Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Swaddling: When to Stop?

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When to stop the swaddle varies from family to family. Some swaddle up to a year. Others never swaddle at all. You might be sick of reading this, but exactly when to stop (if you ever started) is dependent on your child.

I think if your newborn will swaddle, it is a great thing to do. It helps them sleep more soundly without disrupting by the "startle reflex." Brayden absolutely would not be swaddled, even in the hospital he hated it. Kaitlyn liked it, though the exact method of swaddling her was quite dynamic and constantly changing.

Here is a list of things to watch for and consider when deciding to stop the swaddle. I do have another post on swaddling, so be sure to read that as well. Swaddling: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2007/11/swaddling.html
  • Improved hand control. This is discussed in the other swaddling post. This typically happens around 2-4 months of age. In the other post I said 2-3 months.
  • How your child is sleeping. If he still sleeps really well, maybe you don't need to stop it. If he sleeps fitfully, maybe he needs the swaddle gone. Kaitlyn slept much better once the swaddle was gone. She also slept with her arms straight out from her side. I figure it likely gets uncomfortable to not be able to stretch your muscles and shift positions while you are sleeping.
  • How the swaddle is affecting the family. One disadvantage of the swaddle for us was that Kaitlyn was very picky about it. She would only sleep if I did the swaddle. No one else could do it right. That was pretty limiting for me and my relationship with my husband and son. It also limited others with her. No one else could put her to bed. Once I knew she was physically ready, we got rid of it.
  • Your intuition. Go with your gut. This is discussed in the other swaddling post.
  • Don't be afraid to try it. I tried at 9 weeks and found she wasn't ready yet. No big deal. We went back to swaddling and then stopped at 3 months. If you try and baby isn't ready, you can always go back to swaddling.
My main purpose in this particular post is to share something I learned with Kaitlyn and swaddling. Kaitlyn would sometimes break out of the swaddle and then cry a lot for the nap, and I would erroneously assume that meant if she wasn't swaddled, she wouldn't sleep.

I later wised up and realized she just didn't want to sleep and was wiggling around and therefore was breaking out of the swaddle. She wasn't crying because she wasn't swaddled, she was crying because it was one of those times she didn't want to nap for whatever reason. She was actually ready to stop the swaddle younger than I realized.
Like I said, you don't need to swaddle. Also, some moms swaddle for quite some time. Decide what is best for your family and go from there. Also, babies vary on their reaction. Some moms know baby is ready to drop the swaddle and yet have a hard time dropping it. Others are quite seamless. When the time was right for Kaitlyn, her sleep improved. Some moms have to work on it for a month, while for others there is no work at all.


heather said...

You read my mind today! My daughter is 6 months and the swaddle still works well for her (with her right arm out so she can suck her thumb!!). I tried slowly quitting the swaddle, but for two consecutive weeks, we have had early, early morning wake-ups. So, hesitantly, I went back to the swaddle last night to see if it would make a difference. She seemed to sleep a little longer this morning. It isn't making a difference with her naps, as some as still short, but it may be helping at night. I'm glad to know she may not be too old!

Cameron Clark said...

My 8 week old likes to be swaddled if he's REALLY mad and overtired. At that point (screeching alien cry) a quick, tight swaddle and some white noise will do the trick and poof: He's sleeping. However, if you try to swaddle him when he doesn't want it, FORGET IT. I use swaddling as a technique when nothing else is working. When he was a bit younger, we did it more and had greater success. Then at 5-6 weeks he got to a point where he was wiggling out of it during sleep and it was waking him up, THEN when he woke up he was smacking himself in the face with his arms/hands: hence dubbed, The Swaddling paradox. The Sears "Baby Book" cautions that too much night swaddling can damage their hip joints... just something to ponder.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks to both of you for your comments.

Desiree said...

My son is now 4 months old and we have stopped swaddling at night. He is now sleeping 9-10 hours with no problem. I do use the swaddle here and there during the day to "calm" him for his midday naps. Like stated in your post, if he breaks the swaddle then he's really not tired and I then know that him fussing it out will have to do for that nap. Again, love your blog! You are a help to so many parents, thank you!

