Tips: When to stop swaddling

August 14, 2011

It would be great to feel 100% certain, but, like lots of parenting questions, when you stop swaddling your baby is going to be a judgment call on your part. I’ve asked doctors, nurses, and experienced moms, as well as trolled a lot of parenting web sites for THE answer, but, unfortunately, there isn’t one.

The answer I got that made the most sense to me was from a child development expert at Day One, and this is what she said: since there is no one right answer, so you need to decide on the right course of action for you and your baby based on your common sense (going against your instincts is not usually a good bet), what you can live with (are you going to stay up all night worrying that your baby’s rolled over in her swaddle and can’t breathe?), and your knowledge of your baby (does she stay up all night crying if she’s not swaddled?) Take a few quiet minutes to think about those factors and then pick a lane. Trust yourself.

A quick summary of what I’ve read and discussed:

  • Swaddling helps babies sleep longer. Newborns like it because it feels tight and warm like the womb. That still holds true for 3-4 month-olds but at that age they’re also gradually learning to control their limbs. They may object more to the swaddle because they like to reach for things – but the flip side is that flailing arms aren’t a great sleep aid!
  • As your baby learns to self-soothe by – maybe – sucking a finger or thumb, lots of moms will do a modified swaddle, leaving one arm free. Kind of a halfway to not swaddling compromise.
  • There’s a big camp that believes that once your baby can roll over, swaddling is over. Assuming your baby is a back sleeper, as soon as he can roll from his back onto his tummy, he might flip himself over during the night and the swaddle will prevent him from being able to roll onto his back again, so he’ll be left with his face in the mattress, which could be a suffocation risk.
  • The counterargument says that if he can roll one way in a swaddle, he can probably roll the other way too (tummy to back is easier for most kids). Or he has sufficient head control by the time he can roll to turn his head to the side to breathe (as babies did before the Back to Sleep campaign). And at rolling age, he can make a lot of noise if he’s having trouble or is uncomfortable.

I worried about this decision for weeks but in the end, didn’t have to make it: Astrid certainly slept better (after an initial few minutes of crying and objection) in the swaddle until she was almost four months old, at which point she howled at being wrapped up or Houdini’d out of whatever we wrapped her in. Since I’m claustrophobic myself, I probably gave in earlier than other moms and stopped forcing her into the swaddle at night. She didn’t roll over until she was 5+ months old, at which point we’d all but stopped swaddling her anyway. However, I’d already decided we’d stop when she rolled because I couldn’t see myself sleeping if I was wondering if she was OK.

So that’s where we ended up. I hope the summary and notes helps you with your decision. Good luck and peaceful nights!

The usual caveats apply to all advice on Minimalist Mama: I’m not a doctor or a trained professional in childhood health or development. All opinions and advice expressed on this site are mine alone, a result of my personal research and experience, and are not endorsed by any medical entity or person. Take ’em or leave ’em:)


2 Responses to “Tips: When to stop swaddling”

  1. […] if you want to get ahead of the curve, check out When To Stop Swaddling at Minimalist […]

  2. […] skills, sleeping skills and your level of comfort with a rolling baby still being swaddled. (I wrote about this in more detail a while ago.) When you do decide to skip the swaddle, the sleep sacks officially enter the rotation if you […]

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