Popular Categories

8 Simple Ways to Stop Swaddling Your Newborn

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?

Don’t panic.

It has to happen, my friend.  The swaddle has to go eventually.

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.

So how do you wean your baby off this preciousssssssss sleep-soother?

Gently. 

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.

Stop Swaddling 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.

Stop Swaddling 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 method was introduced to me by one of my instructors in the Gentle Sleep Certification program, Andrea Strang.

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.

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.

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 stop using the swaddle 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.

Have You Read These Yet?

We  honesty!  This post contains affiliate links that provide extra money for our mutual coffee habits addictions. Click here to learn more.

48 thoughts on “8 Simple Ways to Stop Swaddling Your Newborn

  1. Thank you Heather. I have started him in the crib last couple nights, swaddled. I also try to have him nap in it during the day. I am thinking to set up sleep session soon. My husband is military and will be back next week so I might do it then so he helps out and knows what is best for our little munchkin. 🙂
    Thank you again 🙂

  2. Hello everyone,

    I have 11 weeks old son. He is amazing little baby. I know he is still young but I feel like I need to start couching him early. He was colicky baby, getting better now but still suffers with gas and reflux as well. He sleeps in rock and play because if he is out on his back after feeding he spits up and wiggles like crazy. He is also very active and frantic with his hands..so he needs to be swaddled. He fights the swaddle but if I don’t use it he fights the sleep and gets overtired and cranky. He gets his hands almost out if anything..we have to use heavy fleece swaddle. And if course he has issues falling asleep on his own, doesn’t self sooth…never has his hands available. So I just don’t know where to start….weaning of the swaddle…teaching how to sleep in his crib and self sooth. Please any advice?:) Thank you

    1. Michaela, he might be going through a growth spurt, which is causing him to be hungrier than normal. There seems to be a lot going on here, more than I can address in a simple comment. I don’t recommend coaching at this young age – in my experience it just means a LOT of crying, with little actual improvement, since it takes longer than if you’d just wait a few weeks when he’s ready.

      That said, you don’t just have to crawl through the next few weeks either, there are things we can do to help both of you rest better, without doing any formal “coaching”. I would encourage you to set up a Sleep Session with Gentle Sleep Coach Amy Potts. You will fill out a short form, so she can prepare a little for your meeting, then talk with her for an hour about the specifics. (She will have a lot of questions!) Then the two of you can work out a sleep plan you can successfully implement over the next few weeks, things you can do to really help him soothe better and eventually start moving away from the swaddle. Click here to learn more about our Sleep Sessions.

      That way we can dive deeper into your specific baby and help you come up with a plan that’s personalized to your family, making it more likely to be effective!

  3. I was late to the swaddle game when my son was first born! I really did not know the importance of it or how well it would help him sleep. He is about to be 5 months next week, and has just recently started rolling over and so I am thinking it might be time to try a weaning method! I started last night and did the non dominant arm and lets just say it went…..horribly! By 4 am, I decided to give in and swaddle both arms… and he slept for 3 hours straight no problems! I am going to give it a try again but I really was dreading the lack of sleep and I can tell he was tired! I am torn b/c I feel like “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” but I know it will only be harder to wean him off the swaddle the more mobile he becomes! Any words of wisdom or advise would be appreciated!!!

    1. Mara,

      This transition can be very difficult, but I do urge you to persevere, even if it slowly. When your little guy starts turning over, swaddling really is a health hazard. It’s okay if it does take awhile, but in the long run, it is best for him. I would try the “sleep suit” mentioned in the article because it does give your little one an impression that he is being swaddled. He’ll be better off and it will be safer.

  4. Okay. I’ve spent waaayyyy too much time thinking about this lately, so maybe some outside opinions will help me settle on a strategy (although daddy has been such a good help with our little girl so far, for some reason he is super resistant to researching sleep stuff so his opinion is worth zilch).
    We have a teeny little peanut who is almost 5 months and miiiight be 13 lbs at the very most (she was 11 lbs 5 oz at her 4 month appt). For added info she’s been 100% formula since 4 months (long story, don’t ask please), eating 4-6 oz every 3 hours. Despite her petite stature, she’s been a magical unicorn sleeper and has been sleeping 7-9 hours for her longest sleep since she was about 3.5 months old. It took me awhile to figure out how to do naps but we’re in a pretty good rhythm right now with her sleep schedule.
    Right now we do eat-play-sleep during the day, and bath-bottle-book-bedtime at around 630, with bedtime at 7. Then dream feed at 10, and back down until morning. At 2.5 months, she started alternating between busting out of the swaddle blanket or flipping over onto her face. So we started double swaddling (similar function to the miracle blanket to avoid bust outs, and the added bulk keeps her from flipping). Once swaddled, we rock her to sleep and lay her down with her pacifier. Only after the dream feed can we just swaddle her and leave her in the crib with no added soothing other than the paci. She doesn’t wake up after spitting out the pacifier (sometimes she’ll sleep with it jammed into her cheek, which I don’t understand).
    Our routine is working, but with summer coming (and her south facing room), it’s getting too warm to double swaddle.
    My problem when trying to transition is that she won’t settle while being rocked if her arms aren’t secure (she’ll knock her paci out, flail her arms, etc). My logical brain says if we wean her from rocking before dropping the swaddle it might go easier. But everywhere I’ve read says to wean from the swaddle first. I’ve tried the zipadee zip, but she drools all over the hands and then is soaking wet and uncomfortable!
    Has anyone tried any sleep coaching method with a swaddled baby? It seems to me that if she learns how to fall asleep without being rocked first it’ll be easier for her to learn how to just fall asleep with her arms free too.
    We’ll be traveling to grandparents house in Florida in early May, so with the heat and humidity we’ve gotta be out of the double swaddle by then. Any suggestions? Sorry for the long comment!