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for sharing that!

Gabby said...

This may be a silly question, but it's been so long I can't remember what I did with my first son(now 7 yrs). My 7 month old sleeps in a sleep sak at night and has since he was 1-2 months. For his naps I still swaddle with his arms out. Even when he was a newborn he wanted his arms out, so we stopped the full swaddle really early. My question is do you use a loose blanket when you stop swaddling? He wiggles so much I can't imagine he would ever stay covered up.

Plowmanators said...

Recommendations have really changed in the last 7 years. My son who is almost three was never swaddled at all, he hated it, but I am a blanket person and so I always covered him with a blanket. He still doesn't sleep with a blanket over him.

With my daughter, I swaddled her for a few months, then moved to a sleep sack at night and a blanket over her for naps. She now (almost a year) has no blanket for night and loose blanket for naps. She usually remains covered up pretty well. For night I just dress her warm since she has no blanket.

A lot of people use no blankets at all, and I believe that is the current recommendation.

Susanna said...

When you retried dropping the swaddle with your daughter, did you just drop it cold turkey? I know you said that she wasn't ready at 9 weeks. How did you know she was ready at 3 months? I am trying to wean my son from the swaddle (almost 4 months) but it's a two-edged sword. He sleeps better swaddled like in a straight jacket but he's also trying to turn onto his side and he can't with his swaddle. Will it take a few days (weeks?) before they learn how to fall asleep without one?

Plowmanators said...

When we really dropped it, it was cold turkey in that we dropped all naps and night all at once. At first, I continued to wrap the blanket around her torso, but left both arms out.

I knew she was ready once she had good control over her hands. She also happened to sleep better once I dropped it, but not all babies are that way. My friend's boy cried more for naps at first after dropping the swaddle. If it is becoming a situation where he could get himself into a dangerous situation (laying face down on crib matress with no arms to help maneuver), I would work on dropping the swaddle.

I think for my friend, it took a few weeks before naps were back to normal after dropping the swaddle. For Kaitlyn, it was seamless. Brayden didn't swaddle at all in the first place.

Susanna said...

Thank you, Valerie. I tried to drop the swaddle cold turkey for both bed and naptime but so far, he's only done well at bedtime. He rolls all over the crib but he still manages to stay asleep till at least 6 a.m. Naps have been tougher since he can't seem to stay asleep so I'm continuing the swaddle for those; I think he doesn't move around much during naps b/c it's a shorter amount of time in the crib. Thanks again!

Plowmanators said...

That sounds like a good idea. Good luck with the whole process!

jacksmom said...

Thank you for putting such great information up in your blog! I just found it yesterday and am really excited about using it as a reference.

I have a 9 weeks old baby who seems to love to be swaddled. She sleeps very well and only cries for a few minutes when I put her in her crib. However, the last four nights, she's woken up between 3:00 and 4:00 am when she's worked her way out of her swaddle. The first night I let her CIO which took about 1/2 hour, and she still woke up very early. The last few nights I have reswaddled her because I didn't want to keep my husband awake, since he has to get up early for work, and I've also been worried about having loose blankets in her crib or the blankets possibly being wrapped around her too tightly because she's pushed them down on her body so far. I definitely want to break this habit before it becomes ingrained.

Do you have any suggestions for me? I would appreciate any comments.

Plowmanators said...

Glad you found the site!

For the swaddling, be sure that the swaddling is the reason she is waking. She might be waking for other reasons and just happens to break out of the swaddle when she does it. Be sure that is the reason for the waking and not just a by-product of the waking.

If you think she needs to be unswaddled, you might try the one-handed method. See this post:

Swaddling: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2007/11/swaddling.html

LEM said...

I realize that when to stop swaddling will depend on the child, but is there really no age limit to where swaddling should really be stopped? My 3 month old is swaddled for naps and bedtime and I see no signs of him wanting to stop anytime soon. I am so worried he will need to be swaddled for the rest of his childhood! OK, maybe I'm exaggerating, but is there really no age limit to where I should probably start working on dropping it if we haven't already?

