Making the switch from using a swaddle for sleep, to using a sleep sack can be a scary transition. And not just for baby, but for mom too! If your baby is used to being swaddled for bed, then they are used to being very snug and cozy while sleeping. Their Moro reflex is controlled by a well wrapped swaddle which keeps them from startling themselves awake. Taking the swaddle away often leads to a lot of flailing limbs, wiggling babies who aren’t used to so much freedoms and frustration for everyone because it’s harder to sleep. And for us moms, we’re scare to make the witch because we don’t want to risk losing any of the little sleep we’re already getting (or not getting!).
But more often then not, when parents are making this switch it’s because it is no longer safe to keep their baby swaddled. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that once a baby is showing signs of rolling a swaddle is no longer appropriate for sleep. This is often around 3 months of age but obviously can vary for different babies. But I decided to start the transition for my little guy around 8 weeks. He wasn’t showing signs of rolling but I knew it’d be coming and I wanted to make the slowest transition possible rather than feeling rushed to get him out of the swaddle immediately.
Here’s the scoop on my plan of attack for this first major sleep transition:
1. One Arm Out
So I’ll be transparent and say we did try to go cold turkey just to see what would happen. But my little guy who always went to sleep pretty easily at night just could NOT get to sleep when he wasn’t swaddled so after about 30 minutes I scrapped the cold turkey and decided on a different approach. Instead, I opted to get him out of the swaddle one limb at a time.
So I swaddled him, leaving one arm out of the swaddle and he settled right down like usual and his sleep was pretty much the same that evening with maybe a few extra arm wiggles. We stuck with one arm out for about a week, maybe even 10 days. This might seem like a long time but like I said I wanted to make the transition slow to hopefully keep the sleep disruptions to a minimum. Once I was confident he was comfortable with one arm out, we moved to the next level of our transition.
2. Both Arms Out
Next up was leaving both arms out. At first glance, having both arms out of a swaddle might make the swaddle seem pointless but its not! The swaddle is still giving them that snug and secure, wrapped up feeling around their core. This gives them a much higher sense of security and stillness then total free reign with no swaddle at all. This stage was a little tougher than the first because his Moro reflex was still pretty strong at this age so he would occasionally wake himself up when he startled. So the first day or two of this stage, it definitely took a little longer to get him to sleep but his overall night sleep stayed pretty consistent. After another week of this, I felt like he was comfortable and ready for the last phase.
3. Sleep Sack
This is the hardest phase, because it removes any sense of “tightness” that they’ve been used to. So the most important thing for me here was finding a good quality sleep sack that would give him the most snug feeling while still being safe. I tried a lot of different ones during this process with Caden Lane being the one we stuck with! It’s a 1.0 tog but has a good weight to it because of the double layered quilted lining. It’s bamboo fabric so it’s breathable but very cozy and soft. And it fit him great so there wasn’t extra fabric bunching up around the neck or shoulders which would have been a hazard. When we moved to this sleep sack, he was a champ and slept great!
It was night and day different from the first time we tried to go cold turkey. I think it is largely due to the fact that it had been just over two weeks at this point since he’d been fully swaddled. He had become used to having his arms loose and had adjusted to the little startles of his Moro reflex that were still hanging around. And he rolled over about a week later so it was PERFECT timing!
What About Naps?
Naps were definitely harder for us. Unlike bedtime where he pretty much went right to sleep most nights, my little guy had always needed more support at nap time. Therefore I was a bit more hesitant to make the switch at naps. He was already cat napper, often only napping for 30 minutes at a time. So I was worried I’d lose even the short chunks of time I had to get things done. So I decided to just do night sleep at first. I didn’t even touch naps. As I mentioned, he wasn’t showing rolling signs when we started so I wasn’t concerned about safety. By starting with nights I was hoping I could get him used to the sleep sack in the environment he slept better in and then it would hopefully be easier to transfer that to his naps.
Once we had success at night time, I moved my focus to naps. I went through the same transition I described above. I felt like even though he was sleeping full unswaddled at night, he would still need an adjustment period during naps. So I did a condensed version. First, I started having him nap with one arm out for about 3 days. I alternated which arm I left out at each nap. Then I did about 3 days of both arms out and finally moved to the sleep sack. I didn’t feel like he needed as long for each phase since it wasn’t a totally unfamiliar sensation, just a couple days to get used to it.
He still needed a bit more support to fall asleep at naps, but this wasn’t new behavior for him. And his nap length didn’t change- actually it started to get longer a few weeks after we made the switch! And because he did start rolling right around this time I was relieved that both nights and naps were taken care of.
So what would be my top tips for making this go smoothly for your family?
- Start Early! Don’t wait until you absolutely HAVE to make the switch. Give yourself and your baby time to adjust.
- Go Slow. With each part of the transition, give it a few days to be sure that your baby is comfortable in that new sleep environment before making the next adjustment.
- High Quality Sleep Sacks are a Must! To make the transition as smooth as possible, you want to keep as much of the secure, cozy feeling as possible. So a high quality sleep sack is worth it’s weight in gold! Go grab yourself at least two of these (one to wear, one to wash), you will not be disappointed!
- Start with whichever type of sleep is easier for your baby. If like my little guy nights are easier than naps, start there. If your baby conks out for naps in 2 seconds and struggles to sleep at all during the night I’d start with naps. Then let that new level of comfort carry over into the more challenging sleep times.
- Temperament Matters. I would be remiss if I didn’t include this. Some babies just sleep better than others. This is a fact. If you try all of these things and your baby still has a hard time without the swaddle, do not beat yourself up! Some babies are unicorns that sleep great no matter what! And some babies need a lot more support to sleep, no matter how slow you transition them. Know that no matter which category your baby falls into, you’re doing a great job!
You’ve Got This Mama!!
I know you’ve heard that it’s hard and scary and will send your baby back to their worst sleep when you make this transition. And I have no doubt that this information comes from very real stories from very tired mamas. But I hope, hearing my story and how our family managed this helps you to know it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. I hope you find that your little one does just as well as ours did making this change.