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Breaking Free of the Swaddle

Jun16

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Hi Amy!

Advice Smackdown ArchivesSince i know how much your boys loved the swaddle, I am hoping you can help with my question.

My daughter is 3 months and unless she falls asleep on you (which happens rarely and generally during feeding) she cannot fall asleep without the swaddle.

This, of course, is making me very fearful that once we can’t swaddle her any longer she will not sleep. This fear is compounded by the facts that a) she is already trying to turn over from back to front (in general she’s very active physically) and b) she is getting better and better at breaking the swaddle anyway.

At night we use the Miracle Blanket but she’s getting out of that by morning. In the past we’ve been using the SwaddleMe for naps but she’s breaking out of that super fast so I think now it will be the Miracle Blanket, unless she starts getting out of that even faster.

Anyway, I’d love to hear about how and when you “weaned” your boys off swaddling. I want to be prepared and maybe start implementing a post-swaddle bedtime ritual. My husband tried to get her to go down without it for a nap today– abject failure.

Thanks!

Mary

The full, honest truth: We only gave up the swaddle after Ezra learned to roll over on his stomach. Because he slept just fine unswaddled on his stomach.

(CUE HORRIFIED GASPS & SCREAMS)

The thing is, once your baby is rolling over independently, they roll over. And even the Back To Sleep campaign admits there’s no sense in parents constantly going in and flipping their baby back over. I mean, you can’t. Instead, you make sure that the crib sheets and pads are tight and well-fitting, and you take everything out of the crib. And while yes, back-sleeping is recommended for all babies under 12 months, a child’s individual risk of SIDs drops dramatically once they develop the head, neck and back strength needed for truly independent (and consistent) rolling over.

Three months old, though, is too young. The sort of strength I’m talking about is more of a four-to-six month development. Your daughter might be close to rolling over, but it’s probably still a rare occurrence rather than something she’s really mastered. And if she really really won’t sleep without swaddling, keep swaddling. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a four- or five- or six-month-old still being swaddled. Ezra was about…four-and-a-half months? Five? when we really and truly stopped swaddling, and we simply improvised ways to keep him happy and snug once he started breaking loose from our Miracle Blanket. Move past the fancy infant swaddle blankets and just get a nice big square blanket. Screw the velcro: Keep her in there with an Ace Bandage, masking tape, or duct tape wrapped around the outside of the blanket. (Dude, no lie — it’s Happiest Baby on the Block approved! And safer than risking the baby getting free and spending the night wiggling around in a loose blanket.) (Update: see the comments below for further explanation and discussion on this issue.)

But if you do want to wean her off the swaddle, try this: Pay attention to what arm tends to bust out first and leave that one free. If she tolerates this (and doesn’t punch herself in the face all night), you can try leaving both arms free after a couple nights — just tightly swaddle her torso from the armpits down. After a few weeks of this, a lot of babies lose the swaddle cold-turkey without any fuss. (And, like mine, relish the freedom to flip over while their mother quietly flips out over the sight of a face-down baby every night, but hey, sleep is sleep is sleep.) If you find that she hates the modified swaddle, though? Bust out the duct tape for now and try again in a month or two.

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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29 Responses to “Breaking Free of the Swaddle”

  1. laura Jun 16 at 6:46 pm Reply

    My daughter started rolling onto her stomach every time I put her on her back when she was 2 1/2 months old–she’s just always been a wiggly, active girl. I un-swaddled her because it didn’t seem to be doing the trick anymore and first thing she did was flip over onto her belly. It actually concerned me that if she had tried and succeeded in doing it earlier (in the swaddle) it could have been dangerous.

  2. Amy Jun 16 at 7:02 pm Reply

    We swaddled until 6 months. By that point my son was breaking out of his Miracle Blanket when he got supremely mad. Take a look again at how tight the blanket is. We wrapped him so tight it was as though his body was one piece. This required pulling with each wrap around. It wasn’t until we started daycare and they put him down without swaddling him that we realized he could sleep without it.