Plowmanators said...

I know a mom who swaddles until age 12 months, so you don't have to (she is BW and has 3). Do what you think is best. If you think he needs to drop it, work on it.

We're Jared, Michelle, and Caleb. said...

My son is 4 months old. He has been sleeping really well swaddled. He almost always falls asleep on his own, sleeps through his naps and through the night. I decided to stop swaddling because he has started to roll over. He has done fairly well. I have to get him a little more calm before laying him down, but he slept well. However, during his afternoon nap, he wakes after 30-40 minutes and cries for 30-40 minutes on and off before going back to sleep. He still sleeps well at night and during his other naps. Should I go back to swaddling or give him a few more days?

Plowmanators said...

Michelle, I think it is wise to give him some time to try to adjust, but if naps continue to be disrupted, you can go back to swaddling.

If you do go back, I would leave him unswaddled for all other naps and nighttime since he does well for those. That can also give you an indication if it is the lack of swaddle that is actually causing him to wake or if it is something else.

Melissa said...

My 3 month old has been swaddled from birth. She sleeps really well at naps and nighttime when swaddled. Lately in the very early morning and when she goes through her active sleep periods, she fights to get one arm free to suck on. Once she gets that arm free, she cries hysterically. I tried putting her in a sleep sack for a couple of her naps. She fell asleep on her own but woke up 45 minutes into each nap and could not get herself back to sleep. She can successfully get herself back to sleep when swaddled. Should I work on weaning her from the swaddle? Could it be that she is teething and needs something to suck on? She is also starting to roll and I'm a bit worried about her rolling over in the bed and not having anything to push herself up.

Thanks so much for all your advice!

3taylorboys said...

My 14 week old is still swaddled. He recently (2 weeks ago) began waking a few times at night and midway through naps for paci-reinsertion. UGH. 3rd baby. Didn't have this issue with my other two. He goes to bed around 6/6:30PM with a feeding and then he nurses anytime after 4AM and sleeps again til 7/7:30. He wakes and is given his pacifier between midnight and 4AM one to 4 times. 3 hr schedule through the day. Naps about 2 hrs (with a paci break halfway through, aargh). He also will "lose" his paci as he is going to sleep for naps/night and we will go in a few times to reinsert then as well. We are completely responsible for this as we have been quick to give him his paci at night so we could go back to sleep quickly and not wake his big brothers. Now I feel badly that he is in for a rude awakening when we wean him off! I definitely know better - this is my third time around! We have not had him CIO yet as he had been doing very well until a few weeks ago - 11 hr nights no feeding, solid napping. Now, it is a bit of a mess. I had also been waiting to see if it was a phase, but he is waking like clockwork at the same times each night, and goes right to sleep when given his paci. Also was waiting til he was closer to 4 months as my dr recommends.. Want to do cold turkey paci and swaddle weaning at the same time, but not sure. Good idea? Or should I wean one first and then the other? If so, which one first, paci or swaddle? He seems happily swaddled still, but is starting to scoot around. Have tried every few weeks having him unswaddled and he has slept horribly. But I am getting a bit desperate and am so tired and ready for him to be put to bed with no sleep props (swaddle or paci) as my other two were/are. What do you think? Thank you!!

Plowmanators said...


By this point, you might consider weaning. It is a hard call. McKenna is 3 months and one week old, and I haven't started to wean her yet. I want to wait until she is ready for it. She is similar to your daughter; wants that hand, but once she gets it, it makes her mad. My choice is to wait until she has better arm control so perhaps it won't make her so mad, and my thought is that by 4 months old, she will be ready.

I think I might try weaning her again later this week to see if she is ready. You can always try it and if she isn't ready, go back to swaddling.

Plowmanators said...


I tend to like to take things one thing at a time. While the paci has turned into a bad habit, swaddling isn't necessarily a bad habit. So I would do paci first, then swaddling. If after starting you really feel like you should do swaddling also, then go for it. But I would start with just paci.

