When it's time to stop swaddling

By Malou Villarreal, Baby Loves Sleep

There are many benefits to swaddling during the first months of life; it provides security and comfort, aides in settling and establishing sleep patterns, but when do you know when it's time to stop swaddling?

It has been known that swaddled babies sleep better, experience less anxiety and that swaddling prevents unnecessary wake-ups due to the startle reflex.

Most parents use swaddling during the newborn stage, and then start to phase it out at around 3 or 4 months age. Some babies enjoy being swaddled beyond 6 months, whilst others start to fight it even much earlier than 3 months.

Newborns are born with a startle reflex, called the Moro reflex, and most babies don’t outgrow it until 4 or 5 months of age.

For some babies the startle reflex they experience may still be strong, and removing the swaddle when they are not yet ready may only result in more frequent waking due to startling themselves during sleep.

There isn’t exactly a ‘right’ age for when you should stop swaddling. The important thing about swaddling however is to make sure you are swaddling correctly – but this is another topic for later.

If your baby is breaking free of their swaddle, this isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s time to stop swaddling. However, if it results in loose blankets in their cot, then this becomes a safety issue and it's time to either ditch swaddling or to switch to a safer swaddling alternative.

Basically, swaddling becomes ineffective and even risky when babies start to reject swaddling.

That said, the best guide to knowing when swaddling is no longer working or worse has become unsafe for your baby - is none other than your baby.

Signs it's time to ditch the swaddle!

Apart from the obvious signs that your baby is no longer sleeping as well as they used to, here are a few signs you can watch out for.

Tummy roller

The Red Nose organisation (formerly known as SIDS and Kids), recommend in their baby sleep safe guide that babies should be placed on their backs to sleep. We all know that this only works for newborns. As much as we would love for our babies to remain tiny little babies for longer, they all need to grow and develop into strong little people, and with this they soon learn to move around in their cots on their own. In no time, they are rolling around while they sleep and onto their tummies.

At this stage, it is important that they are able to use their arms to push themselves back or move around safely. If they are still swaddled with arms restricted, they will not be able to move freely and this becomes a safety issue. It's time to find a safer swaddling alternative if your baby is not ready to ditch swaddling.

Caleb tummy

Escape artist

Do you have a Houdini baby? This is when your baby falls asleep all nicely wrapped up in their swaddle wrap and then just as you’ve sat down to enjoy a nice cuppa, your baby wakes screaming. You walk into their room to try and settle them back to sleep only to find the little monkey has broken out of their swaddle wrap.

So what do you do? Well, you fix it up and wrap them back up again and hey that works – but only for a short time because little do you know this whole cycle of breaking out of the swaddle wrap, waking up and you fixing it back up only serves as training for them to master this fine skill of escape artist!

Before you know it, you’ve reached that point where it's almost a bit pointless even trying to swaddle them back up again, because guess what, nap time is over (or worse, no one got any sleep all night).

If this is you, it’s definitely time to ditch swaddling! However, if your baby isn’t ready to ditch the swaddle then it's time to consider an alternative to swaddling.

Squirming fuss bucket

This is when your perfectly happy baby, who loves playtime and is so cute and adorable during awake time, suddenly has a mood swing and starts crying and fussing as soon as you put the swaddle blanket on when you put them to bed.

Remember, crying and fussiness is the only way your baby can communicate to you that they are not happy about something. Watch for squirming as this is a sure sign that they are no longer happy being swaddled and they are trying to squirm their way out.

Important: it may be tempting to tighten up their swaddle wrap, but be very careful – swaddling too tight is not recommended as this can cut off circulation on your little babies bodies and can lead to respiratory issues.

It’s also important to check for other signs and symptoms in one-off situations where baby is crying and fussy to rule out that they might be sick or possibility just overtired.

Cat-napper

This is probably the easiest to spot, for obvious reasons – it’s when your baby starts to wake within 20 minutes of their first sleep cycle and generally aren’t able to re-settle themselves back to sleep and are waking up quite upset and crying. You might be successful in re-settling them back to sleep until you find they wake up again shortly after.

Hello sleep regression! ‘What?’, you say. You may or may not have heard of it, but sleep regression in layman terms is when your baby or toddler (yep there’s not just one period of sleep regression – it happens at 4 months, then anytime between 9 to 12 months and then at 18 months and yet again at around 2 years – so brace yourself!), who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking at night, and/or skipping naps (or waking early from naps) for no apparent reason. Just when you think you’ve got your baby into a good sleeping pattern, the bam suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re back to constant night wakings and non-existent naps.

But wait! What’s this got to do with swaddling? Okay, although there is no connection between swaddling as the cause of sleep regression, the security and comfort that swaddling gives can help their unsettledness during this challenging period. Therefore, it's important to check that if swaddling is no longer effective in providing security and comfort, then it's time to do something different or find a safe alternative to swaddling.

What is the alternative to swaddling?

The question is more like what is an effective alternative to swaddling? Because there are now many sleeping products that can be used as an alternative to the swaddle wrap/swaddling.

Please visit here to see alternative products.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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