How to Transition Your Baby Out of the Swaddle

by | Jul 6, 2023 | Blog, Newborn sleep tips, Podcast, Sleep Challenges, Sleep Foundations | 0 comments

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The swaddle has been a trusted technique for sleep-deprived parents to calm and comfort their newborn babies for generations. It’s a known fact that proper swaddling promotes the best newborn baby sleep possible. This is because wrapping infants snugly in a swaddle blanket mimics the feeling of being in the womb and helps prevent your baby’s startle reflex.

As your baby graduates that newborn stage, there comes a time when transitioning them out of the swaddle becomes necessary. This process can be a bit challenging, as it involves introducing new sleep associations that allow your baby more freedom of movement. But with patience, a gradual approach, the correct sleep gear, and the right strategies, you can make the transition a smooth and successful one.

In this blog post, I will explore in-depth the steps and techniques to help you transition your baby out of the swaddle, ensuring a comfortable and safe sleep environment for your little one. I also discuss the Baby Merlin Sleep Suit and why it’s my favourite swaddle transition product. 

When is your baby ready to stop swaddling?

The ideal time to begin transitioning your baby from swaddling is generally between three to six months of age.  This is because most babies outgrow their Moro reflex by 4-5 months, though different babies are ready at different times. It’s crucial to observe your little one’s developmental milestones and sleep patterns. 

Here are some early signs that suggest it might be a good time to initiate the transition:

Rolling over

Once your baby starts to roll over independently from back to belly, swaddling can become dangerous. This is because it restricts their movement and hampers their ability to readjust themselves, increasing the risk of suffocation. When your little one is comfortably rolling onto their belly, this indicates that it’s time to transition him out of the swaddle.  

Don’t worry if your baby is only rolling from tummy to back- you don’t have to rush this transition if he hasn’t learned how to roll onto his tummy just yet.  Continue to monitor his movements closely and look for signs of rolling. These include increased head control, arching of the back, and shifting body weight from one side to another.  

Frequent escapes

If your baby consistently breaks free from the swaddle, it might be a sign that they are ready to sleep without it. This indicates their growing need for more freedom and movement during sleep.  Though there’s always a chance your baby might simply need a velcro or zipper swaddle. If you’re anything like me and you could never figure out how to burrito-wrap your newborn with a traditional swaddle blanket, check out the Miracle Blanket– it’s my personal favourite!

Disrupted sleep patterns

If your newborn starts to experience more frequent wake-ups or shorter sleep cycles while swaddled, it could be an indication that they need to transition out of it. It’s possible that the swaddle is becoming uncomfortable or inhibiting their ability to self-soothe back to sleep.

6 months of age

If your baby is 6 months old and hasn’t started rolling yet, I still recommend transitioning out of the swaddle. By this stage, your baby’s startle reflex should have disappeared, making them good and ready to begin sleeping in a Magic Merlin Sleep Suit or a sleep sack.

If your newborn HATES to be swaddled despite the fact that he still NEEDS to be swaddled and is NOT ready to stop swaddling, my newborn sleep program “Getting a Head Start: Get Great Sleep with a Newborn” can help!  Very often, when a newborn baby hates to be swaddled, what you do AFTER you swaddle him is what really makes the difference.  Swaddling is just step 1 towards calming your fussy baby and getting longer stretches of sleep. You’ll learn what the next steps look like in my newborn sleep program!

Should I stop swaddling if my baby is rolling onto his side?

In short, it depends.

If we’re talking about a newborn baby in those early weeks of life, the appearance of the baby rolling to their side is due to an involuntary muscle reflex called a newborn curl.  This is NOT a sign of rolling, so you don’t have to stop swaddling if you see your newborn doing this.  In fact, in these situations, proper swaddling can actually help younger babies stay asleep safely on their back.

For older babies who are able to flip from their backs onto their shoulder, this is almost certainly an early sign of rolling.  And when we see any early sign of rolling, it means we need to stop swaddling.  

Always discuss any questions or concerns you have about sleep safety with your pediatrician.  

Using the Magic Merlin Sleep Suit for swaddle transition disasters

Picture this…

Your baby is sleeping beautifully at night (or maybe just decently, but whatever- stay with me).  And suddenly, out of nowhere, she’s breaking out of her swaddle, regardless of how tightly you tie it.

Except that she still has her startle reflex, which means your baby’s arms are jerking around uncontrollably and CONSTANTLY waking herself up, refusing to stay asleep in her bassinet.  

She can’t be swaddled anymore, but she’s clearly not ready for baby sleep sacks either (aka a wearable blanket).  So what do you do?

Enter the Magic Merlin Sleep Suit. This product might make your baby look like a cross between an astronaut and a marshmallow when wearing it, but GOSH is it effective.  This sleepsuit is the best product I’ve come across that effectively muffles your baby’s startle reflex, acting as a halfway point between the swaddle and the sleepsack.  