  3. JCF Jun 16 at 7:48 pm Reply

    Both of my kids mastered rolling over at about 4.5 months, at which point they rolled over onto their stomachs no matter how we put them down. And they started sleeping just fine without the swaddle at that point. Before then, when the Miracle Blanket wasn’t cutting it anymore, we were leaving legs out, then one arm, then eventually both arms. It was kind of a pain, but not as bad of a transition as I had thought it would be.

  4. Erin Jun 16 at 8:53 pm Reply

    Ok, you may not believe this but my son was in his SwaddleMe blanket (which we LOVED) until he was…are you ready…14 months old. Yes, I mean months, not weeks. He slept in the swaddle on his back, on his stomach, however he felt comfortable. The largest swaddle blanket was horribly small on him by the time he stopped and so one day we just stopped and he was…totally fine. These babies (or toddler, in my case) tend to be quite adaptable, despite our biggest worries.

  5. Philip @ RAOP Jun 16 at 8:59 pm Reply

    Ah the swaddle. Our first was swaddled until he was about 6 months. Then he would stay in it anyway. We had one really load screaming fit night then life was good again; the swaddle was gone.

    We took a cue from this with out other two and let them both voice their opinion about ending the swaddle around 2.5 to 3 months. Both screamed for a while the first night and it was over. I realize all kids won’t be like this, but all three of ours did the exact same thing.

    I love the swaddle and understand the importance of it. After about 2 or 3 months though it is more a matter of habit and familiarity then true comfort. They will be fine without it once they get use to it. For us, getting rid of it meant longer sleep stretches and easier bedtimes. So, there is my take. :-)

  6. HereWeGoAJen Jun 16 at 9:20 pm Reply

    We swaddled until seven and a half months. I tried dropping it before then, but my baby would weep until I put the swaddle back on and then fall asleep the moment it wrapped around her. She could roll over from three months old, but she never once did while swaddled. When we would put her down, she would stay exactly there until she woke up again.

    We dropped the swaddle at the same time we did sleep training, with modified cry it out.

    Also, my daughter was 97% for size, so I had to invent my own swaddle when she grew out of all the commercially produced ones. I blogged how to do it here: http://jenniferelaineg.blogspot.com/2009/05/how-to-swaddle-giant-baby.html

    • Isadora Jan 03 at 1:47 pm Reply

      Hi Jennifer!

      My almost six month old loves being swaddled and sleeps calmly and sleep through the night. We want to continue swaddling her but the miracle blankets dont fit her anymore. I saw your link for your blanket but could not access the blog. Is there a way to get an invite?

  7. Rachael Jun 16 at 9:44 pm Reply

    Duct taping blankets to a baby? ….Really? I LOVE this column, but C’MON.

  8. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Jun 16 at 11:31 pm Reply

    Rachael, page 119 of the Happiest Baby on the Block cites a real-world couple using duct tape to secure a swaddle from popping open as a “fixing common swaddling mistakes” example. I just checked my own copy of the book. ;)

    Obviously people should use their common sense and The Happiest Baby on the Block has a great chapter on swaddling and troubleshooting all sorts of issues.

  9. Susan Jun 16 at 11:35 pm Reply

    I think if she is getting out, it’s time to stop swaddling. a blanket sleeper sac is better and won’t restrict her movement. I am an RN and I do visits to newborns and their parents. I see a lot of parents going overboard swaddling these days. At a recent conference, a physical therapist spoke up and said she is encountering more problems all the time with babies who are swaddled for too long, affecting arm and shoulder development. It also can contribute to a flat head. It’s time to unswaddle that kid!,

  10. Joy Jun 17 at 12:41 am Reply

    We swaddled both of our kids and stopped when they started rolling over. (as stated above, we felt it could be dangerous to continue to swaddle and they get “stuck” face down) Both were stomach sleepers and did just fine without the swaddle. We began using the sleep blankets to add a layer of warmth while still keeping things safe. Good luck!

  11. Rachael Jun 17 at 3:19 am Reply

    Isabel, thanks… I am sure it’s in the book (which I have not read)… but I just can’t fathom actually DOING that. Just cuz it’s written in a book does not make it a good or reasonable idea! I’m sure there was once a book published that advocated *insert zany and outmoded child discipline idea here*.

