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How and When to Stop Swaddling

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
Updated
How do you know when it's time to stop swaddling your baby?

Are you wondering if it’s time to stop swaddling your baby, but you aren’t quite sure how you’ll know when that moment arrives?

I remember the day I learned to swaddle. A nurse spent several minutes teaching me how to do it, and when I finally got it right, I was sure this was a trick I would be using forever.

The only problem with that is most people frown upon swaddling kindergarteners. No matter how awesome it is, there comes a time when you need to say goodbye to swaddling.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to tell if it’s time to stop swaddling and exactly how to do it.


When to Stop Swaddling Baby

The good news is you don’t have to go into this blind. If your baby is experiencing one or any of the signs below, they could be telling you they are ready to bust free from the swaddle.

1. Breaking Free

Just because your baby is starting to escape their swaddle doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to stop (1). It could just mean you need to swaddle tighter. But if you try to swaddle your baby tighter and they are still consistently breaking free, it might be a sign your baby is ready to stop swaddling.

Just remember that loose blankets can increase your child’s risk of SIDS, so if your baby is consistently breaking free throughout the night, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. Soothing Stops

Swaddling is meant to comfort our babies — it calms them down and makes them feel secure. If your baby suddenly stops being soothed by swaddling, it is no longer doing its job. When this happens, your baby is showing you they are ready to be swaddle-free.

3. Rolling Over

I understand if it takes you a while to give up the swaddle. It’s hard for you, just like it is for baby!

But there is one sign that, above all others, will tell you when it’s time to stop swaddling your baby. This one isn’t so much about comfort as safety.

Sleeping face down is dangerous for your baby, especially if they cannot roll back over. This can significantly increase the risk of SIDS (2).

Just as with babies who break free from their swaddle, if your baby is rolling over onto their tummy consistently each night, usually by 7 months old, it is better to be safe than sorry and start to wean the swaddle. The journal “Pediatrics” published the following study on the risks of SIDs when babies are swaddled and end up sleeping on their side or belly.

Here are some safety tips from the AAP about swaddling.

How to Stop Swaddling

It may be even harder to decide how to implement the change than it was to decide to stop swaddling. Do you just bite the bullet and go cold turkey? Well, you can. But there has to be a better way that will end in fewer tears for both you and your baby.

If you’ve ever tried to wean your baby off of anything cold turkey, whether it’s nursing, the bottle, or yes, even swaddling, you know it can lead to a lot of tears and heartache.

To avoid this, we recommend using these steps for a gentler and more gradual approach.

  1. Start by leaving your baby’s legs unwrapped and only swaddling their arms and torso.
  2. After a few nights, leave one arm out of the swaddle, too, so you are just swaddling your baby’s torso and a single arm.
  3. A few nights later, take out the second arm, leaving only the torso swaddled. At this stage, some babies continue to sleep well with their torso swaddled but keeping their arms free.
  4. Finally, remove the swaddle altogether.

Of course, every baby is different, so this process might not take you as long, or it might take even taker longer. That’s OK! Trust your gut, and let your baby set the pace.

Things That Might Help

Sometimes we might need a little extra help to break the swaddling habit, and that’s totally normal. There is an entire line of baby products created for moms and babies in the same situation as you.

Check out the products below to see if any of them might be a good fit for your little one.

1. Sleep Sacks

Are you worried your baby will get too cold once you stop swaddling, but they aren’t big enough for loose blankets yet? Sleep sacks are your answer.

Sleep sacks are wearable blankets that provide your baby with another layer of warmth and security once they are past the swaddling stage. We love that there are so many varieties — sleeveless, short sleeves, 100% cotton, etc.

2. Baby Merlin Magic Sleepsuit

The Magic Sleepsuit from Baby Merlin helps muffle a baby’s reflexive startles, just as with swaddling, but it leaves their arms and legs free. This makes it a perfect transition for babies tired of the confinement swaddling can bring.

Keep in mind, this product is made for back sleepers only, so it’s not recommended for babies who can roll over. However, if you are trying to stop swaddling and your little one is still young, this could be a great product for you.

3. Anna & Eve Swaddle Strap

This strap is great if you live in a warm climate and don’t want your little one to overheat or if you are at a point where you only want to swaddle your baby’s arms and torso. The Swaddle Strap by Anna & Eve also comes with an inner strap that prevents it from sliding over your baby’s face.

4. Zipadee Zip

You might have heard of the Zipadee-Zip on “Shark Tank.” It quickly became one of the TV show’s breakout products, and we can see why. It provides a comfortable, secure, and safe environment while still allowing room for your baby to wiggle around and roll over.

This product also offers a small amount of resistance to help with your baby’s startle reflex and even prevents the risk of hip dysplasia (3). It’s not just for cribs either — the Zipadee-Zip can be used in car seats and strollers too.

Our favorite feature is how big it can go. With three sizes, this product fits little ones ranging from 12-34 pounds.

5. White Noise

Do you live in a metropolitan area where there are noises outside your window all day, every day? Do you have older children who often run wild during your little one’s nap time? All these things can set off your baby’s startle reflex — one of the things swaddling helps to control.

If your baby is completely weaned from the swaddle but still waking up because of the noise around them, white noise might be your answer. The sound from a white noise machine can range from rainforest noises to running water to static sounds.

6. A Consistent Sleep Routine

Babies thrive on routine, and one of the easiest things you can do to help your baby get used to not being swaddled is to provide them with a consistent routine each night. This will let them get ready for bedtime gradually and predictably, instead of just dropping them into their crib each night.

You can do things like take a bath, read a story, and sing a lullaby. What matters is that you do the same things in the same order each night, so your baby knows what’s coming.

Warning

Never put a stuffed animal in a crib with your baby, as it increases the risk of suffocation. Keep it on the changing table or a dresser in your baby’s room to let it work its magic.

Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP is board certified in General Pediatrics and began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. Outside of the field of medicine, she has an interest in culinary arts. Leah Alexander has been featured on Healthline, Verywell Fit, Romper, and other high profile publications.