Transitioning Your Baby Out of a Swaddle
Erin and Meg’s note: Make educated parenting decisions! Read the updated safer sleep guidelines from the AAP here and talk to your child’s pediatrician about her individual risk factors for SIDS. Always use baby products in the way recommended by the manufacturer.
When To Stop Swaddling:
We recommend swaddling for newborns (see our swaddle blog here for safety tips), but swaddling is a sleep association, and there will come a time when your baby is ready to move on to the next step towards independent sleep. If your baby is learning to roll, it’s time to stop swaddling and this leads to some (not unfounded) anxiety in parents who worry what will happen to their baby’s sleep!
When to Stop/What to Expect:
It’s often helpful to stop swaddling for the first time at bedtime when your baby has the strongest drive for sleep. It may even be helpful to put her to bed 15 minutes later than you thought should she should go on that first swaddle -free night to increase her sleep pressure without making her too overtired. Expect your baby to resist this new change for as long as she physically can on night #1, and for many babies this is upwards of 40-60 minutes! Yikes! Be prepared to respond in a consistent manner during this time to help her negotiate the change. Some families will choose to stay with their baby and very interactive the whole time and others will take a less is more approach. (We offer a variety of step by step options in our sleep consults for all parenting styles and baby temperaments!) Plan for it to take about 3-5 nights for your baby to get used to her new freedom and mobility while un-swaddled.
Split Night Options:
For babies who are rolling, the swaddle should be stopped for all sleep episodes because a swaddled baby who rolls may be in an unsafe situation. For babies who cannot yet roll, but who may be rolling soon, you might choose to do a partial night swaddle. This is when you un-swaddle during the first half to 2/3 of the night during times of higher sleep pressure and deeper sleep (typically easier to sleep), but re-swaddle your baby after a feeding for those last, more difficult hours of sleep during the night. Similarly, you may continue to swaddle your baby during the day when you can be observing frequently for safety to help protect and maintain good day sleep while you are working on transitioning out of the swaddle at night. Babies are exceptionally good at compartmentalizing how they sleep during the day vs. how they sleep at night so these can be great options for easing the transition into completely swaddle free sleep!
Making The Transition:
We prefer you only use baby products in the way they were intended, which means we at Baby Sleep Science do NOT recommend swaddling your baby loosely, partially, or with one arm out.
We do, however, often recommend use of the Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit as a swaddle transition product for babies in the 3-5 month range. The “Merlin” or “MSS” as we like to call it, looks a bit like a puffy snowsuit but it’s made of a lightweight material. The Merlin can help suppress some of the lingering startle reflex your baby might be experiencing while coming out of a swaddle, AND may help to keep your baby positioned in the safer “back to sleep” position for longer as it makes rolling over a bit more challenging -(it’s not designed for tummy sleep for the same reason). The MSS should be used in sleep environments where temperature can be controlled to avoid overheating. If your baby likes to suck thumb or finger, the MSS might not be the best choice because the puffy fabric makes it harder for little fingers to reach little mouths. Still, the Merlin gets a big “thumbs up” from Baby Sleep Science as a nifty product to help babies transition from swaddle to more traditional sleep sacks!