When To Stop Swaddling Baby – These 3 Signs Will Tell You It’s Time
Swaddling is a century-old practice of wrapping infants in cloth such as blankets or shawls. Its primary purpose is not only to keep the newborn warm, but also to restrict movement of the limbs and keep the child calm as he sleeps.
Researchers presume that the earliest use of this method traces back to the Paleolithic period, with some of the earliest evidence in the form of votives being 4500 years old.
Perhaps the most well-known record of swaddling can be found in the New Testament where Mary is described as wrapping Jesus in swaddling clothes as she lays him down in a manger (Luke 2:6–2:7). While the practice fell out of fashion in the 17th century, it is once again emerging into popularity.
Swaddling has various benefits, and this article will take a look at some of them. However, the main question we’re going to answer is when to stop swaddling your baby.
The Benefits of Swaddling
There’s a bit of a debate on the medical and psychological benefits of swaddling. Some camps say it can help reduce the risk of SIDS, while some say it may increase it. Others say that it may even result to developmental hip dysplasia if not done correctly. Throughout centuries of being practiced, however, swaddling as we know it indeed has some benefits. Here are three of them:
May Help Infants Sleep Longer
Newborns sleep at an average of 16 hours per day in three- to four-hour intervals and need to get as much quality sleep as possible. Swaddling seems to help them achieve just that by improving the amount of REM that they get.
It also helps them quickly return to sleep after a spontaneous arousal. This means there is less intervention needed from the parents.
May Help Soothe Crying
Swaddling is not a formula to soothing a crying child, but it does help in comforting newborns. This is particularly the case for colicky babies who cry at an average of 3 hours per day. However, this benefit has been found to work only in infants who are two months old and younger and not for those beyond that age.
May Reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS is common among babies who sleep on their stomachs, which is why it’s crucial to have them sleep in the supine position. A newborn who is properly swaddled and placed on their back to sleep is less likely to fidget and eventually end up lying on his stomach.
The Drawbacks And Risks of Swaddling Swaddling
May Be A Hindrance To Breastfeeding
Newborns are often examined first and swaddled before being handed to their mothers for breastfeeding. However, it has been noted that babies who are swaddled take to the breast a bit later than babies who get immediate skin-to-skin contact with their mothers.
Perhaps the explanation is that swaddled newborns have their arms, tools that they use for locating and shaping the nipple in order to latch, bound in a cloth or blanket.
Swaddling May Put A Newborn At Risk Of Hypothermia
Skin-to-skin contact with the mother is crucial for newborns in the first couple of hours as it helps regulate their body temperature. Another drawback of swaddling is that it may interfere with this process and may keep the newborn’s body temperature either too high or too low, depending on the cloth used and how the baby is wrapped.
A good swaddling practice for infants is to swaddle them using fabric made of light cotton and to cover only their body rather than including the head as well.
Swaddling May Cause Hip Dysplasia
A baby’s hips and knees are extended when swaddled. Over time, this may lead to developmental dysplasia of the hip or DHH. This condition is a dislocation of the hips that often results to differing leg lengths, arthritis, and limited mobility.
It’s important to note, though, that most reports that associate swaddling and DDH come from cultures, such as that of Navajo Indians that used traditional or obsolete swaddling techniques. To lower the risk of your newborn acquiring DDH, use a swaddling technique that allows ample hip and knee movement just like what is shown in this video:
3 Signs That Will Tell You It’s Time to Stop Swaddling Your Baby
It’s standard practice to swaddle babies until they are 3 to 4 months old. However, not all babies are the same, and some would still prefer being wrapped until they are 6 to 7 months old. It’s also important to note that infants have a startle reflex called the Moro reflex.
This is their response to a feeling of sudden loss of support and is characterized by the spreading and unspreading of the arms. Observe how strong this reflex is in your child and be careful not to stop swaddling too early as it may cause your baby to startle himself awake at night or during naps.
Now, to answer the question of when to stop swaddling your baby, here are three signs to help you know it is time:
Sign #1: Your Baby Wakes Up Multiple Times At Night
One of the earliest signs that it’s time to transition your baby from swaddling is when he suddenly wakes up several times at night. All of a sudden, it would seem as if he is not comfortable being wrapped anymore and would try to find a more comfortable sleeping position.
Oftentimes, this transition from sleeping soundly while being swaddled and then waking up multiple times suddenly one night is immediate and happens around the fifth month. Keep in mind, though, that your baby won’t outgrow his Moro reflex for another month, so make sure you help him transition smoothly by not getting rid of the swaddle immediately.
Sign #2: Your Baby Starts Rolling While Swaddled
Another sign your baby is ready to let go of the swaddle is when he starts rolling even with the swaddle on. This is a crucial period in your child’s life, so watch out for this sign for safety reasons. Medical professionals recommend stopping swaddling as soon as the infant begins to learn how to roll as it may increase the risk of falling.
If your baby starts learning to roll without the swaddle, he will most definitely find ways to roll even with it on. However, if your baby already knows how to roll without a swaddle, but still doesn’t know how to while being swaddled, you can use a transitional swaddle for nap times instead.
Transitional swaddles like the Zipadee-Zip or this one from Love To Dream are designed to gently train your baby to let go of the traditional swaddle and help him get comfortable with the idea of sleeping with more freedom. Aside from using this method, you can also use a swaddling technique that would allow one arm out and eventually two arms out. This approach is shown in the first part of this video:
Sign #3: Your Baby Is Starting To Escape The Swaddle More Often
- Perhaps one of the most significant signs that would tell you it’s time to stop swaddling is when your baby starts to escape from being wrapped more often. This could be a little bit tricky, though, as it could mean your baby is ready to go swaddle-free, or your swaddle is not doing a good job holding him.
- The key indicator is the age of your baby. If he’s only on his 2nd or 3rd month, then a poor swaddling technique is most likely the culprit. On the other hand, if your baby is doing it around the 4-6 month mark, there’s a huge chance he’s ready to transition from swaddling.
A Vital Point To Remember
- Swaddling is a great way to soothe and comfort your newborn. That said, it could quickly become a sleep association. Keep in mind that weaning a newborn from any form of sleep association might disrupt his sleeping patterns.
- Do not be surprised if your baby initially stops sleeping the first night you decide to stop swaddling him. For some babies, the process may only take several days to a week, while for some, it can take a week or two, depending on how well your child responds to change. This is normal, and once your baby gets used to sleeping without being swaddled, he should go back to sleeping normally again.
How about you? How did you know it was time for your baby to move on from swaddling and what techniques did you use? We would love to hear your story. Or, if you have questions, please do not hesitate to scroll down a bit more and share them with other moms and us and dads like you!