    That just made my BS detector go off. My 3 month old is INSANE about swaddling – in fact when I first read this article I was super happy, because I have been having the very same “Hmmm what to do when he needs to fall asleep WITHOUT the swaddle” thoughts lately.

    Love Amalah, love love LOVE the column… but I just can not get behind duct taping an infant. Sorry! And as a Mom and a licensed teacher who used to do infant care in a professional lab-school setting (college and high school levels), I have to admit if a parent came in and told me they were duct taping blankets to/on/around their child, I would raise quite the eyebrow and seriously question their judgment. If the circumstances were right I might even be tempted to call child services!

    I’m curious if Amy ever actually duct taped either of her kiddos. Or if she was just putting it out there cuz it’s in the book. I wonder if she felt like she WOULD HAVE actually resorted to duct tape, if she didn’t ever actually use it. I am so NOT all cutsey-wootsey-so-delicate-baby-rainbow-unicorn-prince with my kid, but I just can’t imagine TAPING. A. BABY. UP. Ya know?

  12. Amalah
    Amalah Jun 17 at 9:09 am Reply

    Rachael, No, I never actually duct taped my children. Noah didn’t like swaddling and as I mentioned, Ezra started rolling over pretty much right around the time he was consistently getting out of the swaddle. I did mention our problems at this point on Amalah and quite a few mothers mentioned Happiest Baby on the Block (which is not a crazy outdated book, but still one of the most popular parenting books out there, though OF COURSE we don’t all have to agree with everything in every book) and the duct tape/Ace Bandage trick as something they used for a bit, usually combined with the modified weaning-type swaddles I mentioned at the end.

    Here’s what I didn’t make entirely clear and perhaps you’re picturing something far different than what I am: The trick is just to TAPE THE BLANKET SHUT, not actually BIND THE CHILD like a duct tape mummy. Think of it as back-up velcro.

    I try to mention as many options as possible, and if you spend some time on swaddling forums and Q&A places like the Berkeley Parents Network you’ll find this is not at all as crazy an idea as it might sound at first. So I included it. You disagree. That’s fine. I saw this solution more of a “people doing whatever they need to do to help a baby sleep” and nothing more.

  13. Ms. K Jun 17 at 10:32 am Reply

    @Rachael,

    Reality check here – I duct-taped my child into her swaddle. I also used a swaddle belt. That’s a wide piece of fabric that you use to tie/bind your baby into a swaddle. And I swaddled her like that until she was about 6 months old.

    @Susan Her neck and arm strength are totally fine, and she did not have ‘flat head’. She was only swaddled at night, when the whole family was sleeping, and probably only 6 to 8 hours at a time (if we were lucky and she didn’t break out of it. Because oh yes, babies can break out of swaddle belts and duct tape.)

    She liked being swaddled. When she did break out of the swaddle, she would invariably bunch the blanket up over her face/wrap it around her head. Starting from about 4 months. We finally realized she did this preferentially…she still does it at 17 months.

    SIDs risk? I really don’t think so. I talked to a forensic pathologist and she reassured me the SIDs cases she sees were always small/weak/unhealthy babies living in suspect conditions. (not to say that all SIDs cases are like that, there are some tragic awful unexplainable deaths. I am just repeating what the forensic pathologist told me.)

    The upshot? Let your kid sleep how you + she sleep best. If you and she like being duckt-taped and bound into a swaddle, do it. If he prefers to bunch the blanket up and throw it over his head while sleeping, let him. 

  14. Jenifer Jun 17 at 12:08 pm Reply

    We swaddled until or son was six months old. Our little guy really needed it to sleep. Of course he was so big that I had to make my own huge blankets. Then our pediatrician told us this was “poor sleep hygiene.” I rolled my eyes and swaddled another month or so. We weaned by leaving the legs free and then allowing the arms out one at a time. We also introduced a lovey at the same time. Someone recently told me that “Sleepy Bunny” was very dangerous, but my son managed to not suffocate…Sleepy Bunny became the cue for bedtime rather than swaddling. Still works.

  15. Rachael Jun 17 at 12:20 pm Reply

    To each their own! An Ace Bandage sounds a LOT less zany than duct tape.

