How to Know When to Stop Swaddling Baby
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Learning to swaddle your baby was a right of passage. One of those oh-so-important new mom skills that you mastered like a baby swaddling ninja. You’re pretty darn proud of your baby swaddling expertise, and you should be! However, these days, keeping your baby securely wrapped up is more like trying to hog-tie a calf and you’re left wondering when to stop swaddling baby!
When is it “alright” to stop swaddling? Will my baby be “OK” if he’s not wrapped up? Should I stop swaddling “cold turkey?”
Ya, I get it. You’ve done everything just right up to this point and you don’t want to lose your winning streak now by making the wrong swaddling choice.
Fortunately, there is a lot of liberty with this decision and I am going to walk you through how to know when to stop swaddling baby so you can be confident in your choice!
When to Stop Swaddling Baby
There are a few common age moms stop swaddling. These ages are typically chosen based on various development stages.
The most common ages moms stop swaddling are 2 months, 3 months, and 4 months.
We’ll talk more about when to stop swaddling baby further in this article based on your concerns, needs, and swaddling expectations.
For now, there are a few common reasons moms start thinking about bringing the swaddling days to a close. Let’s chat about that first.
Maybe you’re considering stopping swaddling because no matter how tight you wrap your little angel up, he always comes undone.
Or perhaps you’re seeing signs that your baby may be rolling over soon and you’re worried about whether or not she’ll be able to get enough air.
Likewise, you may be concerned that your baby needs full use of his arms and legs for proper development and movement.
Lastly, you may be simply be wondering if there is a time to call it quits with swaddling? And if so, WHEN is that time? After all, he can’t stay wrapped up forever.
Let’s look at some important factors and considerations so you can make an informed decision.
Should I Stop Swaddling Cold Turkey?
You may be considering stopping swaddling cold turkey. This is certainly a valid option. Some babies do just fine quitting cold turkey.
Matter of fact, some babies are so ready to “hit the ground running,” you may find yours is actually happier once you ditch the swaddle.
Alternatively, for some baby personalities, taking away the comforts of the tight wrap they’ve grown acustom to will be more tricky.
Additionally, you may find that although you’re ready to stop swaddling, baby is not.
Taking the swaddle away too soon can be problematic as well.
There is an alternative to stopping swaddling cold turkey that we’ll get to in a minute.
First, let’s look at the number one reason swaddling a baby is so important and why you may want to hold off on letting go of the swaddle… the startle (or Moro) reflex!
Startle Reflex in Babies
What is the Startle Reflex in Babies?
The startle reflex (or Moro Reflex) in babies is the natural response babies often have as they become acclimated to the world around them.
The startle relax is often characterized by a jerking motion a baby makes with his arms and legs while laying on his back.
The startle flex in babies may happen due to a loud sound or a sudden physical sensation. However, one of the most common causes of the startle reflex in babies is the sensation of falling.
When a baby is laying on his back without his arms secure, it’s difficult to “feel” the security of whatever is underneath him.
Thus, having his arms “held tightly” with a swaddle mimics the feeling of security experienced in the whom.
What does the startle reflex mean for baby’s sleep?
When a baby is sleeping she allows her body to relax. As such, each noise, touch, and sensation has the potential to cause the startle reflex.
With each startle reflex, baby is “startled” awake. Therefore having her sleep disturbed, sometimes as often as, every few minutes. Proper brain development requires restorative and uninterrupted sleep. Without this kind of sleep, it becomes even more difficult for baby to sleep, be happy, and meet milestones.
For more important information about your baby’s sleep, read here.
What role does the startle reflex play in when to stop swaddling baby?
If your baby still has an active startle reflex, swaddling is still best practice. The startle reflex won’t disappear completely until around the 16-week (or 4-month) mark.
This is an important factor to consider when deciding when to stop swaddling baby. It’s possible that at any point within the first four months of life your baby could still have an active startle reflex.
The younger the baby, the more active the reflex. If your baby is still quite young, within the 4-12 week range, consider carefully why you are considering stopping swaddling before doing so. You may end up creating new problems as you remove the comfort the swaddle provides.
What About Different Swaddling Techniques?
There are 4 main different swaddling techniques commonly used, that we’ll talk briefly about today.
People have given all kinds of names for the various swaddle types. I prefer to label them based on how they most benefit baby.
# 1. Feeding Cue Swaddle Technique
The swaddle technique keeps baby’s arms mostly enclose in the swaddle, but allows just one hand to reach baby’s mouth.
This swaddle allows mommy to see if the baby is reaching for a thumb or finger to suck on, which would indicate a feeding cue.
