Swaddling — wrapping your baby in a snug, but not too tight, receiving blanket until they look like a little baby burrito — has saved countless parents from countless baby cries. By mimicking the womb, swaddling helps babies feel secure and safe, and can even calm them down or help them sleep better. Unfortunately, like pacifiers, cribs, and every single piece of newborn clothing you've ever bought, babies will eventually outgrow their swaddles. So, when should you stop swaddling a baby? While every baby is undeniably different, there are a few guidelines you can follow to ensure your baby is sleeping soundly, and safely, as possible.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents that in order to safely swaddle their babies, they must follow the safe sleep guidelines. That includes, according to the AAP, placing your baby on their back to sleep, providing them with their own sleep space in your room (i.e. co-sleeping), but not on your bed (i.e. bed-sharing), and avoiding the use of loose bedding, such as pillows, blankets, or toys. The AAP goes on to tell parents that, "when done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep." As a parent, when you see the words "promote sleep," you're going to want to pay attention. Trust me.
While swaddling is AAP approved, it's a precise art that requires a lot of practice. In fact, the International Hip Dysplasia Institute advises parents not to wrap their baby's legs too tightly, or to force them into a straight leg position when swaddling, saying:
"In order for swaddling to allow healthy hip development, the legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints."
Further problems can arise if your baby is swaddled and manages to turn over onto their stomach. This could present a higher risk of your baby being smothered or suffocated in their sleep, and can increase the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), according to the AAP.
That's why it is so important that parents put their babies down to sleep on their backs. Dr. Rachel Moon, MD, FAAP, and chair of the AAP’s safe sleep recommendations task force, urges parents to closely monitor their baby for signs that they're ready to move on from the swaddle.
According to The Baby Sleep Site, as soon as your baby can start to turn and roll over by themselves it is time to put the swaddle away. The same site also suggests parents give their baby some "swaddle free" time every day, especially when they are awake to promote proper growth, development, and exploration. While most babies start to phase themselves out of a swaddle between 3 or 4 months of age, The Baby Sleep Site makes a point of letting parents know that it's not uncommon for babies to "be swaddled when they are 6, 7, 8, even 9 months old."
The site goes on to further explain how to safely transition your baby out of the swaddle, saying:
"In general, the best way to stop swaddling a baby is to do it gradually. This means starting by leaving one arm, or one leg, unswaddled at first. From there, you can gradually move to leaving both arms, or both legs, unsaddled. Eventually, you will build up to the point where you are not swaddling at all. The idea is that this slow, gradual transition makes it easier for a baby to get used to sleeping unswaddled."
With close observation so you can pick up on your baby's unique cues and end swaddling at an appropriate time, wrapping your baby into a human baby burrito is a great way to provide a sense of calm and comfort, and help them to feel secure enough to sleep well. After all, "sleep well" is the ultimate parenting dream.