There comes a sad day in every mom’s life when she can no longer wrap up her little burrito in a swaddle blanket; baby is ready to stretch limbs and explore the world around her/him, and we must let that development take place for their ultimate physical and mental health. We will need to realize when to stop swaddling.

While we might want our babies to stay babies for just a little bit longer, it is important to transition them from that safe feeling of swaddling to something a bit more expansive and exploratory… but it is difficult to determine when to do this, particularly if you are dealing with first baby. How do we parents know when to stop swaddling?

How to Tell When to Stop Swaddling

Although an exact time varies from baby to baby, you should begin looking for signs that your child has outgrown swaddling from about 4 to 6 months of age. Look for these six signs to know that your baby is ready to move beyond swaddling:

  • Your baby increases the level of movement while in a blanket and may even wriggle his arms out during sleep
  • An increase in strength and growth that makes it difficult to swaddle him/her
  • A resistance to the feeling of being swaddled; baby fights you when you try to secure him
  • Baby starts to roll over due to increased head and neck strength
  • Baby begins waking up at night due to being uncomfortable; wanting to move around more
  • A decrease in the “startle” reflex

Once you know it is time to move forward, it is important to provide a little bit of transition to make things easier for you and your baby. Just as you need time to adjust to a new pillow, mattress, or even blanket, your baby will also need a little time to adjust to newfound freedom and expansion.

You might want to start initially with a weighted sleep sack to give the feeling of comfort and safety that they are used to, with a few more options for movement. Follow this plan for a successful transition from swaddle to “waddle”—your baby is growing up!

1. Swaddle with the Dominant Arm Out

Assuming that you know which arm is your child’s dominant arm at this point, swaddle your baby keeping this arm free for movement. This will help to curb any leftover “startle” reflex caused by having both arms free, and it will allow your baby to feel a little more comfortable knowing that they can adjust themselves using this arm as needed. Try this position for 2-3 nights, and notice if any other reinforcement is needed before moving on to the next transition phase.

2. Swaddle with Both Arms Out

As soon as no more “startle” reflex is noted, begin swaddling your baby with both arms out. Making note of these subtle yet important changes will give you more confidence about knowing when to stop swaddling; try this new position for an additional 2-3 nights and make sure your child is getting restful sleep before moving on to the next phase of transition.

3. Start Using a Wearable Blanket

Aren’t these snuggly little things miraculous? The weighted pad on the top of the blanket gives your child a sense of safety and comfort, while your child is now free to move hands and legs as needed.

As always, check your child to make sure this phase is appropriate at this time; if baby is waking up several times during the night, or has patterns of interrupted and fitful sleep, they may not be ready for this yet.

Persist with this phase as long as you need to to make sure that baby is getting adequate rest before moving on to the final phase of transition.

4. Move the weighted pad to allow for movement

Once your baby is old enough to roll over from front to back, you need to make note of which position is the favored one for sleeping. Babies tend to pick a position and stick with it pretty consistently; if your child is a stomach sleeper, wear the blanket with the weighted pad on his back; the added pressure will feel like a comforting palm of the hand, and baby will sleep longer and more soundly.

You Are the Expert!

Don’t forget, dear parent – you are the expert on your child and what works best for them. You will know when to stop swaddling based on the cues you are getting from him/her. Don’t be afraid to adjust or modify this plan as needed, depending on the unique needs of your little one.

The ultimate goal for everyone in this situation is restful sleep; do what you can to create ideal conditions for your precious little one to promote sleep, and you’ll be getting some magic shut-eye as well! Sweet dreams!

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