Swaddling has been a practice employed by parents for centuries, and it’s more than just a recent social media trend. This age-old technique, which involves wrapping a baby in a thin fabric or light blanket to create a secure and womb-like environment, has multiple benefits. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), swaddling can help soothe newborns, improve sleep quality, and reduce crying.
For many parents like Jenn Ancira from Texas, swaddling has proven to be a valuable tool in calming their babies amidst the overwhelming experience of entering the world. She shares, “We swaddled all six of our babies. It seemed to calm them when the big new world was overstimulating.”
However, while swaddling is generally considered low-risk, there are essential considerations, including when it’s time to stop swaddling, which may come sooner than expected.
What Is Swaddling?
Swaddling is a traditional technique to comfort babies. It entails wrapping a baby securely in a light blanket or cloth to provide warmth and a sense of security. Parents often report that swaddling not only helps babies sleep better but also reduces crying.
It’s important to note that not all babies are fond of swaddling, and some may find it too confining. It’s a good idea to gauge your baby’s response to swaddling before incorporating it into your routine.
When Can You Start Swaddling?
Swaddling is often introduced as early as the hospital days, as explained by Karla Pippa, a birth and postpartum doula and co-founder of NYC Birth Village. She emphasizes that parents instinctively seek ways to comfort their babies, and swaddling is one such tool in their arsenal.
When swaddling your baby, it’s crucial to follow safety guidelines, as outlined by Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., a pediatrician and official spokesperson for AAP. Key safety points include using a thin blanket, swaddling up to the arms and shoulders, avoiding loose flaps that could cover the baby’s face, ensuring enough room for the baby’s legs to move freely, and always placing the baby on their back to sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Signs You Should Stop Swaddling Your Baby
Once your baby starts showing signs of attempting to roll over, it’s time to discontinue swaddling. This milestone typically occurs around 3 to 4 months, with some babies displaying it as early as 2 months.
Dr. Dolgoff notes that signs your baby is ready to roll include:
- Rolling onto their shoulders or side
- Kicking their legs and moving in a circular motion while on their back
- Using their arms to lift their chest and arching their back
- Rocking on their stomach or from side to side
- Kicking or twisting their legs
- Crossing one leg over the other while on their back
At this stage, swaddling is no longer considered safe due to the increased risk of suffocation and potential hazards associated with an infant’s mobility, including rolling over onto their tummy. The risk of SIDS also becomes higher in swaddled babies who can’t roll over independently.
It’s important to note that weight doesn’t play a significant role in the decision to stop swaddling; the primary factor is the baby’s ability to roll over.
How To Transition Your Baby Out of a Swaddle
When the time comes for your baby to stop swaddling, they may not always be eager to give it up. Fortunately, there are ways to help with the transition.
Dr. Dolgoff recommends a gradual approach, allowing the baby to adjust to not being swaddled. You can start by swaddling the baby with one arm out for a few nights and then both arms out for a few nights before discontinuing swaddling altogether. This gradual transition helps the baby get used to having their arms free.
Many experts recommend transitioning to a sleep sack, which can help prevent the startle reflex and provide comfort while maintaining safety. Ancira found this method particularly effective for her children, using a sleep sack with removable sleeves to cater to their needs.