When to Stop Swaddling Your Baby: A Mom’s Guide

Want to stop swaddling with as few tears as possible? Read this.

How to Stop Swaddling Your Baby

Swaddling your baby is like magic. There your newborn lies…screaming bloody murder. One swaddle later, and he’s angelically asleep.  Mag-i-cah!  So what happens when you want to stop swaddling?

How do you gently work towards a swaddle transition?

You see, the moment your baby starts rolling over (usually between 4-5 months), the sweet swaddle Smeagol is transformed into a deadly dangerous Gollum.

If your baby rolls over unto his tummy and doesn’t have arms to help him continue onto his back, he could accidentally suffocate against the mattress.

*shudder*

Not.  Cool.

Let me show you how to gently perform a swaddle transition away form this preciousssssssss sleep-soother.

Stop Swaddling Tactic #1
The Turtle Approach

The Turtle Approach:  Slow and steady wins the race. 

Hey, if it works for Aesop…

  • Nights 1 & 2:  Unswaddle the non-dominant arm first.
  • Nights 3 & 4: Unswaddle the other arm.
  • Nights 5 – Eternity:  Remove the swaddle.  High-five your spouse.

Want an easy-peasy way to do this?  This convertible swaddler is mind-blowingly simple.  (Don’t you love it when a product exactly meets your needs?)

Handy tip!  If you use the swaddle to keep your infant from going all Edward Scissorhands on his sweet little face, try putting socks on his hands or filing down his nails (instead of clipping).

Stop Swaddling Tactic #2
The Sloth Approach

For sensitive babies who struggle adjusting to changes, the Turtle Approach just may be too fast. 

Enter: The Sloth.

In this method you’re helping your baby get used to the feeling of having his arms loose and flapping, but instead of loose to the air, they’re loose inside a sleep sack with the arm holes sewn up or the Puckababy Swaddle Bag (if you’re like me and have the sewing skills of a horse).

  • Nights 1 & 2:  Unswaddle the non-dominant arm first, inside the sleep sack.
  • Nights 3 & 4: Unswaddle the other arm, inside the sleep sack.
  • Nights 5 & 6:  Remove the swaddle completely, so child is “free like a bird” inside the sleep sack.
  • Night 7 & 8:  Remove the non-dominant arm from the sleep sack.
  • Night 9: Remove the other arm from the sleep sack.  Dance to Pharrell Williams’ Happy.

Swaddle Transition Tactic #3
Cold Turkey

Cold turkey is the postmodern approach to weaning the swaddle: It’s easy and hard.

  • It’s easy because you don’t do anything.  (Literally. You just stop swaddling.)
  • It’s hard because it may take days and days of tears before your infant learns how to self-soothe without it.

Think through your baby’s personality before starting the Cold Turkey Anti-Swaddling Approach.  (It may just save you a nuclear holocaust of tears.)

Stop Swaddling Tactic #4
Introducing Lovey McCuddles

I’m a big fan of loveys.  They are like little voodoo dolls only with cuddles instead of pins.

Your baby links you to an item, and then uses that item for comfort when you’re sleeping in the next room.  It’s one of my favorite secret weapons in the sleep coaching process.

You can use a small blanket or small stuffed animal—just make sure it’s palm-sized, but doesn’t have any beads or chokeable items attached to it.

  • Give it to your baby when you’re snuggling and rocking him.
  • Put it between you and your baby when you’re nursing or bottle feeding.
  • Use it to play peek-a-boo.
  • If it’s a stuffed animal, have it “talk” to your baby and kiss his face while he giggles.
  • Tuck it into the car seat, so he can hold it when traveling.  (You may want to buy two!)

The goal is for him to smell and think happy mom-and-dad thoughts whenever he’s holding it.

To use Lovey McCuddles in swaddle weaning, place it on the shoulder, next to the cheek.  This way when your baby startles or reaches for his head, he will find the Lovey McCuddles right there and be soothed.

If it’s a blanket, tuck the majority of the blanket under the crib so just the corner is brushing the cheek.  You don’t want him to accidentally pull it over his head.  That’s a safety hazard. 🙂

Make sure your baby is able old enough to control his head and turn his head before you introduce a lovey. Also, it shouldn’t be bigger than your child! For more safety tips on loveys, check this article out.

