When it comes to sleeping techniques for infants, using a baby swaddle (or infant swaddle) is an effective strategy for helping newborns sleep more comfortably. Why swaddle a baby? A swaddle not only mimics the womb environment—in which your baby feels safe and secure—but also prevents your baby from flailing their arms and legs.
However, the practice of swaddling is only intended for the first few months of your baby’s life. Although swaddling is beneficial to a newborn, it actually becomes risky and potentially dangerous if you utilize a swaddle when your baby gets older.
When to Stop Swaddling Baby
Although there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to parenting tips and tricks, luckily there’s a pretty obvious answer for when you should stop using a swaddle for a baby: whenever your little one is starting to roll over.
Babies become more mobile at different speeds. Generally, though, babies will start trying to roll over between 2-4 months. Eliminating the swaddle at 2 months is the safest time, since it’s best practice to stop swaddling when your baby is showing its first signs of trying to roll. If you’re still using a swaddle by the time your baby has fully rolled over, that’s a little too late.
Why Should You Stop Swaddling?
Infants aren’t mobile yet, and because of that, the swaddle keeps them comfortable while keeping them wrapped like a butterfly in a cocoon. However, once your baby becomes more mobile, being confined to a swaddle can raise their risk of SIDs. After all, if they roll onto their tummy but aren’t able to roll back over, this can be very problematic. Similarly, if your baby has enough mobility to kick off their blanket, then the blanket suddenly becomes a risk for suffocation or strangulation.
Beyond safety, though, is the fact that once your baby shows signs of mobility, being confined can actually limit their ability to practice age-appropriate motor skills.
If you continue to swaddle after your baby shows signs of mobility, you can run the risk of dehydration due to increased movement and confinement. Signs of overheating and dehydration include:
- Flushed or red cheeks
- Damp or wet hair
- Heat rash
- Quicker-than-normal breathing
How to Transition Out of a Swaddle
When the time comes for you to transition your baby out of using a swaddle for bedtime, the change in sleep routine may be met with tears and frustration. Instead of taking away the swaddle sensation cold turkey, try to create a brief transition that helps them adjust to their new sleeping routine.
For example, start by swaddling your baby and leaving one of their arms outside of the swaddle. If your baby has success with this method, wait a few nights and then move both arms outside of the swaddle. (Some newborns may actually prefer this method from the get-go!) Finally, once your baby is comfortable with both arms outside the swaddle, you can ditch the swaddle blanket altogether.
Additionally, when you decide to take the full swaddle away, you can choose to replace it with something like a partial wrap or sleep sack that is appropriate for your baby’s developmental stage. Some models will allow for arms-free sleeping while still ensuring that your baby feels comforted and protected. A sleep sack, in particular, will give your baby more freedom to move around, which can be an effective way for your baby to build strength.
Just keep in mind that, similar to a swaddle, your baby will also outgrow a sleep sack. This means you’ll eventually need to help your baby transition out of this item as well once it becomes unsafe or once they outgrow it.
How to Get Baby to Sleep Without Swaddling
If your baby has a hard time sleeping without the swaddle, take comfort in knowing that they’ll eventually adjust and move on to swaddle-free sleep. Still, it can be difficult when you’re in the midst of sleepless nights.
Now’s a great time to ensure you’re providing your baby with a consistent and calming bedtime routine. Whether you choose to include a bath, feeding, song, story, or lullaby, make sure to keep it consistent, from the time of the routine to the order of the routine. The regularity of your baby’s routine will provide them with a sense of comfort and help your baby unwind before bedtime.
Similarly, make sure your baby’s bedtime environment is as comfortable as possible. Implement ambient lighting in the evening, and do your best to eliminate any loud, harsh sounds that could be disruptive to your baby. Utilizing a white noise machine and fan can help, too.
Finally, babies love touch! Whether you hold your baby or give them an infant massage, touching your baby in a soothing manner is sure to help them get in the bedtime zone.
Ultimately, although swaddling can be an effective sleep strategy for infants, it unfortunately can be risky and dangerous once your baby gains the ability to roll and become more mobile. Once your baby shows those signs, it’s time to say goodbye to the swaddle and help them transition to the next phase of babyhood.