One of my favorite aspects of newborn life is that sweet little baby burrito I get to snuggle. Swaddling is such an important piece of newborn sleep, but it’s also something that gets misused! With my first, we swaddled her for naps and night time for four+ months. I actually remember attempting to transition her after Christmas two years ago, but she just wasn’t sleeping well. Looking back, I think I blamed some of her poor sleep on the swaddle transition rather than her lack of independent skills. (Really, I blamed anything I could think of for her poor sleep, because I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know how to fix it!) I knew she needed to be arms free by the time she rolled over, but I didn’t know much else. And thankfully for us, she didn’t roll over until closer to 6 months, so we were still “safe.”
It is very important for our babies’ safety that they are no longer swaddled by the time they can roll over, however I actually suggest basing the transition on age, as some babies roll really early and some are late bloomers. It is most ideal to make the transition around 10 weeks; 8 weeks at the earliest, and 12 weeks at the latest. Around four months (although it might be a bit sooner or a bit later), there’s an actual physical change in babies’ sleep as they transition from two sleep cycles to four sleep cycles (ever heard of the four month regression??). This also means that around four months old is when babies are able to learn to self-soothe. Although that newborn “startle reflex” might not be totally gone yet, having their hands and arms free is such a big part of learning to self-soothe, so we want to make sure we’re giving them that opportunity.
With our newest little addition this fall, we started the transition when she was 10.5 weeks old (9.5 adjusted, since she was born a week early). Now at 11 weeks, she’s arms free! I knew her time to transition was quickly approaching, plus she had been quite the little swaddle escape artist for a few weeks, so we decided to jump in. Since we started the transition, she does 360s in her sleep, so I know she’s figuring out how to use that little body and get comfortable!
But how do you go about the swaddle transition? There are a few different ways you can do so:
One arm in, one arm out
This is what we just finished with our little Avery. We started with her morning nap, but you can just as easily start at bedtime. Start by leaving one arm out of the swaddle but keeping the other arm contained. Then for the next nap or night waking, switch arms! Continue taking turns leaving one arm out for three to four days, and then leave both out!
If you are worried about making the transition because your baby’s start reflex is still strong, the Zipadee-Zip is a great in-between option. It allows babies to roll, but arms are not totally free yet. This may help some babies feel more secure, or it might frustrate others who want access to their hands. This is also a product that you’d likely only use for a few weeks.
Some parents are simply ready to make the switch and do so cold turkey. And that’s totally fine! Or if you’re reading this and your baby is 13+ weeks old, it’s time to just cut it cold turkey.
Whatever option you choose, I am a huge fan of moving into a normal, arms-free sleep sack from here, as it’s not safe to use blankets until at least 12 months. I know my babies are warm, and putting on a sleep sack is a great reminder that sleep is coming. My toddler is still in a sleep sack and it’s absolutely a comfort item for her! It can also help prevent crib climbing for the brave ones out there. (Woolino is my favorite, as they last forever and can be used in car seats, but there are many options out there. Check out some popular ones here!)
While transitioning, you may notice it taking longer for your baby to fall asleep, or he or she may have more partial arousals due to this new freedom, but it’s their first little hands-free party! Let baby explore. On her first day of having one arm in and one arm out, Avery took about five more minutes to fall asleep than usual, and she stirred more during that nap, but it didn’t seem to affect her other naps. She took even longer to fall asleep her first time with both arms out, and I actually had to sooth her for a bit, which is uncommon, but it didn’t affect her other naps or night. It’s certainly a change for babies but it’s a necessary step on their journeys toward good sleep (and yours!).