Good-byes are never easy. Especially when the good-bye in question involves getting rid of your child’s trusty swaddling wrap—the one that soothed her to sleep when nothing else would and helped you get some much-needed shut-eye, too. Once new parents get the hang of the swaddling thing, they can get pretty attached to the practice of swaddling, and they’re understandably reluctant to part with this sleep-supporter. Babies often outgrow swaddling before parents are ready to move on to the next stage (kids keep this habit of outpacing their parents as they grow, by the way).
But move on we must. By the time an infant can roll over, around five months, it’s time to start planning the swaddle’s exit. Older babies kick and roll and can work their wrap loose, which can lead to unsafe sleeping conditions. Why is ditching the swaddle so anxiety-provoking? Because many parents who have swaddled since birth literally can’t picture their child sleeping any other way.
If you’re getting ready to say "see ya!" to the swaddle, don’t fret. Here are three mom-tested methods that will have your child snoozing swaddle-free in no time.
Method 1: Cold Turkey
The quickest way to transition your child to swaddle-free sleeping is to simply stop using the swaddle. If you’re feeling brave, just pack the swaddle away and proceed with your bedtime routine. But don't toss the swaddle without replacing this important sleep cue. Remember that the swaddle served as a sleep "trigger" for your child—its presence helped cue his brain that sleep was near. So when you remove it from your child’s routine, replace it with another sleep cue, like a sleep sack or something similar (this process is described in Ready, Set, Sleep).
Method 2: Lukewarm Turkey
This method is almost cold turkey…but not quite. You can stop using the swaddle at night but continue using a swaddle-like technique for soothing during the wind-down routine. By the time babies are ready for less swaddling, most only need it for bedtime soothing, and not while sleeping. In other words, the swaddle is a sleep cue that aids in falling asleep, but once the child is asleep, she doesn’t need it. To employ this method, use a snug swaddle-esque blanket wrap during your child’s bedtime routine and then remove it once she's very drowsy or asleep.
Method 3: Arms Out
For some babies, an "arms out" swaddle is the easiest route to swaddle freedom. To transition your child out of the swaddle with this method, first wrap your child with one arm out, then after a few days, try both arms out. The “chest down” swaddle that leaves both arms free gives your child the snug feeling of being swaddled, with the upper-body freedom that older babies enjoy. In fact, this method works so well that you may be tempted to just continue swaddling your older baby “arms out” for months. But remember, the “arms out” swaddle is just a stop on the route to swaddle-free sleeping—eventually you’ll need to get rid of the wrap entirely. After a few weeks of “arms out,” try leaving legs out too. (Yes, a swaddle around your child’s midsection looks strange, but it’s a brief phase.) Soon, you’ll be able to lift the swaddle right out of your child’s sleep routine without looking back.
See, that wasn’t so difficult, was it? Bring on the next challenge!