What I love about the Magic Merlin Sleep Suit

Firstly, this swaddle transition product has a great design that allows babies to have their arms and legs free while still providing a gentle, contained feeling that resembles the snugness of a swaddle.  By dampening the strength of your baby startle reflex and the jerky arm movements that come along with it, it can GREATLY reduce the number of unnecessary nightwakings and help you get longer stretches of sleep.    

One of the other key features I love is its ability to facilitate a gradual transition out of the swaddle. The suit is designed to provide a bit of resistance to the baby’s movements, which helps them feel secure while allowing for increased mobility. By gradually reducing the level of containment compared to a traditional swaddle, babies can adjust at their own pace until they’re eventually ready for full arm movement in a sleep sack.

And as an aside, the Magic Sleep Suit’s design allows for easy diaper changes without fully removing the suit. This REALLY minimizes disruptions during nighttime routines.  It’s amazing 🙂

The only drawback of this product is that your baby will outgrow the larger size when he reaches 21 pounds.  So if you have a bigger baby on your hands, he might outgrow it very quickly!

How to transition your baby from the swaddle to a sleep sack

If your baby outgrew their startle reflex and is clearly ready to transition to a sleep sack, you can use a gradual approach or a quick approach.  

Gradual approach

1) Start off by taking one arm out of the swaddle for the first nap of the day.  Feel free to give her some extra help and support to fall asleep for this nap.  Continue with a full swaddle for the rest of her naps and for nighttime.  

2) Take one arm out of the swaddle for bedtime and nighttime sleep.  Continue with a full swaddle for her other naps.

3) After she has adjusted to sleeping with one arm out of the swaddle for nighttime and for her morning nap, take one arm out for her second nap of the day.

4) After she’s adjusted to sleeping with one arm out for nighttime and her first 2 naps of the day, begin to take her second arm out of the swaddle for her first nap.  Take her second arm out for nighttime and the second nap afterwards.

Don’t be alarmed if this gradual approach still involves some restlessness and pushback from your baby as she adjusts to being out of the swaddle.  

The quicker approach

With this approach, you would stop swaddling your baby cold turkey and begin dressing her in a sleep sack for nighttime and for all of her naps.  It might take her a couple of nights to adjust, but the most important thing is to remain consistent.  Try to offer her lots of help to fall asleep for her last nap of the day since this nap is the trickiest one.  

If your little one’s naps become shorter or you see more interruptions during her night sleep while transitioning out of the swaddle, don’t sweat it.  Feel free to help her resettle and go back to sleep while she’s adjusting.  It shouldn’t take too long.

Now, I only recommend using this cold turkey approach when you’re confident that your little one’s Moro reflex is gone. Make sure that she’s MORE than ready to sleep in a sleep sack.  Otherwise, I recommend using the gradual approach or the Merlin Sleep Suit. 

**Side note- have you downloaded my free sleep chart? You can grab your copy here!**

Free sleep chart

How long does it take for a baby to transition out of the swaddle?

The transition period for getting a baby out of the swaddle can vary from one baby to another. Some babies may adapt to sleeping without a swaddle relatively quickly, within a couple of days.  Others may take a couple of weeks.  On average, I find that most babies adjust to sleeping without the swaddle within 7-10 days if they don’t have their startle reflex.  

If your baby continues to struggle with their sleep because they still have their moro reflex, I’d strongly recommend getting your hands on a Magic Merlin Sleep Suit if reverting back to the swaddle isn’t an option.

In order to ensure the transition out of the swaddle goes as smoothly as possible, make sure your baby’s sleep environment is as conducive to good quality sleep and follows safe sleep guidelines according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  These guidelines include proper blackout blinds, a white noise machine, a cool room temperature, and no loose blankets or bedding in the crib to decrease your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).    

Have a baby older than 3.5-4 months who’s still not sleeping?

If you are well past the swaddle transition phase and your baby is still struggling in the sleep department, I’ve got a free sleep class you can watch!  This class takes you through the top 3 biggest mistakes I see exhausted parents make that keep them stuck, as well as what you should do instead if you want to get your baby sleeping like a champ!  I also take you through the exact methods I use that have helped THOUSANDS of families convert their babies, toddlers and preschoolers into sleep champions for life.  Sign up to watch it here!

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My favourite sleep gear for newborns and young infants

Check out the following links for some of my favourite baby sleep products:

*I may earn a commission from links on this page at no additional cost to you, but I only recommend products I love.

Other baby sleep articles and resources

Your baby’s sleepy cues and the truth about what they mean
Best Podcasts for New Moms: My Top 15 Recommendations
Day-Night Confusion: How to help your newborn when their days and nights are mixed up
When can my baby sleep through the night without a feeding?
How to lengthen your little one’s naps

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