If you’re looking for ways to teach your baby to sleep without a swaddle, I have 4 easy ways for you to try to work through the swaddle transition. Dropping the swaddle can be really daunting, but it doesn’t have to be hard.
One of the biggest challenges of parenting is that just when you think you’ve got something figured out, BAM. Something changes and everything you were confident in goes out the window.
A prime example of this is your baby’s sleep. Your baby will most likely start sleeping through the night, only to get hit with sleep regressions, and sleep as you knew it is a thing of the past.
Another example, and what I’m going to talk about today, is the baby swaddle transition.
It can feel super scary to transition from swaddling. I mean, WHY MESS WITH YOUR BABY’S SLEEP?! SLEEP IS A GOOG THING!
Because it’s not safe to keep swaddling baby forever, that’s why. But don’t worry, it can be easier than you think! I’ll walk you through the different ways to drop the swaddle below.
Dropping the Swaddle: When Should You Drop the Swaddle?
First things first. When should you drop the swaddle?
A quick google search will likely yield many different answers to this question, which is to be expected. After all, all babies are all different.
The short, yet unspecific answer is: by the time they can roll from back to belly, you should be done with the swaddle. To get a little more specific, the Moro reflex, which is your baby’s startle reflex, should no longer be present.
It can be dangerous for a baby to sleep on their belly without their hands free. Once your baby starts rolling over on their own, it’s time to drop the swaddle to avoid the risk of sudden infant death syndrome and also stunted hip growth.
If they are consistently breaking free from the swaddle, it’s also a sign that they are ready to be done.
On average, most babies will be ready to drop the swaddle at between 3 and 5 months old.
I personally feel that it’s best to transition out of the swaddle at about 3 and a half months old. At this age, the Moro reflex should be gone, but your baby will not yet be able to roll over.
I like to start the transition well before my baby starts showing signs of rolling over, so that I can take my time and not have that panic of “OMG, my baby is rolling over and I need to drop the swaddle ASAP!”
Another benefit to dropping the swaddle on the early side is that your baby won’t be set too soundly in their sleep habits and the swaddle should be easier to break and won’t require a full sleep training process.
However, if your baby isn’t ready to drop the swaddle and isn’t yet rolling from back to belly, don’t stress it.
Remember that all babies are different and reach milestones at different times!
According to the book “Moms on Call” (which by the way is fabulous, and I highly recommend it!), once your baby is 3-months old, they should be able to find their comfy spot without a swaddle. I slightly disagree, because I don’t think that every single baby is ready by 3 months; however, I do think that it’s a good starting point.
Related –> How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Longer at Night With the Moms on Call Soothing Rounds
How to Transition Baby Out of Swaddle
Helping your baby learn to sleep without a swaddle is part of a sleep training process. Oftentimes when parents are getting ready to start sleep training, they think about their baby crying.
Sleep training does not have to entail crying.
It is simply helping your baby learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep, on their own. Since babies get used to sleeping in swaddles, it can be hard for them to adjust to sleeping without the swaddle.
Here are the different options for dropping the swaddle, both gradual and quick ways. You should already have solid bed and naptime routines established, such as using a white noise machine, keeping the room dark, and at an ideal temperature.
1. Stop Swaddling Cold Turkey
This is how I handled the swaddle transition with my first baby, Theo. I was transitioning him out of his rock-n-play* and into his crib. I figured since we were dealing with one transition and therefore probably lack of sleep, we might as well get it all over with at once.
Once you’ve decided to take the swaddle away cold turkey, you need to leave your baby and let them settle on their own. A little bit of crying and fussing is OK because you know they are fine and just working through this transition.
When we did this with Theo, he cried for a little bit before nap and bedtime for one day and that was it. My instinct was to go in to help him settle right away, but I knew that if I did that I would only be prolonging him figuring out how to get comfortable without a swaddle on his own.
