Today we’re talking all about how to transition your newborn or baby out of a swaddle! I’m sharing the ages that we’ll start to transition out of the swaddle, what to do if you have a baby who is still swaddled, and some encouragement from a Little Z’s team member who made this transition recently because I want you to hear from someone who just did this!! You can also listen along on the podcast as I talk all about the transition baby out of the swaddle!
Swaddles are an amazing tool that helps calm your baby, helps them sleep well, and helps them sleep longer. The reason that we have swaddles is because if you’ve ever seen your newborn sleeping, they have something where it looks like they’re jumping when they’re sleeping called the Moro reflex, or startle reflex.
This is normal – their bodies have not fully developed, they’re still figuring out how they can be in control and how they can move. They are very jumpy when they sleep!!
Part of this reason, too, is yes, they have been very much confined for nine months, and now they are just loose out in the wild world, so being in the swaddle actually helps them feel more safe and secure.
Now, you’re not going to find a lot of research on newborns or babies in the sleep world because not a lot of parents raise their hand and willingly say, “Yes, please do tests on my baby to keep them awake for a long time!” You can definitely find research, but it’s very limited.
However, what I want to encourage you with is the best thing to do is to look at your own baby and determine what is best suited for them.
Swaddles are not straitjackets. You may see comments and messages from people talking about how that just looks so horrible and how dare you confine your baby, but think about it like this.
They just spent nine months all safe and secured and bundled up in the womb, and now they’re out in the open.
That swaddle reminds them of that safe and secure environment. And it helps them sleep longer.
The reason we recommend the use of swaddles is to keep babies feeling safe, secure and snug because it softens that Moro reflex and helps baby sleep longer. That’s the point and purpose of the swaddle.
Here at Little Z’s, I teach that the swaddle is an excellent tool for the first 0-12 weeks of life at most. And this is adjusted age if you have a newborn who came early.
1. Are they rolling?
If your newborn is rolling from belly to back or back to belly, you need to get them out of the swaddle.
If they’re rolling, or they’re in their bassinet or crib and they’re showing signs they want to roll, it is not safe for your newborn to be in their swaddle because they won’t be able to get back over. This will cause frustration, and of course, we don’t want their face down in the mattress.
So if they are starting to show you signs or they are rolling, please go ahead and transition them out.
2. How old is your baby?
If your baby is 8-11 weeks, look for those rolling signs and keep their age in mind. If they’re right at that 11-12 week mark, it’s time to transition.
3. Are they starting to use their hands to self-soothe?
If they’re starting to suck on their wrist, hand, thumb or whatever they can find on their hand to suck on, and they start to close their eyes and you can tell they’re soothing themselves to sleep, that’s a great sign that they are ready to use their hands. Which is awesome! They can have a little bit more control over their soothing.
4. Is it just not working?
If they are busting out of that swaddle and you have tried all kinds of different ones and it’s just not working, then let’s save everybody the middle of the night frustration and just go ahead and get them out of the swaddle. Let’s get them out and be hands free.
Overall, the big picture here is that it should take no more than one week to go from swaddled to arms out.
Now, we’re not just going from swaddle to absolutely nothing. Our end goal here is a sleep sack.
The reason I’m suggesting a sleep sack is because still at this age, they cannot have blankets or any loose items in their crib, so they might get chilly, but they cannot have a blanket until after 12 months old.
So a sleep sack, which is a wearable blanket, is a great option to keep them comfortable and it still has that security for their legs!
Personally, I only used sleep sacks until 6-8 months and then I was just done buying them. You don’t need to have sleep sacks forever, but I do recommend sleep sacks sometimes for kids all the way up to the toddler years.
If you are specifically looking for brands that I recommend, check out my Amazon shop here!
1. The first thing to do is commit to this and let everybody in your household know (whoever is helping you with your baby sleep) that we are making this transition.
The worst thing you could do is just have it in your mind that this is your plan, and then don’t tell anybody, but then get really upset in the middle of the night when you see your baby have their arms in the swaddle again.
2. Start this at nighttime. I always recommend starting at night for any sleep change. The reason is because naps, especially for newborns, can be really tricky and I just don’t want to throw any more variables in there.
3. Put the baby in their swaddle and leave one of their arms out of the swaddle during the bedtime routine. Complete your bedtime routine (you’re likely still doing the Pick Up/Put Down method that I teach inside my sleep course at this age) and then you’re going to say goodnight and leave the room.
