Transitioning out of the swaddle

Swaddling is a fantastic way to respect your baby’s need for a fourth trimester in the first three months of life. Wrapping your baby securely keeps them warm and feeling safe, and effectively works at switching on their ‘calming reflex’. Not only this, but it helps them to sleep sounder and for longer as it prevents them from activating their moro (or startle reflex).

I recommend swaddling all babies. However, many parents tell me that their “stubborn”, “spirited” or “strong-willed” baby consistently resists the swaddle or has a keen dislike of being wrapped. In these instances, I always advise to trial a transitional swaddle (listed below) before discounting swaddling altogether. I am particularly fond of the Love To Dream brand (with stretch fabric and arms up) as this allows for more exible movement as opposed to the “straitjacket” (especially considering many babies have been accustomed to having their hands up beside their face in the womb). The zip option also prevents Houdini-style break-outs! Keep in mind that an overtired or overstimulated baby will naturally resist being swaddled; but, in many cases, it’s what actually helps the most to calm their nervous system.
 

When to transition out of the swaddle?
I always recommend swaddling from birth until your baby begins to roll (generally somewhere between 4-6 months); as this can become a safety hazard. Many babies from 3-4 months learn seek to soothe themselves at bedtimes with their hands (either sucking on fists, fingers, or playing with their favourite comforter). It can therefore be beneficial to transition out of the swaddle to expedite self settling.
 
Signs it may be time to wean from the swaddle:

  • Your baby can roll, and attempts to roll swaddled (most definitive sign)
  • Your baby continually busts out of the swaddle (may also be solved by a better wrapping technique, or using a zip up swaddle instead of a wrap)
  • Your baby starts fighting the swaddle (an overtired baby will also fight the swaddle, but they may still very much require this for sleep)
  • Your baby is 3-4 months, has lost their startle relax, and seeks comfort/self settles by sucking their hands, or toying with their comforter at sleep times (which they are unable to do if swaddled)

 
How to make the transition:
There are many ways to transition out of the swaddle. Some prefer unswaddling the legs first (keeping the arms secure). My only issue with this is; if your baby starts rolling at an early age (4 months) where full head control is not yet developed, they may have difficulty moving their head to the side, or rolling back over if they are unable to use their arms.
For safety reasons, I always recommend arms first.
1. Keeping legs and one arm wrapped, leave one arm out for 3 nights
2. Two arms out with legs still wrapped from night 4-6
3. Release legs
 
Transitional products:

 
What to expect:
You can expect some regression or change in sleep patterns when making this transition; and this is completely normal. At the beginning, your baby may resist bed times, not sleep as long (catnapping), or wake more frequently than normal. You may also notice your baby is more irritable, and unsettled. It can take between 3-7 nights (hopefully no longer) as your baby adjusts to his/her new freedom and mobility without the swaddle.
 
How to make this transition easier:
1. Keep a consistent day and night routine. It will be especially important not to let them become overtired during this transition, as an overtired baby will resist bedtime and can be difficult to settle
2. Optimise their sleep environment
3) Acknowledge your baby’s tired cues, as an overtired baby will often resist sleep
4) Increase wind down time before bed (10-15 min before naps, and 30-60 min at the end of the day)
5) Establish consistent and positive sleep associations; book, sleeping bag, comforter, white noise etc
6) Be prepared to spend extra time sitting beside your baby’s bed, to help them to fall asleep
7) Delay any sleep training or other transitions such as night weaning, or dummy weaning until after this transition
8) Be patient, kind and sensitive to your baby’s needs. Extra cuddles will make them feel loved and secure…. And  know that this too shall pass!
 
If you would like extra support during this time, feel free to get in touch for a consultation: sophie@happybabysleep.com.au
 
 
 

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2 Comments

  1. Erin January 5, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Hi Sophie, I sm starting to transition my baby. I did both arms out last night and he did ok only a few extra wakes due yo his dummy falling out. In the day it’s harder and found he wakes after 1/2 hour and takes me another 45min to try & resettle.. Ended up putting both arms back in as he was becoming overtired. Tips for the day sleep with transitioning?
    Thank you
    Erin

    Reply
    1. cru January 6, 2016 at 4:19 am

      Hey Erin,
      I would recommend one arm at a time (try one arm for three days, then both arms for 3 days – as per article) – I find this is a little less stressful than going from being swaddled to both arms free and flapping 🙂
      There’s always a transition period where they may not sleep as long – that’s why I always recommend introducing a comforter, and extra cuddles. Good luck! Sophie

      Reply

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