Related –> The Best Products for Baby Sleep
*Side note: rock n plays have now been recalled and aren’t a safe place for baby sleep. I didn’t know that as a first-time mom and have since then been made aware, so I want to be very clear that I am not promoting sleeping in a rock n play. On a similar note, sleep contraptions such as the doc a tot, or snuggle me, are also not a safe sleep option for your baby specifically say that they are for supervised lounging and not sleeping.
2. Dropping the Swaddle With One Arm Out
This is my preferred method for dropping the swaddle and one that I followed with both my twins, Josie and Margo, and my 4th baby, Beckham.
My 2 favorite swaddles are the Woombie and the Love to Dream Swaddle UP. I pretty much used the Woombie exclusively with my twins, and alternated between the Woombie and the Swaddle UP with Beckham.
When I first purchased these swaddles, I wasn’t at all thinking about the transition of dropping the swaddle, so I just bought the regular ones. It didn’t even occur to me to see if they made some that transition, and of course, they do.
Since I didn’t have the transitional versions of this swaddle, I used the Halo Sleepsack that transitioned that I had on hand from my first baby, Theo.
The Halo is the swaddle that I used to most with Theo, but since I started using the other two swaddles, it is definitely not my preferred swaddle, and the only time I used it with Beckham was when were transitioning out of the swaddle.
Don’t think that I’m saying I don’t recommend the Halo products, because there’s nothing wrong with them at all! They are still a great quality item, just not my preference.
I started transitioning Beckham out of the swaddle when he was 13 weeks old using the one arm method with the Halo swaddle. During his first nap of the day, I simply swaddled him and left one arm out. Easy peasy!
He had no problem at all, so the next night I swaddled him with both arms out, but still wrapped firmly around his chest, so basically using the swaddle as a wearable blanket.
Zero issues sleeping AT ALL. I was so relieved. Truthfully, they can sleep in a baby sleep sack safely for a long time. There’s no need to transition them OUT of the sleepsack, as it doesn’t restrict their movement (unless they’re trying to climb out of the crib, in which case, it’s a good restriction!).
A week later, I tried putting him down for a nap without the sleep sack and he had a hard time settling and woke up early.
Since it’s perfectly safe for babies to sleep in sleep sacks, we didn’t worry about it and kept using it.
A few weeks after that, we got back from my mom’s house pretty late and when we put Beckham to bed realized that we’d left the swaddle in the van. Instead of rushing out to get it, we put him to bed without it and he did great!
He’s been sleeping without it ever since, although we will likely reintroduce a sleepsack or something this winter if his room is chilly.
Related –> How to Teach Your Baby to Love the Crib
3. Using a Transitional Swaddle to Stop Swaddling
I have heard great things about transitional swaddles and I was all set to use one if my babies had issues dropping the swaddle.
A transitional swaddle is basically like a thick body suit that offers comfort and weight for your baby, without restricting their movement as much as a swaddle will.
Since they are so thick they shouldn’t be used if your baby has a fever or if it’s really hot in their room.
Transitional swaddles that I have heard good things about are the Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit and the Zipadee-Zip. A few other that I came across while writing this post are the Embé 2-Way Transition Swaddle Sack, the Halo Easy Transition Sleepsack, and the Swaddle Designs Transitional Swaddle Sack
4. Unswaddle Part of the Time
You can also start out by ditching the swaddle at certain times when they’re sleeping. It’s fairly common to start unswaddling during naps, and when they can manage that, stop swaddling during the night as well.
If they are still waking up in the middle of the night, or taking a dream feed, you could unswaddle them at that point.
Phew. I hope this was helpful and you feel good about dropping the swaddle. It might take some time, but you will get there. Good luck!
P.S. Make sure you’re following me on social media to keep up with our family and all the twin cuteness! I am on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest!
Sunday 30th of October 2022
Is this one arm out method for sure safe? Cause it sounds really promising I must say! I am just about to dropping a swaddle since my LO is achieving 4mo and I'm about to start the real sleep training - I have this HWL method chosen: https://www.parental-love.com/shop/baby-sleep-training and dropping the swaddle is like the prep-action.