  16. Holly Jun 17 at 12:25 pm Reply

    My daughter is 3.5 months old and has slept swaddled from the day she was born, thanks to Dr. Karp. She started daycare at 2 months, and I told them up and down how swaddling was the key to her naps, and….. she’s never been swaddled there and sleeps like a champ – even longer stretches of naps than she does at home. Yet, once at home, unless she is zonked out tired, she must be swaddled to nap. At night, I still swaddle her, though she often gets an arm or two out – she’s slept at least 7 hours a night since she was 8 weeks old, and I’m too chicken to test her overnight without the swaddle. And, since she was about 4 weeks old, she has always inchwormed herself over to the side of the bassinet and smooshed her little face into it. Sure, she’ll whip her head around to the other side for awhile, but ultimately she seems to prefer the feeling of the bassinet against her face. At first, it freaked me out like crazy, so I’d scoot her back to the middle of the bassinet, only to find her again over at the side. Go figure.

  17. EmJay Jun 17 at 12:25 pm Reply

    I didn’t use duct tape, but I will admit to using diaper pins to keep the swaddle going. That was 6 1/2 years ago before the miracle blanket and others. I just had a flat, square blanket. The baby was happier and so were mom and dad. I subscribe to the “by any means necessary” school of sleep for babies. I will also admit that my oldest took naps in his swing for several months because that is what worked.

  18. Camille Jun 17 at 12:59 pm Reply

    We used the Miracle Blanket, and when our daughter got too long for the legs, but still needed her legs swaddled, we wrapped her arms in the MB, and then put a Woombie (http://www.thewoombie.com/) on top. It kept her legs wrapped enough so she could sleep, and had the added benefit of preventing her from breaking out of the MB (no duct tape required!). At 4 months when she was a rolling master she started fussing in the MB-Woombie combo so we ditched the Woombie, and then ditched the MB two nights later and started putting her down on her tummy.

  19. Stefanie Jun 17 at 2:26 pm Reply

    My daughter was a 24-hour swaddler (except for diaper changes during which she wailed). We had to cut out the swaddles a couple months ago (at 5 months), because she was rolling around and it seemed dangerous to me. We did like Amy suggested, one arm out to start at night time, then two arms out at night and one during naps, then both arms out at naps, then no swaddle at all. Like Ezra, she turned out to be happiest sleeping on her tummy, which I also did nothing to correct, because up until that point she was a horrible sleeper. I think she just couldn’t move around to find how she was the most comfortable, but now that she can she’s a much better sleeper.

  20. Erin Jun 17 at 4:03 pm Reply

    We used the miracle blanket until 5 months, and I was SO WORRIED about weaning, etc. Turned out around 3 months we started to swaddle on our son’s arms (we left his legs out of the pocket for easier nighttime changing and never turned back) and then one night when he was 5 months old, he got one of his arms out, we took the swaddle off and his sleep didn’t suffer at all. I know it’s hard to say no to stress, but you shouldn’t. You’ll know the moment to stop swaddling when it arrives, and not before, and I wouldn’t worry too much about “weaning.” Just my experience…

  21. Tracy Jun 17 at 4:30 pm Reply

    Duct tape may sound more “zany” than an Ace bandage, but keeping in mind that Amy specified using a piece to keep the blanket closed, not wrapping it around the whole baby… duct tape stuck to something soft and fuzzy isn’t going to stay stuck forever, and a very unhappy baby would be able to wriggle out of it. An Ace bandage, on the other hand, would actually be much more constrictive (since it would have to wrap all the way around). I suppose it would still loosen, especially since you wouldn’t be able to use the little metal clips, but honestly, a square of duct tape sounds like the more sane option of these two.

  22. Cassie Jun 17 at 9:27 pm Reply

    @Ms. K – Nothing to do with swaddling, but my kiddo also takes any fabric he can get a hold of (burb cloth, taggie blanket lovey thing, swaddle, etc) and winds up bunching it around his head to sleep. I think he just likes the coziness. (And yes, he does keep it away from his nose, though sometimes he has it held up to his chin and mouth.)