4. Throughout the night when they wake up and it’s time for a feed, you’re going to switch the arms. You’re alternating the arms, which one is in and which one is out, every single time they have a night waking.
5. Next nap, alternate again and keep doing this for about 3-4 days max!! Some babies take just one or two days. You are the parent, you are the caregiver, so you can definitely determine how this is going. But please use your judgment with that – what we’re aiming for is your baby is transitioned with BOTH of their arms out within a week.
6. On Day 5, 6, or 7, when both of their arms are out, go ahead and put them into a sleep sack.
If you have a 3-month old or a 4-month old, you can do this transition!! You just might want to spend like 1 day doing the one arm in, one arm out.
If you have a 5-month old baby or older, I would highly recommend cold turkey getting out of the swaddle.
So here’s why I recommend that for our older babies: they need to have their arms out!! A 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-month old is fully capable of rolling. For safety reasons, they need to get out of the swaddle. And the longer they stay in the swaddle, the harder it will be for them to get rid of their startle reflex!! They have to be free.
They will have night wakings. They will have disrupted sleep, but they have to learn how to work through these things. We can’t just always rescue them at every single moment of the day.
Anytime your kid goes through changes, there will be disruptions in their sleep. And this actually happens even with my girls who are in elementary school. When they have a big day, when something is really big, they’re going through something developmentally, they do have some stirrings in the night – that is normal.
When you are transitioning out of the swaddle, you are taking one week, at most, to get out of the swaddle. What you’ll do is transition your baby’s arms from one arm in/one arm out and alternate that for about 3-4 days. And then they’re out completely and in a sleep sack.
Now know that your baby is free and safe to roll and move because they are hands free. And they have the ability to use their arms and their limbs to help them get around in their crib or self-soothe. Pretty cool.
Bonus tip! Now that your baby can roll, they need some more space – it’s a good time to go ahead and get them out of the bassinet and into the crib.
Here’s what Kate from Little Z’s shared with me about her experience:
“I recently had my 3rd child Colten. He is now 9 weeks old and when we first brought him home from the hospital, we had him in the SwaddleMe velcro swaddle with his arms down. Right around 3 weeks old, we decided to transition him to the Nested Bean Zen One sleepsack. So this is an arms up sleepsack that has zippered mesh arm coverings, and he really enjoyed that for several weeks.
At about 7 weeks old, he started to show signs that he was potentially ready to be completely arms free, he was beginning to roll onto his side and kick his legs straight up in the air, we could also tell that he was getting a little bit frustrated with that restricted range of motion with his arms. He wasn’t quite able to reach his mouth with his hands and his fingers and he was starting to wake up a little bit more frequently during naps and at night.
So right at 8 weeks old, we decided to transition him to be completely arms free. So going into the first day of this transition, nap one we had his left arm free. So we unzipped the left side of the sleep sack and his left arm was completely free while his right arm was contained. He did really great with that.
So for nap number two we swapped and his left arm was contained and his right arm was out. And we were really pleasantly surprised that he did great with nap number two, that we decided you know what, let’s just see what he does with nap number three. And let’s go ahead and see what he does with both arms out. And again, he did fantastic. So we went ahead and kept both arms out for the rest of the naps that day and throughout the night. And within three days or so, it was as if he had always been arms free. So we were very excited that it only took a couple of days.
I think the key for us was staying consistent even through more challenging naps or night wakings where, you know, it might have been easy to think, “Okay, I’m just gonna go back to the sleep sack or the swaddle because I know that he’s at least slept better with that.” But we stayed consistent, and we stuck with it. And within 3 days, he was rocking being completely arms free!!
We had a very similar experience with our other son Wyatt, his older brother – It only took a couple of days for him. But with our daughter, Ella, the eldest of all three of our kids, she stayed in her swaddle a little bit longer. She was closer to the 3- to 4-month period before we transitioned her out of the swaddle. So she was definitely very accustomed to being nice and snug and her swaddle. It took her closer to two weeks to fully transition out.
We’ve certainly seen a little bit of a difference between all 3 of our kids. But I would say definitely staying consistent is the key to getting your little one used to being arms free and being confident to move those arms freely about.”
If you are interested in more of this, I want you to check out our Newborn Guide. Even if you have a 12 week old, this still applies to you!! You can get the entire expectation of how to manage your day with a newborn, when they’re supposed to sleep, when they can feed, and how long they can be awake for. There are even some free videos, too!
Most of all, here at Little Z’s, we believe Sleep is a Thing even through transition times like getting out of the swaddle – your family can be happy, healthy and well rested!!
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