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It’s no mystery why babies love being swaddled. They’ve spent months snuggled up in the worlds warmest and coziest swaddle: the womb! Now that they are out in the world, many babies find it comforting to be swaddled in order to recreate that familiar feeling. Newborns also lack the adaptability to temperature change and come equipped with that pesky Moro reflex. Swaddling can aid in these two attributes by keeping them warm and prevent them from startling themselves.
Initially, Caleb loved being swaddled. He would spend his days in a loose wrap and his nights in a tight wrap. After a couple of weeks, we would only swaddle him for naps and bedtime and he seemed to be fine with that arrangement. Pretty soon, however, we were woken up by an unwrapped baby who managed to free his entire body from the cloth swaddle. Time and time again (no matter what technique we used or how tight we made it) Caleb would free himself from the swaddle and inevitably wake himself up.
We figured he was telling us that he no longer liked being snuggly wrapped so we promoted him to a zippered swaddle (they resembled a cocoon or sleeping bag). These types of swaddles are often recommended for those babies who don’t like a tight swaddle but still need something to prevent them from flailing and waking during incidents of the Moro reflex.
At three months it was time, again, for another promotion. Only this time it would come in the form of no more swaddling.
While swaddling a baby helps soothe and comfort them, the time comes when it is no longer necessary or it is best to stop:
- Baby’s Moro reflex is diminishing: you may start to notice that your baby’s Moro reflex begins weakening at around 4 months of age and there is no need to swaddle anymore.
- Baby is constantly breaking free: if you have a little Houdini on your hands they may be trying to tell you they need a less snug swaddle or no swaddle at all. You know your baby best. Be on the lookout for cues that they are ready to ditch the swaddle, whenever that may be. Also, keep in mind that if your baby is breaking free from their cloth swaddle, you now have a loose blanket in the crib and we don’t want that!
- Baby can roll from back to belly: this is the clearest indicator that you should stop swaddling your baby. Our pediatrician (and many other medical professionals) recommends that you stop swaddling as soon as your baby begins rolling onto their bellies. If a swaddled baby turns over onto their belly it increases their risk of suffocation since their arms are pinned.
If you think your baby is ready to say “goodbye” to the swaddle then I recommend this easy, gradual process that we used on Caleb. Remember that any type of weaning takes time. Weaning from a sleep association, like swaddling, may disrupt your baby’s sleep (and yours). Just be patient, gentle and optimistic and pretty soon you’ll have your baby sleeping unswaddled and both your sleep schedules back to normal.
How to wean off the swaddle:
Nights 1-3: Unswaddle the non-dominant arm
- Swaddle your baby as usual but leave their non-dominate arm out free. The dominant arm is typically the one your baby uses to reach and grab for toys or the first one that is usually breaking free from the swaddle.
Nights 4-6: Unswaddle the dominant arm
- Now, only your baby’s legs are swaddled.
Night 7: Do not swaddle
- If you are like us and live in a cold weather climate, you can use a sleep sack like this to keep your baby warm but their legs and arms are “free”.
- Or you can lay your baby down in just their jammies. Warning: they may decide to play with their shirt instead of sleep…