This is really common for paci users at this age, so you aren't alone :)

The Cervantes' Spot said...

I still swaddle my 6-month old little boy under his arms. I stopped putting his arms inside at about 3 1/2 months when he wanted his thumb. Since then I started swaddling him with his arms out with the intent of stopping the swaddle completely within a few weeks. But, the swaddle seems to settle him. He knows it is nap time when he is swaddled. I have tried just laying him in the crib without swaddling and he rolls around and plays for a long time. Is it ok to keep swaddling him in this way? If not do you have any suggestions on how to stop? I'm also concerned with him getting a little cold once he is asleep without any blanket. Thanks!

Trich7364 said...

If baby breaks out of the swaddler during mid-nap, should I leave him to cry the duration of the time or go in and re-swaddle in hopes of going back to sleep? It frustrates him and usually gets him pretty upset. He will rarely go back to sleep after breaking the swaddle. This happens occasionally at night as well.

Lindsey said...

Thank you for your blog! What a tremendous help it has been!

I have a 6 mo old and have been doing BW from birth. He goes down for naps and bedtime without a peep. He has bad naps (less than 2 hours) several times a week, but still wakes happy most of the time. He is still not STTN consistently. We have been letting him CIO in the middle of the night off and on as necessary since he was 3 months old (shortly after we pushed him through the middle of the night feeding). CIO hasn’t worked for us as I read it would. His waking, and therefore CIO, doesn’t happen in consecutive nights. One night, he’ll sleep and the next he won’t. Then he’ll have a good week, then a really bad week. Up until 2 ½ weeks ago, I was still feeding him every 3 hours with a dreamfeed just waiting for him to STTN. Over Christmas, my husband and I decided that something had to give! We decided to get to where we think he should be and he’ll catch up. Over the last 2 ½ weeks, we have gone to a 4 hour schedule and dropped the dreamfeed, in that order. The day time switch went pretty seemlessly as he was really ready for the 4 hr schedule. His naps have even improved a little as he is learning to consolidate his sleep. The night time hasn’t been any worse at least.

It has been 11 days since he last had the dreamfeed. The first week on the new routine, he would wake and cry for at least an hour every other night. (When he cries in the middle of the night, it is for at least an hour. It has been less maybe 10 times in his life.) On the other nights he would sleep from 7:30pm-6:30am, roughly. Our desired wake time is 8:00am, but at 6:30am with reswaddle/paci, he will usually go back to sleep until 8:00am.

My husband and I are beyond frustrated with the inconsistency and very, very sleepy. We have troubleshooted and tried several things to help: 1-Earlier bedtime. It used to be feed at 8:00pm and in bed by 8:15pm. Now I feed him at 7:20pm and he’s in bed at 7:30pm. 2-Larger size diaper. He wears a size 3 during the day, but at night I put him in size 4 Huggies Overnights. 3-Other. The temperature seems to be fine and he is dressed appropriately. He’s not hungry – most of the time he doesn’t take all of is morning bottle (8 oz). I give him Mylicon before bed each night.

A couple of things are still nagging me, so here are my questions:
1- Swaddle. We are still swaddling him at 6 mo (Miracle Blanket). He is big (18 lbs), very strong, and very wiggly and the swaddle has always helped him get still to sleep. He is content to sleep swaddled it seems as he doesn't try to get out as he's falling asleep. He breaks out if he wakes up early. My concern with CIO in the middle of the night is that, through his crying, he has gotten himself completely unswaddled and we're expecting him to go back to sleep in a different way than we're putting him down. He loves the swaddle and so do we because it works to get him to sleep, but is it a good thing gone bad? Should we wean him from it? Is that why CIO hasn't worked for us?
2- Pacifier. We use a pacifier, though he is not a true pacifier baby. It's more of a toy to him than anything. If he is swaddled, he will suck on it and sometimes after a 2 hour nap, still has it in his mouth. If you give it to him unswaddled he takes it out, puts it back in, takes it out, on and on. My guess is that if he was unswaddled for nap/bedtime, he would just play with the pacifier and get over tired and not sleep. Should we take it away?
3-CIO. What is helpful if CIO doesn’t seem to be working?

