New parents quickly learn how crucial swaddling your infant can be; it’s proven that babies sleep better and feel more secure when swaddled early on. However, as most people with a newborn would attest, it takes time and practice to figure out the ideal routine for your baby. Some get extra fussy if they’re swaddled while others immediately drift off to sleep once they’ve been wrapped up in their crib. And, of course, assuming your little one doesn’t fuss at the sight of a swaddle blanket, there’s the all-important question of when to stop swaddling your baby.
There’s no exact cutoff for this—again, we’re talking about babies here! Nothing is set in stone, but specific indicators will tell you whether or not you should reevaluate your baby’s sleeping situation. Maybe you’ve only just mastered the perfect safe swaddle technique, but In reality, newborns only really benefit from swaddling in the first few months of their lives. Beyond that, it can actually become detrimental to development.
The downsides to swaddling a baby past a certain point include potential overheating, impaired self-soothing, motor skill delays, and injury from improper swaddling. Ultimately, the best approach is to consider the following factors and see how your child’s development compares to the general consensus in order to make a decision from there. Keep in mind that every baby is beautifully unique, so yours may diverge from what’s described in these guidelines!
1. How Old is Your Baby?
Age is one of the clearest criteria for a lot of childhood milestones, such as teething, speaking, and walking. With swaddling, it’s recommended that babies begin the transition to unswaddled sleeping around 3-4 months old. This is the average age where parents start lessening the swaddling they’ve gotten accustomed to with their infant, and they’ve likely established a regular sleep schedule.
Of course, if your baby has a qualifying condition that affects how their age aligns with traditional benchmarks, this might not be a helpful comparison. For instance, premature newborns have shown improved feeding habits when swaddled, so it’s wise to continue utilizing the swaddle longer as required. If you’re unsure, check with your pediatrician, or book a free 15-minute consultation with me!
2. Is Your Baby Rolling Over Yet?
Babies will show signs of increased activity and movement as they grow, and swaddling restricts their ability to explore their environment in this way. Not only does swaddling’s restriction hinder mobility progress, but it puts your child at unnecessary risk. A swaddled baby who wants to roll over could accidentally get themselves stuck on their stomach, which can pose a danger to their breathing.
Excessive stomach sleeping—not to be confused with “tummy time” or normal rocking—is associated with higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Prolonged contact between a baby’s face and the mattress of their crib can lead to suffocation, especially when they aren’t able to adjust their position due to swaddling. This isn’t to say that a single full rotation means the swaddle gets tossed on the spot—if your infant has reached the point of consistently rolling over, and they’re three to four months old, it’s probably time to tailor their sleep routine so that it doesn’t involve swaddling.
3. Has Your Baby Become Fussy or Restless Lately?
The cues your baby communicates to you are invaluable. Is there suddenly resistance to swaddling after months of comfortable sleeping all bundled up? It’s very telling if it’s no longer soothing and is beginning to have the opposite effect.
This is often because your child is growing, and their natural desire to move their body by stretching, kicking, and reaching is being interrupted by the confines of a swaddle. Allowing for that movement is critical to their physical wellbeing in the long run. Muscle growth, skeletal strength, and overall flexibility develop at this young age, so giving your baby the space and freedom to move makes a world of difference. Babies who have begun rolling over often need to develop the neck and upper body strength to push themselves up so they can lift their face off the mattress. Swaddling too long can hinder that development.
4. What Do You Want Your Baby’s Sleep Routine to Look Like?
As your child blossoms from that tiny newborn you brought home into a wiggling baby with their own personality and quirks, your day-to-day life is going to change alongside them. They’ll outgrow the swaddle—a first of so many exciting milestones to come!—and you’ll adapt to this new phase just like you did after they were born.
It can be challenging initially, particularly if your little one loves being swaddled before bed. They may not be ready to let go of the perceived security a swaddle provides. But discontinuing swaddling encourages a baby to develop self-soothing skills and learn to sleep independently, which is an important aspect of sleep training and fostering a healthy relationship with rest.
Sleep sacks and wearable blankets ease the transition for babies who still experience the startle reflex that swaddling tends to suppress; these options support a slower shift to swaddle-free snoozing, mimicking the warmth of that same soft yet safe material to lull them to sleep. In the end, the details are at your discretion, as well as the reaction your baby has to altering their swaddled sleep routine. Just know that the transition out of the swaddle can take a week or two for baby to adjust.
It’s All in the Transition…
The decision of when to stop swaddling can be made in consultation with a healthcare provider or baby sleep expert, both of whom will provide personalized guidance on how to gradually transition your baby out of swaddling based on individual needs and developmental stages. Always prioritize your baby’s safety and comfort, and be attentive to their response as you redirect them from swaddling to other ways of sleeping.
And if you’re struggling and want some detailed guidelines on how to tackle this transition, I’m here to assist parents who have dealt with far too many sleepless nights as a result of infant sleep disruption. I founded Your Sleeping Baby for the sole purpose of helping families settle into healthy sleep routines that are sustainable for the long term. Questions about swaddling or any other baby sleep issues? Let’s chat!