When is the best time to stop swaddling and how to go about it.
By Andrea Grace – Sleep specialist
Swaddling is great way to help very young babies to sleep well. It gives them a really lovely feeling of security and for those babies who need to be held all the time, the gentle pressure of swaddling can replicate the feeling of being held close to you. Whilst swaddling can be very helpful in the early weeks, some babies struggle with their sleep when the time comes to move on to a Gro bag or sheets and blankets. Don’t worry – with a bit of thought and planning, you will be able to manage this transition successfully and with confidence.
So why swaddle in the first place?
Not all babies are swaddled of course, but there are a few circumstances which make it helpful as a settling tool.
Startling themselves awake. You might have noticed as your baby is falling asleep, they suddenly twitch or jerk and wake up. These “sleep starts” or myclonic jerks are perfectly normal but in some babies they can delay the onset of sleep and make the whole process of drifting off a real struggle. Being swaddled prevents the flailing of your baby’s limbs which tends to wake them up.
Babies who have eczema or other itches. By containing a baby’s hands, swaddling prevents them from scratching or rubbing as they go to sleep and during sleep itself. Lots of babies scratch or rub as they fall asleep, and due to the “itch – scratch – itch” cycle, we know that preventing the scratching will also prevent the itching and will lead to better quality sleep.
Babies who are fretful and unsettled. There are many reasons why some babies are more unsettled than others – discomfort and hunger are the most obvious, but sometimes, they just want a cuddle! It would be lovely if they could be held all day and night, but there are times when you have to put them down and swaddling will help to give them a feeling of security.
Is swaddling safe?
A recent study suggested that because swaddling causes babies to sleep more soundly, it could potentially put them at risk. The Lullaby Trust (Formerly The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths) neither advises for nor against swaddling but it does advise some caution.
The safest way to swaddle is to do it from birth rather than suddenly introduce swaddling at the vulnerable age of 3 months [when the SIDS risk is highest.]
Use a light cotton material and make sure that the swaddling finishes at shoulder height. Your baby’s head must be uncovered.
Never place your baby on their tummy – especially when they are swaddled.
When is it time to stop swaddling?
Every baby is different and there is no set time when you should get rid of the swaddling. Many babies enjoy being swaddled for several months whilst others will become frustrated by their restricted movement from as early as 2-3 months.
The most important factor to consider is safety and your baby’s movement. Swaddled babies should not sleep on their front, so when your baby is able to roll onto their front, you should think about getting rid of the swaddling. You should be especially cautious when they are not yet able to roll back onto their back.
The best way to get rid of the swaddle
Your baby might struggle to go to sleep when you get first rid of the swaddling. It will feel strange to them if they are used to falling asleep easily with it on. Indeed, you may have even noticed them becoming sleepy as soon see their swaddling cloth!
The main key to helping them to sleep without it is to not allow the swaddling to become your baby’s only sleep trigger. From an early age, you should introduce some other sleep signifiers at bed time which will still let them know that sleepy time is coming and will help them to settle even though the swaddle has gone. These sleep triggers should include:
• A similar bed time “script” using familiar phrases /songs etc. during the routine.
• A nightly bath.
• Milk feed – with the light on to prevent your baby from falling asleep over the feed.
• Goodnight song or story – same one each night.
• Into the cot awake but sleepy, to settle for the night.
For a few days before planning to get rid of the swaddling completely, you should stop swaddling your baby’s arms and just wrap their legs and body up to chest height. At the same time, you should gradually loosen the tension of the swaddling. If you feel that your baby misses the feeling of pressure from the swaddle, you can either cover them with a sheet, tucked firmly into the sides of the cot or put them in a Grobag and place your arm gently across their upper body. As they start to settle, you can then take your arm away.
And although it is possible that you might have a night or two of less settled sleep, your baby will soon get used the change.