A common image of a newborn is wrapped up like a burrito, snuggly and warm.
The swaddle is a great comfort that promotes great sleep by reminding Baby of the womb and reducing the startling Moro reflex.
But, the day comes (all too soon) when it’s time to transition out of the swaddle.
It’s so hard to take away an element that helps so much with sleep, but
safety always trumps sleep
It’s simply not safe to have a baby that can roll, with limited head and neck control, swaddled (ie. their arms strapped to their sides rendering them unable to use them should they roll to their bellies and need the leverage.)
When your little burrito is showing signs of rolling or they’re 12 weeks old, it’s time to transition.
Commonly the signs appear and the transition happens between 8-12 weeks old, with the “sweet spot” often being around 10 weeks old.
Typically babies roll from belly to back first, so if during tummy time your little one is lifting their head up and tipping it back and to the side - the transition is soon coming.
If during tummy time they’re propping up to their forearms or hands on their own and tipping their head back and to the side - the time has come to transition.
If they’re already rolling and are swaddled for sleep - there is no transition. Cold turkey, take their arms out of the swaddle.
If your baby isn’t rolling yet, but they’re 12 weeks old, it’s time to transition. They will be rolling soon and, at this age, the swaddle can become more of a hindrance than a help.
If you’re only seeing signs of rolling or your baby is 12 weeks old, the transition can look one of two ways (either way will take no longer than 3-6 days):
Take one arm out of the swaddle while keeping the other one in for a day or 2.
After that day or 2, take the other arm out and tuck the formerly free arm back in for a day or two.
Then take both arms out and keep the swaddle snug around their torso for a day or two.
Alternate taking each arm out of the swaddle while the other is tucked in each sleep.
After 2-3 days keep both arms out and have the swaddle snug around their torso.
Neither way is easier or better than the other, it’s just personal preference.
⭐️A note on the Zipadee Zip: I’m comfortable recommending it because it doesn’t discourage a baby’s range of motion, the arms are free moving so the baby can use them easily, and they come in a range of sizes so they can be worn for much longer.
How not to transition out of the swaddle:
Using the Magic Merlin.
Though the baby’s arms are free in the Magic Merlin sleepsuit, they’re weighed down and that weight discourages the natural movements babies make while sleeping. This lack of movement increases the chances of plagiocephaly (flat head) and, ultimately, the suit doesn’t remove or ease a transition, it just delays it.
How to ease the transition
Just like just about every other hiccup you’ll face when it comes to your baby’s sleep, it coincides with a developmental progression - this one being rolling.
So, the best way to help ease this transition is to provide your baby with plenty of opportunities to practice their new skill while awake - lots of tummy time and floor time!
The ideal time for tummy time is right after they wake up and before they eat. They’re typically the happiest after sleep and since they haven’t eaten yet, their belly isn’t full, creating a lesser chance of them spitting up. Aim for multiple sessions a day for small amounts of time - 5+ sessions at 3-5 minutes each. Over time they’ll be able to handle longer sessions, but starting small will help ease them into it and reduce any burden you may feel about. (But do what you can - one minute is better than no minutes.)
You can also help them practice rolling with “the sushi roll”.
The sushi roll:
Fold a swaddle blanket in half, corner to corner, to make a triangle and fold the folded edge to the top of the triangle. Lay the blanket on the floor and your baby on top of the blanket on their back towards one of the ends of the blanket. Then, you get down on your knees by their feet, grab both ends of the blanket, one end in each hand. Holding on tightly, slowly lift the end of the blanket that your baby is closest to while using the other hand to guide the blanket in support of your baby to gently roll them to their belly. Once they’re on their belly, slowly lift the other end of the blanket to gently roll them to their back. Only help as much as they need, encouraging them to use their own strength to get from one side to the next. Obviously, play around with the folding and positioning of the blanket so you and your baby are most comfortable, but this is a great way to assist them in and teach them to roll!
Whenever and however you transition out of the swaddle, it’s going to [very likely] create a hiccup in their sleep. But, it’s going to be just that, a hiccup. The Moro reflex stops completely by 4-6 months old, so stay consistent in your routines and the healthy habits you’ve established and they will adjust even before the Moro reflex disappears!
If you’re struggling with healthy sleep habits and routines, check out the packages I offer here (including a new and improved Newborn Sleep Guide!) or book a free (no-pressure-to-buy-a-thing) 15-minute call to find the best package for you and your family.
Sweet dreams are possible!