Dr. Mona's Mom Blog

Top Tips to Transition Your Baby Out of Their Swaddle

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Are you wondering when to transition your baby out of their swaddle? This can be a big transition. Many parents or caregivers have questions about this – When should we start transitioning? Do we need to use a sleep sack? Is there a method to transition them out of the swaddle?

Here are your answers to the most commonly asked questions about transitioning out of the swaddle. Keep these tips in mind to help make it a smooth transition for you and your baby.

If your baby is swaddled, they will need to transition out once they start rolling.

What is considered rolling?

Some newborns will sleep slightly on their sides due to a newborn reflex. This is not rolling. Rolling involves getting their body weight onto a shoulder, rolling their hips side to side, and/or using their legs to get momentum to lift their hips or swing their arm around.

When will this happen?

Every baby is different because of their unique development, but it’s typically between 2 ½ months to four months of age. If your baby is premature, also remember to follow their developmental cues and remove the swaddle accordingly.

Why is rolling in a swaddle unsafe?

When a baby is able to roll, they can potentially roll onto their tummy, and they wouldn’t have their hands or upper body strength to lift their face off the mattress or readjust to breathe. It’s a safety risk to be swaddled and rolling.

Should I transition them to a sleep sack?

A non-weighted wearable blanket or sleep sack where their arms are free is ideal for safety. A sleep sack is useful for homes where temperatures are cool and the baby may like the extra layer. Not all babies need a sleep sack. If your home is hot, you may not need the sleep sack and can use footie pajamas.

How should I transition my baby out of their swaddle?

Cold turkey would be transitioning them completely to a sleep sack. You can decide whether you do all sleep sessions or more gradually. See below for how to do this and decide.

A more gradual approach with arms out involves using a swaddle where arms can come out, like Ollie World or the Sleepea by Happiest Baby. For three to five days, start with the swaddle on as you would but with one arm out. Once they do well, take the other arm out as well for three to five days. Then, completely remove the swaddle.

Should I transition out of a swaddle for all periods of sleep at once or focus on specific sleep sessions at a time?

This will depend on your baby.

You can try doing all sleep at once – start with the night sleep, where sleep drive is the highest, and then the naps the following day. Put them in their crib for all periods of sleep. You can use five minutes of pausing or a sleep training method of your choice to help them adjust. This method is appropriate to try, but some babies may need a more gradual approach. Babies who seem to startle easily (by noises or their own hands) may need a more gradual transition.

If your baby cries for more than five minutes with the above method, or you don’t feel a complete transition with nighttime and all naps will work for you and your baby, then try a more gradual approach.

Start with transitioning them out of the swaddle cold turkey for nighttime sleep. The sleep drive is higher during this time, so they’re less likely to be bothered. Pause for five minutes and/or offer crib-side reassurance if necessary. They may be startled by their hands, but they will learn that it’s their hands and that they’re safe!

Once they are sleeping at their baseline overnight, tackle the first nap of the day. This morning nap has the next highest sleep drive.

Once they do well for a few days with that first nap, tackle the other naps. The speed at which you transition to the other naps will depend on your baby. Utilize three to five minute pauses and crib-side reassurance after pausing if necessary. If they’re still crying, you can rock them or consider a contact nap. Whatever works best for you and your baby. Remember that even independent sleeping infants may need the occasional contact nap or assistance to sleep — normalize this for unswaddled or swaddled babies!

The last nap of the day, especially the shorter 30-45 minute nap, can be the hardest to transition due to low sleep drive. Therefore, it’s best to try to work on this nap last. Consider babywearing or contact napping this nap until they finally drop it IF transitioning doesn’t work. I say this because if you’re pausing five minutes and reassuring this nap, the entire process can take 15-20 minutes, which cuts into the short nap anyway.

Check out the New Mom’s Survival Guide for more information, guidance, and support to navigate the first year of parenthood.

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All information presented on this blog, my Instagram, and my podcast is for educational purposes and should not be taken as personal medical advice. These platforms are to educate and should not replace the medical judgment of a licensed healthcare provider who is evaluating a patient.

It is the responsibility of the guardian to seek appropriate medical attention when they are concerned about their child.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or hospitals I may be affiliated with.