When to Stop Swaddling a Baby

Swaddling is a popular technique to soothe babies and help them sleep. Here's when it's time to stop.

Dad swaddling newborn baby

Lauren Lee/Stocksy

You've probably seen perfectly swaddled babies on social media recently, but parents have actually used the practice for thousands of years—and for good reason. Swaddling mimics the womb environment, and it can calm newborns to help them sleep, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

For moms like Jenn Ancira, from Texas, swaddling proved to be essential. "We swaddled all six of our babies,” she says. “It seemed to calm them when the big new world was overstimulating.”

While most experts agree swaddling infants is low risk, there are some key considerations to take into account, including when to stop swaddling (hint, it might be sooner than you think).

What Is Swaddling?

Swaddling is a traditional technique to soothe babies. It involves wrapping a thin fabric or light blanket around their bodies. Swaddling is meant to keep your little one warm, calm, and secure. Along with aiding quality sleep, parents report that it reduces crying.

Keep in mind that not every baby likes to be bundled in a swaddle, and some find the technique too confining. You can gauge your little one's reaction to swaddling before implementing it into your routine.

When Can You Start Swaddling?

Swaddling is often used by parents as early as the hospital days, says Karla Pippa, a birth and postpartum doula and co-founder of NYC Birth Village. "Parents have an instinct for finding ways to comfort their baby, and this is one of many tools that parents can utilize to soothe their newborns," she adds.

When you swaddle your baby, it's important to follow safety guidelines, adds Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., a pediatrician at Wellstar East Paulding Pediatrics in Hiram, Georgia, and an official AAP spokesperson. She explains:

  • Use a thin blanket and swaddle up to the arms and shoulders; learn more about the proper swaddling technique here.
  • Be sure there are no flaps that can get loose and cover the face.
  • Ensure your baby's legs have enough room to bend up and out at the hips (not doing this can lead to hip dysplasia).
  • To prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), always place your baby on their back to sleep, and never on their belly or side.

Along with these recommendations, parents should watch for signs of overheating, such as sweating, damp hair, and rapid breathing.

Signs You Should Stop Swaddling Your Baby

Once your baby attempts to roll, it's time to stop swaddling. Many babies will begin to show signs of rolling at 3 to 4 months—with some as young as 2 months old. 

Dr. Dolgoff says a baby will likely demonstrate they’re ready to roll over by:

  • Rolling onto their shoulders or side
  • Kicking their legs and scooting in a circle when on their back
  • Using their arms to lift their chest and arch their back
  • Rocking on their stomach or from side to side 
  • Kicking or twisting their legs
  • Twisting one leg over the other when on their back

At this point, swaddling is no longer appropriate because the risk of suffocation increases when an infant becomes more mobile. The concern here is that a baby could roll onto their tummy and find themselves too physically restricted to recover. It can also increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The experts say weight doesn't necessarily matter when it comes to swaddling; what's critical is simply a baby's ability to roll, whenever that may be. 

And, of course, you can stop swaddling even before babies begin to roll over if you feel the need to. "Babies do not have to be swaddled," explains Dr. Dolgoff. "If your baby sleeps well unswaddled, there is no need to swaddle them."

Safe Sleep Tip

Once a baby shows signs of trying to roll over, you should stop swaddling them. Maintain a safe sleep environment by using layers of clothing, a wearable blanket, or a sleep sack to keep your little one warm. Per the AAP’s current guidance, you should keep loose bedding or soft objects (such as blankets) out of the crib.

How To Transition Your Baby Out of a Swaddle

Even though it’s time for your baby to stop swaddling, it doesn't always mean they want to. Luckily, there are ways to help the transition.  

“To transition out of the swaddle, you can go ‘cold turkey’ or do it gradually by swaddling the baby with one arm out of the swaddle for a few nights and then swaddling the baby with both arms out of the swaddle for a few nights and then stopping swaddling altogether,” advises Dr. Dolgoff.  

That’s what Ancira did for her six children. “Once they were starting to show signs of rolling, we started weaning them by taking one arm out for a few nights and then the other,” she explains.

She then switched to a sleep sack, which is recommended by many experts. "That helped keep their startle reflex down," she says, adding that the sleep sack had removable sleeves.

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