This swaddle is tricky, (as is any swaddle that allows parts of a limb free) because with a portion of hand exposed, it’s much easier for baby to get the rest of the arm out. Once one arm is out the swaddle is far less effective
# 2. The Full Comfort Swaddle (Traditional Swaddle)
This swaddle encompasses both of baby’s legs and arms and all of her torso.
The full wrap is traditionally quite tight and aims to achieve full support against the startle reflex. This swaddle gives baby the most closely mimicked feeling of being in the whom.
This best seller swaddle let’s baby sleep full wrapped, but with their arms in the preferred up position.
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# 3. Swaddling With Arms Out
This swaddle technique encompasses baby’s torso and legs but allows baby’s arms complete freedom. This swaddle technique is most valuable to keep baby warm.
The startle reflex is not protected against with the Arms Free Swaddle and is therefore not effective to aid in sleep. Due to this, I don’t recommend swaddling with arms out under the age of 10 weeks, when the startle reflex is still very active.
The exception, of course, would be swaddling for the sole purpose of warmth. Use this sleep swaddle blanket to keep baby warm with arms out.
# 4. Swaddling With Legs Out
This swaddle technique encompasses baby’s arms and torso while keeping the legs free.
This swaddle works well for highly active young babies. Baby is able to kick and move his legs while quieting himself for sleep, without suffering most instances of the startle reflex. (Although the startle reflex is still possible with a startle of the legs only.) Use this arms-only swaddle to leave legs free.
Is It Safe to Swaddle a Baby That Can Roll Over?
As your baby gets older, you’ll undoubtedly begin to worry about what rolling over will mean for her safety.
Let me first remind you that babies have been born, rolling over, and growing just fine for thousands of years!
Think about this logically for a second.
If your baby stayed firmly swaddled, she likely wouldn’t be able to move her arms enough to roll herself over.
Alternately, if she gets enough limbs free to roll over, she probably has enough free to prop herself up and breathe freely.
Likewise, a baby bed free of pillow, blankets, stuffed animals, and other unnecessary items, will have plenty of airflow for a baby who has managed to get herself rolled over.
So while it’s not unsafe to swaddle a baby who can roll over, it’s likely unnecessary. If she’s that mobile, it’s likely time she acclimate to life without a mimicked whom.
This would be a great time to swaddle with arms free. As stated above, this type of swaddle works well for keeping baby warm without using blankets and can be a great tool for babies between 3-4 months of age.
Read here for more important information on your baby’s development.
Is There an Alternative To Swaddling?
When my youngest child was born, I bought a sleeper like this one. I only had it with him, and I wish I had it with ALL of my children!
The genius behind this sleeper is the way the deep inset cradles baby’s sides and arms. It mimics being held without a swaddle.
My little man was rarely swaddled thanks to this amazing sleeper. Not that I was looking for a way to avoid swaddling, but not starting meant I didn’t have to know when to stop swaddling baby.
Likewise, if warmth without blankets is what you’re looking for, try these two swaddling alternatives.
4 Steps to Know When to Stop Swaddling Baby
# 1. Ask yourself why you want to stop swaddling baby?
Is it because he’s reaching a certain age and you believe it’s expected? Perhaps he’s beginning to roll over and you’re concerned for safety. Or maybe he just won’t stay wrapped up and you’re wearing yourself out trying to keep him so.
Do you have a valid reason for wanting to stop?
# 2. Consider your baby’s age.
Prior to 2 months of age, a baby’s startle reflex is very active. I would not stop swaddling any sooner than 2 months.
As baby nears 4 months of age, the startle reflex has significantly lessened and there is little reason left to continue to swaddle traditionally.
# 3. Consider your baby’s needs.
Your baby may be a go-getter, but he also needs to be able to sleep. The go-gett-er-ier they are, the more likely sleep won’t come easy.
If your baby still maintains an active startle reflex, consider swaddling a bit longer.
Alternately, if you’re persisting with swaddling and wearing yourself out trying to keep him in the wrap, consider that it may be time to move on to the next phase.
# 4. Decide if you should stop swaddling cold turkey.
For baby’s who are still quite small, with an active startle reflex, don’t quit cold turkey. Don’t quit at all. Each week you can give her in the swaddle will get her closer to a smoother transition.
For baby’s who are nearing the 4th month of life, there is no reason not to stop swaddling cold turkey except for the sake of warmth without traditional blankets.
It’s not regularly advisable to swaddle past 4 months of age. A growing baby needs all the movement he can get for proper physical and cognitive development. Read more about boosting your baby’s brain development here.
Whose Decision is it to Stop Swaddling?
Ultimately you were created for your baby and your baby for you. There are best practices and there is practical application. Take the two and decide when the right time to stop swaddling your baby is. Don’t rush it, it goes by fast enough on its own. For reference sake, I stopped swaddling my babies between around 10 weeks of age.