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The first 3 months after birth, also known as “the fourth trimester,” is a period of major change for your little one — but in a good way.
For 40 weeks (give or take), your baby had a safe, warm home inside your womb — and now they must adjust to the outside world. It’s a jarring experience for a newborn, to say the least. And as the person they rely on for everything, you want to make this transition as peaceful as possible — which is why you might swaddle your baby.
Swaddling involves snuggly wrapping your baby’s body with a blanket or a swaddling product. The purpose is simple: to give your baby comfort and security as they ease into the world.
But while swaddling has a calming effect on newborns, it isn’t something you’ll do forever. You’ll eventually need to transition your baby out of a swaddle, when they’re about 3 to 5 months old. Let’s take a closer look at how to do this.
If your baby is comfortable, content, and sleeping well in their swaddle, why transition them at all?
This is a good question. But it’s important to remember that swaddling isn’t meant to be permanent — it’s a temporary method to help newborns adjust to life outside of womb. In fact, swaddling can become dangerous as a baby becomes older and more mobile.
One sign that it’s time to transition out of a swaddle is your baby starting to turn over on their side or stomach. A swaddled baby shouldn’t sleep facedown, as this is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
It’s also time to transition if there’s evidence that your baby no longer likes swaddling, in which case they fight the swaddle or wiggle themselves out of the blanket at night.
And you might stop swaddling once your baby’s startle reflex decreases. This is an involuntary movement response that babies have after birth, usually in response to loud sounds. Swaddling reduces this reflex, helping newborns feel more secure.
Although every baby eventually transitions — they won’t be wearing their swaddle when they go off to college, after all, though they might sport a Snuggie — getting them used to sleeping without the wrap can take a few days. Here are some methods and tips to make the transition a little easier.
There’s no way to know how a baby will transition until the process begins. So some parents take a “cold turkey” approach. They remove the blanket or swaddle entirely, and then see how their baby responds to the change.
Some babies instantly adjust, whereas it takes other babies a few nights — so mentally prepare for a little crying. The cold turkey method might be better on babies who are good at self-soothing.
If your newborn is still learning how to calm themselves, abruptly getting rid of the swaddle could disrupt their sleep (and yours).
Partial night swaddling
Another method is a partial night swaddle. Your baby starts off sleeping without the swaddle, and sleeps this way for about half or a third of the night.
If your baby wakes up fussy, you can swaddle them for the remainder of the night. The ideal, though, is for your baby to sleep longer and longer without swaddling each night, until they’re able to go the entire night unswaddled.
It’s important that you start this method before your baby can roll over. Once you see them roll over, even if it seems to be a one-off done accidentally, a swaddle isn’t safe for any portion of the night.
Swaddle with one arm in, and one arm out
Another method for a gradual transition is to swaddle your baby with one arm in the swaddle and one arm out. This approach gives your baby the security and comfort they’re used to, while getting them used to sleeping without the blanket.
Start with one arm out for a couple of nights, and then both arms out for a couple of nights (or more) before completely removing the blanket.
You can use this method with a regular swaddle blanket. Or, purchase a swaddle that allows the arms to be in or out. Consider these two available online: Nested Bean Zen Swaddle or the embé 2-Way Transition Swaddle Sack.
Use a sleep suit
Putting your baby in a sleep suit, also known as a wearable blanket, is another effective method to transition out of a swaddle. There are different designs. Some suits have a slightly weighted pad in the center which mimics the soft touch of a hand resting on a newborn’s chest.
Sleep suits provide comfort and security and reduce a baby’s startle reflex. Some look like onesies but have slightly longer openings for the legs and arms. Others look like a quilted blanket.
They’re also thicker and warmer than a onesie or pajamas, so don’t use a sleep suit if your baby has a fever. A couple of options available online include the Baby Merlins Magic Cotton Sleep Suit or the Halo SleepSack.
Use a swaddle strap
This is also an effective product to gradually transition a baby from a full swaddle. You’ll open the strap, lay your baby in the middle between the soft supports, and then wrap each end of the strap around your baby’s chest.
It’s an arm-only swaddle, so your baby’s legs and feet are free, allowing them to adjust to sleeping without being snuggly wrapped. Some straps are designed to keep both arms in, whereas others allow for one or both arms out. Options available online include the SwaddleMe Love Sack Swaddle Wrap (which does have a sack area for the feet, so it’s not strictly a strap) and the Anna and Eve Baby Swaddle Strap.
As you go through the transition process, keep in mind that you don’t have to stop swaddling during nap time and bedtime simultaneously.
If your baby doesn’t have an issue sleeping at bedtime, the nighttime transition might be instant or only take a couple of days. But your baby may have some difficulty sleeping during the day without their swaddle. If so, you might continue swaddling during naps, if your baby isn’t rolling over yet.
Also, if you want to stop swaddling cold turkey, start during nap time (so that you don’t lose nighttime sleep). If your baby responds well, they might be able to stop cold turkey at night, too. But if your baby doesn’t respond well, they might need a gradual transition.
Consider other ways to soothe your baby during this change. Some babies transition easier when there’s soothing music in the background during nap time or bedtime. This can calm and help them sleep better.
Some parents rock their baby during this transition, too. However, if you haven’t previously rocked your baby to sleep, you probably don’t want to start now. The idea is to help your baby self-soothe and fall asleep on their own. If you start rocking, this is another habit that you’ll have to break.
Swaddling is an excellent way to help a baby transition from the womb to the world. But at some point — around 3 to 5 months old — babies have to transition out of the full swaddle.
Your baby might fuss or have trouble sleeping during this period, but don’t give up. It’ll get better and you’ll both be able to sleep soundly throughout the night — and these milestones in independence will continue.