Are you confused about when to stop swaddling your baby? For centuries, moms and dads have swaddled babies. Why? Because it is so effective for calming infants and helping them sleep better. Thanks to modern medical research, we now understand just how important that is.
Infant crying and parent exhaustion often trigger marital stress, child abuse, postpartum depression, infant sleep deaths (from unsafe sleeping practices), breastfeeding struggles, car accidents, maternal obesity, etc. Studies even show that improving a baby’s sleep significantly reduces the risk of obesity in the early years. So, it turns out that swaddling—with its ability to reduce fussing and boosts sleep—is a critical tool for improving the health of the whole family!
When to Stop Swaddling
The short answer: Swaddling must stop when your baby can roll. This can happen as early as 2 months.
The longer answer: Swaddling actually helps prevent rolling to the stomach (a SIDS risk factor) so you don’t want to stop prematurely.
How Long and When Should a Baby Be Swaddled
As swaddling has surged in popularity over the past years, so have concerns and controversies around this ancient practice. Some doctors now warn parents to stop swaddling at 2 months for fear a baby might roll to the stomach…and not have free hands to push up and liberate their face to breathe. Even the prestigious American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced that parents should wean swaddling when infants start to roll (which can happen as early as 2-3 months).
That sounds logical, but here’s where it gets confusing: The AAP also recommends that babies only sleep on the back during the first 6 months and that they do not sleep in the parents’ bed for the first year. That’s interesting because swaddling makes it harder for a baby to roll to the side or stomach, and it has been shown to lessen a parent’s temptation to bed share. So, when wrapping stops early, achieving these guidelines becomes more challenging. What’s a parent to do? When should swaddling be stopped?
How and When to Wean Swaddling
Infants are happiest—and sleep the best—when we “recreate” the womb (through swaddling, shushy white noise and soothing rocking) during the first 3-4 months after delivery. They benefit greatly from a so-called 4th trimester.
In general, babies do best when swaddling lasts for 4-5 months. Then, you can start the weaning process by wrapping your baby with one arm out. If she continues to sleep well for a few nights, you can stop swaddling completely. If she starts middle-of-the-night waking again, restart swaddling and try the one-armed wrap again in a month…and every month thereafter until it works.
But, if your baby starts trying to roll over, you will need to stop swaddling fairly quickly…just as the AAP recommends. The trouble is that weaning swaddling is much harder when babies are only a few months old. At this age, they often still need womb sensations to help them stay asleep and to keep them from waking frequently.
That’s why—if you must you stop swaddling at 2-3 months—it’s extra important to use white noise as a sleep cue for all naps and nights. The gentle rocking motion is another fantastic cue, but beware, only swings that recline all the way flat are safe for your precious baby.
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