I receive a lot of questions surrounding swaddling babies. Parents are confused about whether they need to swaddle at all and when and how to stop. Here are a few that may have you wondering.
Does my baby need to be swaddled?
That depends on baby’s age and whether he or she still has the startle (Moro) reflex. This reflex can cause baby to startle awake often until it fades, usually between 4-6 months old. So, most newborns will need to be swaddled to sleep longer stretches, especially out of your arms.
What is the “best” swaddle?
Babies have their preferences (as do parents), but these are worth considering. Bonus points for “easy change” versions that give you easy access for those wee morning hour diaper changes
- HALO Sleep Sack Swaddle
- Miracle Blanket
- ErgoBaby Swaddle
- Swaddle Me
- Love to Dream Swaddle Up
Whichever you go with it, be sure to purchase several since poo happens and laundry often needs to wait!
I’m swaddling at night. Do I need to swaddle for naps too?
If your baby needs a swaddle, she will need it for all sleep periods. Their sleep cycles are quite short (about 45-50 minutes long) and they spend the majority of sleep (as much as 75%) in light sleep. The combination leads to being easily roused or startled out of sleep. Without the arms being contained, baby is more likely to wake often, resulting in shorter naps and restless nights.
Is swaddling safe for my baby’s hips?
When swaddling properly, the lower portion of baby’s body still has freedom of movement. It is important to allow the hips to spread apart and bend up while the arms are tightly contained. Hip dysplasia is a risk when baby is swaddled in a way that the legs and hips cannot flex which may not allow for healthy hip development. You can learn more about safe swaddling techniques here.
What if my baby is busting out of the swaddle?
Swaddling will only bring the desired benefit if baby’s arms are tightly contained and you want to be sure to prevent loose bedding in the sleep space. If your baby is busting out of the swaddle, you may need to work on your technique or switch to a type of swaddle that doesn’t require fancy wrapping and has Velcro to hold it in place. If you are leaving babies arms up by his chin, try placing the arms down by his sides instead. Most babies will bust out when their arms are positioned at the top of the swaddle. If you have a Houdini baby that can still bust out, check out this great double swaddle technique. Or your baby may be ready for greater freedom of movement and wanting access to his hands, so you can consider weaning out of the swaddle as described below.
My baby hates being swaddled. Help!
I get this on a LOT. If baby sleeps much better in one, then congrats. You get to make one of your first executive parenting decisions and use it anyway. They don’t enjoy getting diapered either but we can’t let that one go. Similarly, if the swaddle brings better sleep for the family, use it. Also try getting baby swaddled before he is overtired – at that point they hate everything! If you’ve been waiting until baby is already fussing and crying, swaddle at the earliest signs of tiredness or, if no better, keep an eye on the clock and start sooner than you did last time and ahead of any signs of tiredness. Newborns can go from 0-60 in a blink!
When do I need to stop swaddling and how do I do that?
As soon as your baby shows an interest in rolling, you need to work on getting her out of the swaddle. Some babies, whose Moro reflex has disappeared, can go cold turkey. Those that still have the reflex will need a more gradual transition. If cold turkey proves to be too much for yours, consider these alternatives:
- Ditch the swaddle at night but continue to use it for naps when you can keep an eye on baby. Once nights are going well, then eliminate it from naps as well.
- Leave one arm out only and swaddle the other arm and torso as per usual. If baby seems to manage that for a few nights, swaddle the torso only and leave both arms out for a few. From there you can switch to a traditional sleep sack. The Love to Dream Swaddle Up 50/50 is a great option as it allows you to unzip one arm at a time and then becomes a sleep sack. Other makers are now following suit by offering convertible options. The Nested Bean Zen sleep sack is perfect for a baby who loves that feeling of a hand on his chest as it has a weighted panel on the chest.
- Switch to a swaddle transition product such as the Zipadeezip or Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit. These allow baby to acclimate to more freedom of movement but still dampen that startle reflex. They also allow baby to access her hands which is helpful for self-soothing. As a side note, you will need to stop using the Merlin Suit once baby learns to roll while wearing it.
Regardless of how you transition your baby out of the swaddle, expect a period of adjustment where sleep is temporarily disrupted. Like learning to sleep without your pillow, it feels strange! Also, baby will be excited about the newly found freedom so sleep may take the backseat to exploration. Like all other phases, this too shall pass.
Need help transitioning your little one out of the swaddle or tackling sleep overall? Let’s tackle it together! Learn more about one on one sleep support here.
“Erica is a wonderful resource for parents who want their children to learn to sleep. We started working with Erica when our second child was seven weeks old. She taught us how to teach him to sleep.” – Paula Borradaille