There are various reasons why it’s important to swaddle a baby; however, knowing when to stop swaddling a baby is just as crucial. For hundreds of years, people have been wrapping little ones, as this provides comfort and security while keeping our precious tots safe. It’s not only a safe way for munchkins to sleep but it reminds them of being inside the womb.
Swaddling is also helpful when getting newborns to fall asleep on their own and sleep on their backs. The sensation of feeling wrapped-up can feel similar to a warm cuddle from a loved one, relieving stress and bringing a sense of calm before naps and bedtime.
Importance of Having a Baby Swaddle
Wrapping your little angel can provide more than just warmth and comfort; it’s also a safety measure. Infants have what’s known as the Moro reflex, which is when their limbs move suddenly and involuntarily. These unexpected movements can startle or wake tots from a nap or sleep, so swaddling helps to soften these reactions.
In addition to helping with comfort and the Moro reflex, swaddling kiddos can also provide tremendous support for newborns, particularly those who are born suffering from colic, neurological conditions, or born addicted to drugs.
How Long to Swaddle a Baby
Knowing when to stop bundling your infant can be tricky. If you stop too early, they may still suffer from the Moro reflex and wake themselves up as a result, causing your munchkin and your family precious zzz’s. They could also have trouble sleeping if you stop swaddling them too early, because being so young, they may still need the extra comfort of being wrapped tight and secure.
Swaddling provides a sense of security and can mimic the sensation of being held by parents, and it’s usually their first introduction to sleepwear. However, it’s a common rule that our tots should stop being swaddled once they become mobile.
Bundling up our babes provides comfort when they’re small, reduces reactions to their Moro reflex, and, most of all, keeps them in place, preventing newborns from rolling over onto their stomachs and hindering their breathing.
Once a little one can roll over on their own, you no longer need to swaddle them. In fact, you shouldn’t wrap your newborn at this point, because if they roll over and they are bound, it can pose a health risk. If your tot rolls over when they are bundled tight, they may not be able to breathe. If this happens, with their hands held down, they won’t be able to turn themselves around.
Signs That You Should Wean From This Practice
If your tyke is showing increased mobility and fewer signs of the Moro reflex, these are common indications you can start weaning your child off swaddling. You can do this gradually so that your kiddo isn’t suddenly wiggling around in their newfound freedom or scared by this sudden feeling of insecurity.
You can swaddle them partway with their dominant arm out; this way, they can still push themselves around a bit. See how your newborn reacts when put down for a nap, if they still wake up multiple times or struggle with a strong Moro reflex at times, it may not be time to transition.
If this is the case, it may be best to keep them half bundled with one arm out and see how they do from there. Every child is unique and will progress at their own pace.
Tips if Your Baby Is Breaking Out of Being Swaddled
If your pumpkin is wiggling out of their swaddle and rolling over, this is an indication it’s time to transition them to a sleep sack. However, if they’re not quite rolling over yet but still wiggling free, you may simply need to wrap your tot tighter.
You can find products that will bundle your babe tight with the help of zippers and velcro; there are many fantastic and helpful options for parents today. If you are having an issue with something, other parents are likely struggling with the same thing.
Additionally, if they are breaking free but not ready to be taken out of their snooze burrito completely, you can wrap them up part way with their arms free, as well.
Learn more abut the differences between sleep sack and swaddle blankets here.
Infant Transition to Sleep Sack and Blanket
Once your newborn is rolling over and showing signs of mobility, it will be time to transition to a sleep sack. These wearable blankets are clever in that they give babies the freedom of a covering while still ensuring their safety.
With these, they will be able to move their arms freely as well. This freedom is crucial because it will allow them to ease into their mobility from being bundled up tight, and enable your munchkin to transition smoothly to sleeping with a blanket when they grow.
Startle Reflex Definition
The startle reflex is also known as the Moro reflex, which is when your munchkin will suddenly extend their limbs out as a reaction to not feeling supported, or from seemingly out of nowhere. While startling, this is a healthy sign that your kiddo is maturing correctly and that their nervous system is developing as it should.
Swaddling With Arms Out
If your snooze monster is showing signs of mobility but not quite ready to rest on their own, you can bundle them up halfway with their arms out free. Wrapping your tot halfway can help to smoothly transition your babe to a sleep sack without introducing it all at once.
Once they are moving around and showing signs of strength, they are likely to enjoy this freedom and practice pushing themselves around. This slow graduation will allow them to make this change more readily.
Signs Your Baby Is Ready for a Sleep Sack
Once your tyke is exhibiting signs of mobility, this can be a good indicator that it’s time to transition to a sleep sack. In particular, they must be rolling over. The purpose of swaddling little ones is to help them feel safe and comforted like they were 24/7 in the womb, but once they get a bit older, they will likely enjoy the freedom of having their arms free.
Transition to a Wearable Blanket
Switching suddenly to a traditional blanket might cause distress in your child. However, wearable blankets will still provide the coziness of a swaddle, yet allow them to grow used to the idea of having their upper limbs free. Additionally, it will keep them safe, as a loose blanket could cause a safety hazard for infants.
It is critical to be sure your tot can roll over and is mobile before putting them in a sleep sack, otherwise they may not be ready to have their arms completely free.
See when your little one can start rolling on their own in our article: When Can Your Baby Start Sleeping on The Stomach?
With any child, we realize the amount of stress around getting it right, figuring out parenthood isn’t a walk in the park. Any other parent will likely tell you there will be countless lessons and tricks to learn, including how to help your little snoozer rest comfortably.
If you’re feeling uncertain, you’re not alone, which is why we compile well-researched tips and advice for dreaming tots. Every child is different and will progress at their own rate, which will be something special that you, as a caregiver, will have the joy of watching.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.