Swaddle Transition Tactic #5
The Loosey-Goosey

With this method, you simply move from “straight jacket tight” to “spring jacket loose” over a period of a week.  This helps your baby get used to the feeling of still being swaddled, but having more wiggling room than he’s been used to.

Start with a light and flexible swaddle blanket like the Aden & Anais blankets. (They are perfect for this!) As an extra bonus, if your baby manages to wiggle so much that a part of the fabric covers his face, he can still easily breathe through the muslin material the Aden & Anais blankets are made of.

Every night make the swaddle a little less constricting, a little more loose.  Once your baby is used to the feeling of being unbound, remove the blanket and replace it with a sleep sack instead.  (Completely unbound fabrics in the crib can become a strangulation hazard, so as soon as your baby is used to sleeping semi-unwrapped, move him to a sleep sack like this one.

Stop Swaddling Tactic #6
From Burrito to Taco

Instead of swaddling him up like a burrito, turn him into a taco.

Roll up two blankets, secure them with rubber bands, and slide them under the crib sheet, on the crib mattress.  It’s the same method that we used to create the fake “swing” in the article Why Your Baby Hates His Crib.

This is extremely effective for babies who really love the cozy-close feeling the swaddle gives.   It’s also a great way to stop your baby from rolling over, getting stuck, and then screaming his lungs out at 2am for you to come and roll him back over.

Stop Swaddling Tactic #7
The Triangle Swaddle

This was introduced to me by one of my instructors in the Gentle Sleep Certification program, Andrea Strang as a swaddle transition method

If you’re struggling with helping your baby let go of the swaddle and sleep better at night, consider signing up the Super Sleeper Program with myself and fellow Gentle Sleep Coach Amy Estell.  We walk you through the sleep coaching process step-by-step for 4-5 weeks, until you’ve reached all your sleeping goals.

Stop Swaddling Tactic #8
Cheaters Sometimes Win

When it comes to weaning off the swaddle, cheating is a smart strategy.  Here are a few of my favorite “less work is more sleep” cheats.

Stop Swaddling with the Zen Swaddle - MightyMoms.club
The Zen 2-in-1 Swaddle includes special weights for extra soothing.

The Zen 2-in-1 Swaddle

The Zen 2-in-1-Swaddle is unique in that it is lightly weighted in certain areas – helping your baby feel like he’s being held or on his tummy, when in reality is sleeping on his back in the crib.  The 2-in-1 design lets you practice the Turtle Approach, but with additional weighted soothing support.

It’s one of my new favorite things and Amy and I have added it to our list of recommendations for Newborn Sleep Session clients as a soothing technique for sensitive babies.

Stop Swaddling with the Magic Sleep Suit - MightyMoms.club
Over 1070 parents recommend the Magic Sleep Suit as a swaddling alternative.

The Baby Merlin Magic Sleep Suit

This may, in fact, be the coolest name for a sleeping product EVER.  I think if they had Merlin Magic Sleep Suit for adults, I would be tempted…

The abracadabra sleeping suit is designed for babies from 2-9 months.  It’s specially padded to help muffle the automatic twitches and startles that can wake babies and provides that slight gentle pressure that so many swaddled babies love.

Yes, it looks like Randy’s snowsuit… but over 1070 parents gave it 5 stars, so I guess the unicorn hairs and phoenix feathers are really paying off.

The Convertible Woombie is very useful in weaning off the swaddle.

The Convertible Woombie

The Woombie is one of my favorite swaddlers, so I was really excited when I saw that they made a convertible swaddle for parents who are “looking down the road”.

It’s the traditional (and very popular) Woombie design, only it has the arms in separate little “pockets” to take out each arm. (Like in the Turtle Approach to swaddle weaning.)

Watch Those Sleep Windows!

One of the best ways to help your baby work through a swaddle transition is to make sure he’s not overtired when you’re putting him down for a nap.  This means you’ve got to catch his sleep window for naps.

If you miss it, even by a few minutes, it’s going to take you a lot longer to get him sleeping (if he sleeps for you at all).

What should you do if you’ve missed that window?  How do you help him get better, longer daytime naps?  Let me show you.

We Love Citations

Swaddling: Benefits and Risks. MedBroadcast.com
5 Swaddling Benefits for Sleep You Should Consider for Your Little One. MyDomaine.com
Swaddling a Baby: The Benefits, Risks, and 7 Safety Tips. NCT.org.uk

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