  23. Nora Jun 18 at 1:05 pm Reply

    Once baby was busting out of the miracle blanket on a regular basis, we put him in the sleep sack with his arms zipped in. He’d get them out eventually but at least he wouldn’t have the wrapping arm of the swaddle worked around his neck, as we found him the last time I swaddled for the night. He’s been fine in the sleep sack ever since. His feet are play things and when they are zipped away, limited distraction gets him to sleep.

  24. Tamara Jun 18 at 4:06 pm Reply

    My daughter had to be swaddled until she was 7 months old. Nothing worked to keep her contained, although I admit to never trying a miracle blanket. I live in south Florida. I won’t wrap my kid up in that much fabric..it’s too hot.

    I invented my own, not too hot, keeps them from breaking out and one version has a part between the legs like a once so they don’t pull it up over their face.

    Sleep deprivation is cruel! My son is almost 4 months old and this booger is going to have to be swaddled for a while too.

    Good luck mama. You’ll figure out something that works for you.

  25. Mary Jun 20 at 11:56 am Reply

    Hi! This is my letter. Thanks for printing it!

    Last night when she busted out of the swaddle I left her arms out and her legs in. She seemed OK for a couple of hours and then woke up thrashing her arms around so we re-swaddled. So I think she is getting there. I like the idea of leaving one arm out and seeing how that goes.

    Oddly, she started day care last week for 2 days and apparently is sleeping unswaddled there…. althoughfor shorter periods, generally.

    They wrap her in an afghan with a lot of holes which they say she likes.

    For the woman above who was concerned about arms and legs and flat heads…. first of all, flat heads are not related to swaddling but are about the baby lying down in the same position a lot.

    And, so long as she gets lots of exercise when not sleeping I don’t see anything wrong with the swaddle for sleeping. In fact, my baby is particularly strong in both her arms and legs.

    Not touching the duct tape issue. :)

  26. Bear Jun 20 at 11:34 pm Reply

    Our son busted out of his first swaddle at fifteen minutes old, and never permitted  it again. The few times we got him swaddled well enough that he stayed &%$#@! swaddled, he wailed as though we’d wrapped a box of needles in there with him until we let him free. For the first four months, he even fussed when he put his arms into sleeves – this, from the kid who adored being licked by the dog, slept through the vacuum cleaner, cheerfully allowed himself to be passed around like a baby football, walked the dog with me (him in the Moby) every morning from 10 days old (a day which fell on 1 February, and we live in Canada) and took a bottle of pumped milk, without complaint, starting at five weeks. Nothing fazed this kid, but man alive did he hate the swaddling. 

    So, we never swaddled. We let him fall asleep in our arms, and then put him down. Admittedly, the babies we know who were swaddled for sleep seemed to sleep longer, sooner. But at five months he will now regularly sleep six hours most nights uninterrupted (down at 9, up for a feed/change at midnight and then back down, usually without a fuss, until 6am). And he’s learning to go to sleep on his own, or with backrubbing instead of being held. 

    All this is to say, if the swaddle isn’t working anymore, you might try letting her fall asleep on you and then putting her down for a while, so she can get the hang of sleeping unswaddled. I might, to be honest, be more inclined to try that than duct tape, no matter what Dr. Karp says.

  27. bari Jun 29 at 7:21 pm Reply

    Oh we swaddled until at least 8 months. We tried so so so many times to get him to sleep without it starting around 4 months but it just never worked. We used a miracle blanket with a swaddling blanket over it to really bind him in there but starting 5-6 months he’d get out and we’d have to go re-swaddle. It was painful, especially in the middle of the night. We’d try to get him to sleep un-swaddled AGAIN. Eventually he started falling back to sleep after breaking out of the swaddle and we just went for it and it worked. I hated the process of swaddling and thought it would never end but now I have an 11month old who I put down with his blanket and pacifier and he conks out in minutes. It is bliss! Anyway that cue worked for us, and it was long after every other baby and it felt kind of odd at the time but hey, if it aint broke!

  28. LisaCA Jul 14 at 4:32 am Reply

    we used a sleeper from new zealand called a pekemo to wean our little girl from swaddling – http://www.pekemoe.co.nz. It looks kind of weird, yes, and we were skeptical too, but it worked! maight help :)

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