    1. Tess,

      I have good news for you, since she is almost 5 months old she now has the skills to start learning how to self soothe (this happens right around her 4 month milestones)! Yay!
      So,I know it feels hard to change something that has been giving you good sleep but, for her own safety, you really should try to get her out of the swaddle as soon as you can. Your little girl might be a perfect candidate for the sling found in this article. It could give her the added stability she needs.
      That being said, You should follow your mama intuition on this. I just think it will ease your stress a bit if you take care of the swaddle first (since you have an early May deadline!).

  5. Thanks for your help with this — we have tried twice to make the transition. I bought an Ergopouch convertible swaddle to transition out of the Woombie lent to me from a friend, but it was way too big, was bunching up around my 5 month old’s face. But the rolling over has started! And no time to order something new. Luckily my buddy was cool with me making some changes to the Woombie. Was super easy to unstitch armholes. First nap happening now and she seems to be adapting (fingers crossed). I’m sure there will be some struggles in the days to come, but the point is sometimes you DON’T need to buy anything!

  6. Thank you. I am going to try a few things mentioned here. We have having a hard time “weaning” my almost 4 month old son from his swaddle blanket. He is waking every two hours in the night without his arms swaddled.

    1. Krista,

      I hope the suggestions here will help your little guy make that transition. It can be kinda tricky sometimes!

  7. Great information!

    I hope to get some advice: My almost 7 month old son has always been a great sleeper and great baby. He wakes once a night to eat, as he’s been doing since he was about 5 months old. He’s been swaddled using the Aden and Anais blankets since the day he was born and he still insists that we “swaddle” him for naps and bedtime (it’s not really swaddling anymore since he’s too big for a real swaddle). Of course, he can get out of his swaddle and usually he just wears the blanket like a donut. Yet, he still insists. Is this okay or should I try to break him of this habit? It doesn’t bother me and it’s not dangerous for him, as he can move the blanket. What do you think?

    1. Kellie,

      If he’s old enough to move the blanket then I’m sure he’s fine, did you run this by your doctor though? One other thought, does he need to be swaddled with Aden and Anais or could you use an crocheted blanket (lots of holes for breathing ease that way!)?

  8.  

    I found the Zipadee-Zip solved a bunch of my sons sleep issues. First thing we did was stop co-sleeping and then around 4 months place him his swaddle transition blanket. My son’s crying and sleep issues were terrible up until 10 months. For the sanity of my wife and I we switched our little man to a sleeping suit. At first I was skeptical, but it really works! We got our Zipadee-Zip from Sleeping Baby-  its a gamechanger! We started using it around four months, and it soothes him and helps him fall asleep faster. I plan to continue having him use it for a while 🙂

     

  9. Hi Danielle, thank you so much for your article! I did a day of cold turkey today as my 5 month old has recently started to roll-over and has also recently started waking in the night for her dummy, which she’s never done before. So I thought it was time to transition for both safety and self-soothing reasons. Unfortunately she screamed & screamed and slept for a whole 45 mins today rather than her normal 4 hours (over 3 naps). It was a hideous day! Tomorrow I will start with the Sloth approach as I think it’s much more suited to her personality.
    My question is whether you have any advice given she normally sleeps in a zip up & Velcro tight swaddle and then sleeps on her side in a sleeping wedge. Should I transition her to sleeping on her back first for a few days before I change from the ‘cheater’ swaddle (the only one she’s never been able to break out of) to a proper blanket swaddle with one arm out. Or do I keep her on her side and change the swaddle type and start the transition.
    Also – any tips on how to stop using a dummy? Or am I right in thinking once she’s comfortable with her arms out she may suck her fingers (which she does during playtime) to help self-smooth? Many thanks! Nina

    1. Nina,

      I can’t take credit for the article, it’s Heather’s work, but I’m glad it was helpful! It’s a great one!

      I do think that your instincts are good on giving her a couple of nights just on her back as long as you feel confident that she can’t yet roll over while in the swaddle (Remember that rolling while in the swaddle is a suffocation hazard!). Have you considered trying step #6? We used the elevated mattress/swing with our little one and it helped. You can find instructions on in this article.

      Anyway, I hope things are going better with this transition and you all will be back to happy sleep soon!

  10. Great tips here! We swaddled and our LO loved it until she started busting out of it nightly. Once she was rolling over and we switched her into the Zipadee-Zip. It’s worked wonderfully and she sleeps so great in it!

    1. Jiji,

      So glad to hear that the Zipadee-Zip worked for you. Yay for products that make sleep happen (and safely, of course)!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *