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Baby Sleep Questions Answered

The Great Swaddle Transition

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

You have been my go to on so many pregnancy/baby/kid related questions over the last few years. My husband thinks it’s weird that I refer to you as though we know each other,” Amy said we need to…” but your advice works for my brain, sense of humor and parenting style! So, I need your help with a sleep training issue please. I’ll try to lay it all out as simply as possible.

My 3 year old did great with a modified Ferber method when he was a baby. We initially tried going in for the intervals to comfort, but it always ramped up the cycle even more, like we were starting all over. So we eventually found he did much better when we just left him alone entirely. We have a video baby monitor and were able to watch and make sure he was ok. Now he’s pretty good about going to sleep on his own and we feel like we’ve got his situation figured out.

Our 6 month old daughter is completely different (weird how she’s like a whole other human being). She is a very happy and easy baby. But there are two specific sleep related areas where she is different from my son.

1. She loves, dare I say, needs to be swaddled. We have used every type of swaddle contraption on the market including the Miracle Blanket, Magic Merlin sleep suit, and they have worked great. Yes she can roll over now, but our doctor consoled us that she’s not going to roll over in the swaddle, or if she does she can move her head to the side or cry and let us know. So we have continued to swaddle her at night and for naps. When she is swaddled she does not try and roll over, just chills out immediately. We now use the Woombie in its largest size.

2. She loves a pacifier to sleep. We use the ones with the little stuffed animal attached and she can put it back in her own mouth (when she’s not swaddled). When she’s swaddled we tuck it into her blanket which holds it there so she can usually move her head and get it back in her mouth. She only uses it to fall asleep then turns her head and sleeps without it.

Right now the routine goes, boob, bath, snuggle and song, swaddle, paci, with the room dark, music and white noise. And she goes to sleep on her own, at or just before 6pm. We don’t rock or stay in the room at all. The only reason we have to come back in sometimes is if her paci falls out while she’s wiggling to find her sleep position.

She does still wake in the night sometimes and wants her paci again. And every once and awhile the crying is very upset and only boob will do. Though I’m not entirely sure if she really needs the milk or not.

So we decided the other night to give sleep training a try and our plan was to get rid of the swaddle, give her the paci but not go in to give it to her if it fell out, and try the traditional Ferber with going in at intervals to calm. It was a disaster.

She started off fine, just talking and grabbing her paci, but then she started to cry and I have never heard this sweet baby cry like she did that night. I’m not sure if she’s a tension increaser (I’ve read all the Moxie articles), but it felt like the crying just revved up and up and up till she sounded like she was going to be sick. She cried for 45 minutes (with our little step in and calm breaks) and then I’d had enough. It took me almost 10 minutes to get her calm again, then put her down in the usual way and she was out within minutes.

I’m capable of going through the crying if it’s going to get her to learn to soothe herself, but now I’m questioning it all. Did we take away too much at once? Is it ok to let her keep being swaddled even longer since our Pediatrician sees no problem? If she is a tension increaser is Ferber out and we need to do something else? Is she just too young and we need to wait and try again? Did I just wimp out and we need to commit and get through it? Should we just take away swaddle and pacifier and do everything cold turkey at once?

Overall I’m confused and second guessing myself because right now she goes to sleep pretty well. I know you get tons of sleep questions and I feel like I’ve read all the advice and all the books and all the articles, but I don’t have a clear plan. I would love a plan!

Thank you!

/dons baby sleep troubleshooting hat

Okay. So I’ve read through your letter a couple times now, and have to admit it feels like you guys were attempting to solve a problem that didn’t exactly exist. She had her routine, she fell asleep on her own (with still age-appropriate aids), and while night wakings occasionally happened, they weren’t super unsolvable or happening every hour on the hour. An occasional night waking is pretty par for the course at six months — they might want an extra bit of milk to get them through a growth spurt, but be still on the path to phasing the 2 a.m. feeding out for good.

I get your concerns, however, that the swaddle and the pacifier aren’t going to always be workable options for her, particularly the swaddle. But yeah, I think you tried to do too much, too soon. Let’s roll things back a little and try some baby steps.

Your daughter sounds a LOT like my youngest, and here’s where I admit we had zero luck with sleep training him until he was 8 months old. Why 8 months and not 6 months? THE WORLD WILL NEVER KNOW. But it was a completely different experience.

We did wean him out of the swaddle successfully around 6 months, because he was occasionally breaking free and it felt too risky knowing he might roll over into a faceful o’ Miracle Blanket. We tried a couple different approaches: leaving his feet free one night, one arm another night, then both arms, etc. I’m not 100% sure I agree completely with your doctor’s blanket (ha!) statement that a swaddled baby won’t roll over (they doooo), but since your particular baby doesn’t and you mentioned a video monitor, I’m also not going to tell you that de-swaddling is a bridge you have to cross RIGHT THIS SECOND. But I would advise that when you DO, don’t go cold turkey.

Since you use a Woombie (not sure which style), I would head over to their site and take a look at some of the convertible styles that are designed with the inevitable transition in mind. The basic convertible option lets you go arms free (basically a swaddle-to-sleep-sack process), while the 4-in-1 hybrid will let you attach pacifiers to the end of her sleeves. If you already have an option that would allow for an arms-free experiment, I would start there. One arm to start, maybe, then two. and then start going looser around the legs, etc. Let her transition slowly.

Once she’s okay sleeping with one arm out, in theory she’ll be able to retrieve her paci easier (especially if it’s built right into her sleeve!), but will still feel swaddled “enough” that she won’t escalate the way she did when you went cold turkey. It’s okay to give her a few minutes to figure things out for herself, but I wouldn’t wait longer than 3-5 minutes before the initial step-in/paci retrieval break. Ferber absolutely can work for tension increasers (I trained two myself), but I found it best to keep the initial fuss-it-out windows very, very short. There’s a Point of No Return (as you saw), where the hysterics can take over. The idea is to give them an opportunity to self soothe, but you have to step in and manually soothe quite a bit, especially the first night or two.

And yes, I would not mix the pacifier retrieval battle into the swaddle transition process. Focus on one, and remind yourself that going in and sticking a paci back in (and having that be enough to get her back to sleep) is still way better than say, a baby who is demanding to be picked up and rocked/nursed back to sleep five times a night. In time, once her arms are free that swaddle is completely outgrown, the pacifier should hopefully be her only crutch, and you can fight THAT weaning battle later. Even much later.

So here’s your plan, for now:

  1. Get her a convertible/hybrid swaddle option (see above), if you don’t have one already.
  2. Keep everything about her routine the same, but leave one arm out.
  3. Put multiple pacifers in her crib (or try the Woombie sleeve attachment).
  4. Give her the chance to retrieve her paci, but continue to do it yourselves if you sense an escalation in her cries/fussing.
  5. Repeat for a few nights, then unswaddle the other arm.
  6. Once she’s sleeping with both arms out, try transitioning her to a regular wearable blanket or SleepSack.

As she gets older and more capable of retrieving the pacifier herself (which will be easier if you leave her multiple ones to fumble for), your late-night visits SHOULD go away on their own. If they don’t, then that’s a sign that it’s more about her demanding YOU and your presence, rather than just a pacifier. While my youngest never took a pacifier, around 8 months is when I realized his wakings were more and more about me and an increasing resistance to even trying to self soothe. So I would go in, give him a pat, turn on his crib soother and leave. The crib soother would turn off and my Ferber countdown began. 3 minutes, 5, 8, 10, etc. Eventually he got impatient and would roll over and turn on the crib soother himself, then go to sleep. But again, that process happened a couple months AFTER we weaned him off swaddling, which is a Whole Thing in and off itself. Focus on that for now, keep it gentle and gradual, and see what happens.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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