Tips? Thanks for any perspective you can give!

Plowmanators said...


Since he doesn't go back to sleep (and that is normal), I would go in and reswaddle him and see if he will go to sleep.

Plowmanators said...


It seems to me that the swaddle is most likely your problem. If he likes to suck, he can't get the pacifier back in his mouth if he is swaddled. And if he is breaking out of the swaddle, you are right that he is needing to be re-swaddled to fall back asleep.

At this age, I think I would try to wean from the swaddle. I found with my girls that once we dropped the swadde, they actually slept better--just because of age, not because the swaddle wasn't a good thing in the first place. He is old enough to be able to shift around in the night to get more comfortable. Imagine if you were swaddled all night...I don't think you would sleep as well :)

If it were me, my next step would be to break the swaddle.

Sondra Kay Allen said...

Hi there! Thank you for your help with the dreamfeed. I think we are going to work on weaning my 3 month old off the swaddle first. He is almost to the point where he can roll over and I am nervous about that. In regards to this. I have started with naps during the day. He is a great napper now and goes down almost every time. I have started by leaving both arms out of his sleep sack for naps. He gets himself to sleep without crying but can't stay asleep for more than 30 minutes or so. He layse there for a while and then just will not stop crying. So I don't know what to do....I have let him cry about 10-15 minutes but it does no good....should I go longer? And I have only been doing naps? Should I go cold turkey and try overnight too? Thanks so much for your wonderful blog!!

Susanna said...

Sondra Kay,
I have a three month old as well and she is rolling onto her tummy at night. I still do the DF so what I do is keep her swaddled until the DF. I'll unwrap her arms at thar point and fees her then lay her back down. It's worth a shot for your little one.

Sondra Kay Allen said...

Susanna, thanks for the tip! I think that sounds like a good idea. I am still doing a DF as well. That is next on my list to drop after the swaddle. Are you swaddling during the day then?

Susanna said...

For naps, I have been swaddling her but I'm slowly working on weaning her off it. She's doing really well with the weaning so we may lose the swaddle altogether pretty soon!

Plowmanators said...

Sondra Kay Allen,

I think Susanna has a good idea. Another idea is to try one arm out at first. That is what I did with both of my girls.

popey said...

I looked up this blog because we are having problems with getting my 8 month old little boy to sleep unswaddled. We dropped the swaddle about 2 months ago in the night and it seemed to work (a few times I had to go in and swaddle in the MOTN) but he would not drop it for naps. Then he had chicken pox and was quite unwell and the only way he would sleep was swaddled. We have tried to drop it again this week but he is having none of it! He can now roll, crawl, and pull to standing. When i put him down at night he just howls. I have left him to CIO but he screams and when i go in he is either standing or sitting up crying. Once swaddled he will go off within 5 minutes. I bought a sleep positioner but he gets out of that. He does break out of the swaddle in the night but it doesn't affect his sleep - he just seems to need it to fall asleep. It's not affected him developmentally and the HV says he is advance for his age so I'm not worried about that. It just feels like he should be dropping it as he is very late plus the swaddle won't be big enough forever!! Any ideas what we should do? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Plowmanators said...


Since he won't sleep without it, I would probably just continue with it. I know moms who do it for much longer. Since he isn't having any developmental delays or anything, there shouldn't be a problem with it.

He is probably fine at night because at night he sleeps deeper.

As for the large enough swaddle, if you use a swaddle blanket, just buy the largest size they have. If you use a blanket, try sewing two together.

And, you could also use the point that he is too big as the point that he is done with swaddling.

Have you tried just one arm out? That is how my girls had to do it. One arm out for a couple of weeks, then two while still swaddling the trunk of the body, then none.

the groves said...

I need some swaddle help.

My babe is 4.5 months. I am a first time mom. He still eats every 3-4 hours, 5 feedings a day. He still sleeps in his Miracle Blanket but only during the night. He takes his naps on his tummy with no swaddle.

