor

1. Cold turkeyanchor

Just move your baby into a sleep sack with arms free. For some, this truly is the most effective option.

2. Swaddle with one arm outanchor

This works great with a swaddle like The Ollie Swaddle (Use code takingcarababies for 10% off.). Swaddle snuggly like you have been doing but leave one arm out. This gives your baby a chance to adjust slowly. Do this for 1-2 weeks; then, when your baby is adjusting well with one arm unrestrained, allow both arms free and transition to a sleep sack. Follow your baby's lead on the exact timing.

3. Partial nightanchor

Babies coming out of the swaddle too early can cause major sleep disruptions. However, sometimes parents simply feel in their gut that it's time to begin transitioning out of the swaddle. If this is you AND your baby isn't showing signs of rolling, the “partial night” option may be best. With this technique, you'll start the night with one or both arms out of the swaddle. When your baby awakens, swaddle them back up with both arms inside the swaddle. Each night try to go a bit longer with arms free. When your baby is able to sleep well with both arms out OR your baby shows signs of rolling, transition to a sleep sack.

4. Implement a transitional itemanchor

One fabulous transitional item is the Swaddle Sleeves (Use code CARA10 for 10% off.). The sleeves help muffle the startle reflex in the arms while still allowing the baby to move around and get into a comfortable position on their back or belly. Some parents also love Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit (Code CARA15 can save you 15%.). This 3-layered suit keeps babies on their back for longer and provides babies with the comfort they need by helping to muffle their twitches and startle movements that can wake them prematurely. 

If sleep was great before the swaddle transition, maybe all you need is a transitional item. But, if sleep was hard before transitioning out of the swaddle, a transitional item isn’t going to be the magic solution. What you need are strategies to help you get through this transition and set up you for sleep success moving forward. My classes are here to help.

Want to see transitioning out of the swaddle in action? anchor

Have a baby older than 5 months and still struggling?anchor

For babies who are over 5 months and struggling with sleep, The 5–24 Month Collection will give you a holistic, fully customizable, step-by-step plan to follow that will help you establish consolidated sleep. It will cover bedtime, night wakings, night weaning, early morning wakings, and naps too. Sometimes, just having it all laid out for you by an expert you can trust is exactly what you need.

Are you ready to have a great little sleeper?

If you're overwhelmed, exhausted, or just not sure where to start. I was there too. Let me show you everything you need to confidently handle sleep so your whole family can thrive!

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