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!

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27 Comments

  1. austinsmom says:

    I agree with some of the Moms here about the Zipadee-Zip. My boy started to fight the swaddle at about 5 months, but then would wake up at night anyway if I put him down without it. So, this was a great option for me, because it gave him freedom in his arms and legs while still making him feel secured and cuddled. I recommend it! http://www.sleepingbaby.com is where I ordered it from 😉

  2. atxmom1985 says:

    Great tips here! We swaddled and our LO loved it. We transitioned out of it once she was rolling over and switched her into the zipadee zip. It’s worked wonderfully and she sleeps so great in it!

  3. These are some great tips! I must share from my recent experience that I found the solution to the swaddle transition nightmare!  My son REFUSED to sleep without the swaddle, and we tried every trick in the book.  He just hated having his arms free and would scratch herself to bits.  I finally tried the Zipadee-Zip and was super skeptical that it would even work since literally nothing else had and to my utter shock, he slept 12 hours the first night in it!  Crazy!  I guess the resistance in the arm span is what gives him the feeling of being swaddled and soothes his startle reflex but the star shape gives him  the ability to push up and roll over.  He couldn’t safely roll in the swaddle and when he would break free, I’d find the loose fabric over his face which terrified me!  The Zipadee-Zip (www.sleepingbaby.com is where I found it) gave him the security to be able to sleep swaddle free which means I SLEPT TOO!!!  Thank goodness for this thing!

  4. @sleepnursemeg….thank you for posting this wonderful resource! I have a few girlfriends from my church who are in need of this information. I have forwarded this link. Thanks so much!

  5. sleepnursemeg says:

    Hi Katy – for chats, please follow us on Facebook!

  6. I have found the ZIPADEE-ZIP product really worked for my son in helping him transition out of his swaddle. You should check it out!

  7. Katy says:

    Hi, I’m Katy! So glad that I came across this chatroom. I’m looking forward to chatting with other moms.

  8. Thank you for the tips on transitioning your baby out of the swaddle at night time. I think a really good swaddle transition item is the baby sleep bag. It allows the child to still feel snug, whilst being able to move their arms and legs still.

  9. Kristen Parker says:

    What about transitioning baby out of swaddle and into the Merlin? Would you still recommend doing it at bedtime? Their website recommends doing it at nap time so you can monitor their temp. Thanks!

  10. amykotas says:

    I look forward to reading it!

  11. sleepdoctorevans says:

    Tomorrow’s post will address transtioning out of the MSS. Thanks for asking!

  12. Amy Kotas says:

    Any recommendations for transitioning baby out of the MSS? My twins have been using them, but they are almost 8 months old now. One baby can roll (but never in the MSS) and almost crawl, but the other one isn’t crawling yet. I’ve tried to put one baby in a sleep sack for a nap, but she rolled, started crawling (backwards, the only way she can!) and got her leg stuck (we don’t use bumpers). They sleep so well in the MSS I’m dreading the change. (They sleep from 6:30pm until about 6am, sometimes waking to cry a little at 9 or 10pm but not often.)

  1. […] parents opt to try a split night paci option (kind of like the split night swaddle) as a step on the path towards independent sleep. With a split night you would stop using the […]

  2. […] The Good: Your baby needs less to sleep than you think she needs. We generally recommend products that promote a quality sleep environment, like black out shades, continuous white noise machines, and lightweight pajamas (see our blog on sleep environment). These items are not meant to make your baby sleep, they are meant to protect your baby’s sleep from things that we know cause problems. When light leaks into your baby’s room in the early morning that resets her biological clock and causes her to ‘lock in’ to an early morning waking (see our blog on that here). When the newspaper truck goes by or the neighbor’s dog barks at 5:00 AM and sleep is light, a white noise machine will dampen those sounds and prevent your baby from having an alerting response. When your baby’s body temperature drops and then rises during the course of the night, dressing her in lightweight, breathable fabric will allow her temperature to regulate and will prevent her from getting too hot or too cold during the natural drop and rise in nighttime body temperature. For babies under four months and not yet rolling, a lightweight swaddle will help protect sleep from the startle reflex and wandering arms (see our blog on swaddles). […]

  3. […] to roll while swaddled, you’ll need to stop swaddling her now. Take a look at our swaddle and swaddle transition blogs for information on how to do this. You may wish to transition into a Merlin Sleep Suit to […]

  4. […] to wake up later in another place. The same thing happens when you move from swaddling your baby to unswaddling your baby. It feels weird. The thing is that your baby can learn to sleep in all sorts of ways if […]

  5. […] well consolidated sleep before first and second feedings. feedings. Great sleep environments.Stop swaddle with rolling.Avoid dream feedings.Last third of the night remains erratic.Four (or 5, or 6) month […]

  6. […] baby to learn to sleep without the pacifier? What if you are working on transitioning out of the swaddle or Magic Merlin Sleep Suit? What if you want to teach your child to sleep in the crib? What if you […]

  7. […] parents opt to try a split night paci option (kind of like the split night swaddle) as a step on the path towards independent sleep. With a split night you would stop using the […]

  8. […] at the request of our Facebook followers in response to ourSwaddle Transition Blog […]

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