How to Swaddle Safely and When to Stop

What’s the ultimate goal of any new parent? SLEEEEEEEP.

Some babies sleep well with their arms in the air like they just don’t care. Some babies sleep well swaddled. The Cub Twins got very accustomed to the swaddle life during their two weeks in the NICU. The nurses there were professional baby burrito makers. I have continued to swaddle them at bedtime and for some naps because, frankly I will use every technique I can think of to get them to sleep soundly so that I too may sleep.

Now that they’re over 3 months old, I reached out to a fellow twin-mom and Certified Sleep Consultant to find out more about transitioning out of the swaddle.

How to Swaddle Safely and When to Stop

By Janelle Kent, Parenting Coach

Swaddling Safety

The safest way to put baby to sleep is without any blankets in the crib, bassinet or bed. A light, breathable swaddling blanket can be a good alternative. If you are considering swaddling your baby, there are many things to remember in order to practice safe swaddling:

  • Always put baby on their back when you put them to bed, especially when they are swaddled—never put swaddled babies on their tummies or sides.
  • Swaddle baby with hands up by their face to facilitate soothing using their hands. This may also be safer than swaddling them with their arms by their sides.
  • Never cover baby’s head with the swaddling blanket.
Maman Loup’s favourite swaddle blanket is the Miracle Blanket … it’s sleep-deprived parent-proof!
  • Wrap the blanket tight enough so it will not loosen but not so tight that it squeezes the chest or restricts leg movement. You should be able to fit a finger between your baby and the blanket.
  • Do not use a swaddle all day and night as baby’s growing limbs, especially hips, need space to move and stretch.
  • Unswaddle baby when feeding. This allows their bodies to be free and encourages them to stay awake during feeds.
  • Pay attention to baby’s temperature—a baby that is too hot is at a higher risk of SIDS. If the skin on baby’s hands, feet, neck, back or chest feels warm to the touch or if baby is sweating, remove the swaddling blanket or remove some layers. The ideal room temperature for most babies is between 18° and 21°

Find out more from Alberta Health Services

So you’ve been swaddling your baby, and now you’re wondering if it’s time to transition to a sleep sack.

While there are signs that it is time to make the switch, when to do so is largely a personal preference, but it’s a choice you should make with safety as your primary concern.

9 signs that it may be time to stop swaddling

So proud to have graduated to sleep sacks!
  1. Baby’s startle reflex (Moro reflex) is not as strong or is no longer present.
  2. Baby starts to have strong, purposeful movements. These typically start between 2 and 3 months.
  3. Baby has wiggled out of a secure swaddle, even once. Having said that, you may first need to check how you are swaddling if baby is still under 3 months—it may just be an issue with technique or the swaddle product being used, especially if you are not using a breathable blanket.
  4. Baby starts rolling accidentally or on purpose, whichever occurs first.
  5. Baby starts sucking their hands as a means of soothing themself to sleep.
  6. Baby breaks out of the swaddle but transitions through that and sleeps through or gets back to sleep without your assistance.
  7. You are getting anxious about the swaddle.
  8. You decide to sleep teach, which may be as early as 3 months. I recommend eliminating the swaddle once you start to teach baby how to settle on their own.
  9. Baby is no longer sleeping well at night and is now waking multiple times as though they are uncomfortable. This may be an indication that baby is ready to have more space.

How to transition out of the swaddle

Cold turkey

A baby who begins to resist the swaddle, breaks out of it habitually, sleeps without it from time to time or who has a fairly easy-going temperament will probably be able to handle it if you remove the swaddle all at once.

Gradually, limb by limb

A baby who is still dependent on the swaddle, has a more intense temperament or is a more sensitive sleeper can benefit from a gradual removal of the swaddle:

  • Start by taking one leg out of the swaddle. Typically, babies find it most comforting to have their arms swaddled.
  • After two to four days, depending on how baby is handling the transition, swaddle with both legs out, then one arm, and then the other. Use any variation that works best for your baby until they are no longer sleeping swaddled.
  • When starting on their arms, leave their less dominant arm out. Depending on how early you remove the swaddle, a dominant arm may not be apparent.
  • Be sure to monitor baby while you are gradually reducing the swaddle to maintain safety while sleeping.

After the swaddle

Once you’ve transitioned baby out of the swaddle, you’ll find many excellent sleep sack products on the market that you can use to keep baby warm.

Be sure to use a properly fitted sleep sack to avoid arms getting caught in the sleep sack and pulling at the neck. You should only be able to fit two fingers between your baby’s armpit and the sleep sack.

Special Considerations

When it comes to safety, swaddling can be a controversial topic. I cannot stress enough that you must monitor your swaddled baby and follow all of the safe swaddling practices. Additionally, you may wish to consider the following:

  • Many health practitioners recommend that you stop swaddling when baby is about 2 months old. Most babies will roll intentionally around 4 months, so the swaddling stage should done before accidental rolling begins.
  • Prolonged and excessive use of the swaddle can lead to hip issues, such as hip dysplasia or dislocation.
  • The Moro Reflex is still strong for some babies up until 5 months, so many parents continue to swaddle until then. You may choose to use the swaddle until the last moment, and that is your choice, but please do so with caution.

Need help?

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 *All content provided in this blog article is for informational purposes only.  In no case shall Janelle Kent be liable for any errors or omissions in this information, nor for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

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Welcome to my Wolf Pack!

My name is Lindsay and I am a 40-year-old mama of four trying to live an eco-friendly, budget-friendly life! I am a substitute teacher and Child Passenger Safety technician in Calgary, Alberta. Join me on my adventures!

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