About 3 weeks ago we tried to stop swaddling at night cold turkey because he has started rolling over. He did it one or two nights without waking up but then it seemed like night after night he would continually wake up. After about a week I thought maybe he just wasn't ready so we have been swaddling again with 1 arm out. It has been better but I feel like he is still not sleeping well. Waking up every couple hours. We have had him CIO for over an hour. He has gone back to sleep but I feel like maybe I should try something else.

He was sleeping so well before all this so I know he can sleep through the night.

Any advice?

Plowmanators said...

The Groves,

I would wonder if the two (stopping the swaddle and the night wakings) are not related--at least not as related as you might be thinking.

He slept well for two nights. If was a swaddle issue, I think he would have not slept well immediately.

It is possible he is not warm enough now that he is no longer swaddled. It is also possible he is having a growth spurt. It is also possible it is something else (see the post "nighttime sleep issues: revised and updated" for more ideas).

Greg Voth said...

We are also trying to figure out when to let our 4 month old stop using the swaddle. We have been trying one nap a day without the swaddle, or with just one arm swaddled and she never sleeps for more than 30 or 40 minutes that nap. But she is starting to resist being left to fall asleep in the swaddle. She'll somtimes fight the swaddle until she gets one arm out (even using the velcro swaddle-me) and then she might fall asleep but take a short nap or wake up during the night. If she falls asleep with the swaddle and stays in it, we often get 2 hour naps and 8 hours at night.

Plowmanators said...

I would probably start the nap with the swaddle and see what happens. It sounds like she is at a transition period, and transitions are always hard. She doesn't want to be swaddled, but she doesn't want to not be swaddled either.

bluesweater said...

Im thinking about dropping the swaddle for my 15 week old...
Im so nervous because it just seems like she's getting the whole sleeping thing this last 3 weeks. I can finally swaddle her, read her a book, sing her a song, put her in the crib for naps and bedtime and she puts herself to sleep within 15 minutes.
Im scared I'll "wreck" what we've worked so hard for.....
any thoughts?

Liz Koors said...

my 7 month old is still double swaddled, but recently he began to flip (while swaddled). he will go back to bed after flipped (head turned to the side) so i'm not worried about suffocation. still, i tried unswaddling him in the middle of the night (he was still asleep) and he did great! but the next day when i tried to put him down for nap #1, he played for 30 minutes and then fell asleep for only 30 min and then fussed for a while, so i went in and swaddled him and he went right to sleep. he still waves his arms around like a wild man... does that mean he's probably not ready??

Plowmanators said...

It could mean that. There are some people who swaddle for a long time, so as long as your baby is safe and sleeps better with the swaddle, hang on to it.

On the flip side, though, it could just be that he needs to get used to sleeping without a swaddle.

Karly said...

My son will be 6 month next week and for the past week, we have tried to wean him from the swaddle. It has been a nightmare to say the least. I have been just swaddling his body and leaving his arms out. He hates it and pretty much cries his whole nap until the next feeding. At night he probably wakes up 10-15 times, screams until he falls back asleep and then repeats the whole process again. My husband and I are like zombies and we don't know what to do. He is rolling over now and I don't want him to get stuck on his tummy if he is swaddled so we decided it was time to start weaning him. Normally he is an amazing sleeper. 8pm-7:00am at night and 3 2-hour naps during the day. Ever since we have stopped swaddling, we have a completely different child!!! Any advice would be great!!!! HELP!

chelsea said...


Have you tried just one arm out? We were in the same situation with my son and that worked. We did one arm out and then both and he was finally able to sleep without it. It is a big transition. Hang in there!

Unknown said...

Hi there, I am currently going to try weaning my 3 mo old from the swaddle using the one arm out at a time method.
Since we currently rock him to sleep, he does not have a lot of practice learning how to self soothe. My question is: If he wakes too early from this new found freedom, do i let him CIO or do I soothe him back to sleep until he gets better at sleeping without the swaddle? What have you found most effective at this age/stage?
Thank you!


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