Many parents look forward to swaddling their baby as a part of their daily routine not only because it makes their baby look like the cutest little burrito but because it can help reduce crying time, shorten periods of distress and improve baby’s sleep by reducing the frequency of wakes.
Newborns are born with a startle reflex that regularly sends their legs and arms flying, which means these jerky movements can really disrupt their (and your) sleep. Babies don’t have much control over their bodies at this age, and the last thing you want is for them to accidentally smack themselves awake. Snug fitting swaddles help to keep little limbs hugged towards your baby’s body and allows them to sleep better by stopping the involuntary startle reflex.
Some parents will tell me their baby hates being swaddled but chances are pretty high that your baby doesn’t hate being swaddled – they just don’t like how you are doing it. Try not to take it personally! It might be time to try a new technique or different swaddle. When done correctly and at the right time, your baby will definitely settle and sleep better with it.
How To Swaddle
- Follow the RED NOSE safe sleeping guidelines;
- Remember to always put baby down on their back to sleep and feet to the end of the cot;
- Keep the room temperature between 19-22 degrees;
- Use breathable fabrics and don’t overdress your baby;
- Keep the sleeping surface free of any loose blankets, pillows, toys, bumpers or positioners;
- Stop swaddling when your baby can roll over (in any direction) as this can pose a suffocation risk;
- In order to keep baby’s hips healthy, leave plenty of room for baby’s knees to spread apart, bend up and move around in the swaddle;
If you are using a muslin wrap or something similar, check this youtube clip to demonstrate 5 different ways to swaddle your baby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wr52Qwuephk
If you prefer to use a swaddle with a zip, these brands are great:
Miracle blankets: https://miracleblanket.com.au/
Love to dream: https://lovetodream.com.au/stage-1-swaddling/
When transitioning: https://lovetodream.com.au/stage-2-transitional/
Ergo Pouch: https://www.ergopouch.com.au/
Saying Goodbye to the Swaddle
Being a cute burrito can help your little one snooze more soundly, but at some point, you will have to say adios to the wrap! When your baby is ready for unswaddling, you can do it gradually or if your baby has already started to roll, you will need to remove the swaddle ‘Cold Turkey’ style.
Some parents find it hard to let go of the swaddle because they have always linked it to better sleeping, but coming out of the swaddle is a logical step in sleep and body development. The end goal is for your baby to find their own comfortable sleeping positions, so having freedom of movement is key.
In the beginning it might be hard on your little one and more wakes are bound to happen, but once they have had practise at settling to sleep in a way that makes them comfortable, it will have a positive effect on their overall sleep.
It is very normal for your baby to be a bit unsettled during this transition, they just have a new ‘normal’ to adapt to that is very different from what they have always known. They may feel disoriented at first and sometimes might even bump their head trying to work out the new found freedom. However, once they start to feel more comfortable and shift around in their new sleeping position, they will start sleeping with much more ease.
When to Stop Swaddling
The short answer is: Once your baby starts rolling, you must remove the swaddle for their safety and development.
When your baby becomes more mobile and starts rolling, being confined to a wrap can actually prevent them from practising age-appropriate motor skills. This can start to cause more wakes at night and could be bad for their development.
Once you notice your baby starting to roll, I recommend taking on a ‘Rolling Boot-Camp’. Practise rolling A LOT and many times throughout the day! Show your baby how to roll in the cot and on the floor. Everything you can do to encourage movement and agility will have a positive effect on sleep, because when your baby chooses their own body positions, they’ll start to sleep better. This might mean side sleeping, knees tucked under, bum up in the air, sleeping on their tummy or back.
*TIP: Everytime your baby wakes up from their nap, flip them over in the cot to practise. They will generally have more energy then and can last longer. Place some books or toys in their view.
On average, babies will start rolling anywhere from four months and this is generally when that startle reflex disappears, meaning your baby has more control over their arms then.
*If your baby begins to fully roll over at any point before this (from back to front, or tummy to back), then you will need to remove the swaddle Cold Turkey style (see below).
But you don’t have to wait until your baby is rolling to make small changes to help them gradually get used to the new found freedom.
Removing the swaddle gradually can be done over a couple of weeks and involves letting one arm out for a few days, then the other, then both.
How to Stop Swaddling Gradually (Over 7-10 days)
- One Arm Out For The Morning Nap. Release one arm out of your baby’s swaddle for the morning nap. Keep both arms in for the rest of the naps and at night time. Once your baby is comfortable with one arm out, move on to the next step.
- One Arm Out Overnight.
Take the same arm out overnight.
*Keep both arms in for the lunch nap.
- Both Arms Out For The Morning Nap
After a few days or so of one-arm-out sleeping, remove both arms from the swaddle for the first nap.
- Both Arms Out Overnight.
Once your baby is comfortable with both arms out for the morning nap, begin to take both arms out for the nighttime sleep. **Keep arms in for the lunchtime nap.
- Once your baby is sleeping well at night, take both arms out for the lunch time nap. Your baby may wake after one sleep cycle, so it might be helpful to try and resettle them by hands on settling or popping them in the carrier or pram.
Stop Swaddling Cold Turkey (the fast way)
This works best when bub is already rolling.
Cold turkey is exactly what it sounds like – removing the swaddle completely. I’m not going to sugar coat it, this method can be pretty full on for a few nights to a week. So be prepared for some resistance. Or your baby might welcome the change and sleep well from the first signs of freedom.
Nights 1-3: Put your baby to bed as you usually do, just without the swaddle. In the initial nights of training, you can try to soothe your baby with patting, stroking or just sitting near the cot. Remember after a few nights of helping them to sleep, you will need to allow your baby to self-settle to encourage better sleeping
Nights 3-5: If you have been using any sort of soothing technique to help your baby sleep, now is the time to let them settle on their own.
NAPS: I would recommend doing 3-5 days of ‘assisted naps’ – where your baby is falling asleep in the carrier/pram or car while they learn how to sleep overnight without the swaddle. This can be less traumatic for them and ensures they sleep well during the day. Once they master the night sleeping (generally takes 1-5 nights) they will then they will start to sleep better for naps.
Need more help transitioning your baby out of the swaddle? Book a Baby Sleep Consultant today and say goodbye to sleepless nights!