Swaddling 101: The Pros, Cons, and When to Stop

newborn sleep startle reflex swaddles swaddling Apr 19, 2022

If you are a parent to a brand new baby or have a baby on the way, it’s important to understand the risks and benefits of using a swaddle! It’s common to hear how much of a game-changer using a swaddle can be for encouraging longer stretches of sleep with your newborn, but there are certainly some tips and risks you’ll want to consider along the way. 

It may seem like a simple task to swaddle your baby up for sleep, but some babies don’t take to it at first, and if done improperly, it can pose a risk to your little one’s safety. Once you’ve got it figured out though, swaddling can be a helpful tool that can soothe your baby and even remind them of the womb!

All babies are born with a startle reflex, which can often be disruptive to sleep and wake them too soon - leading to them becoming overly tired. Swaddling helps calm this startle reflex and supports more restful and longer stretches of sleep.

Pros and Cons of Swaddling Your Baby 

During the “fourth trimester,” newborns are just getting used to life outside the womb. As parents, we want to do everything we can to make this new experience as comfortable as possible for them! The swaddle is a great way to help your baby feel safe, warm, and contained during sleep, and even when they’re fussy.

(Check out this blog for even more ways to help calm a fussy newborn!)

If you have a newborn, you’ve probably noticed that they are very active during sleep! These involuntary movements are normal, but they can wake your baby and prevent them from getting the essential sound sleep they need. Including a swaddle will help these involuntary movements from waking your baby and allow them to sleep for longer stretches during the night, as well as lengthen daytime naps. 

The cons of using a swaddle appear when it is used incorrectly. The AAP has recommended placing your baby to sleep on their back, which especially applies to babies that are swaddled, as a swaddled baby on their belly poses a danger and increases the risk of SIDS [1]. 

It’s also important to remember to keep in mind the weight of the swaddle you’re using and whether it is too tight. Using a swaddle that is too hot for your baby can lead to overheating (which can increase the risk of SIDS) [2], and using a swaddle that is too tight around your baby’s hips has been associated with developmental hip dysplasia [3]. 

Your baby’s chest and back should feel warm and dry during sleep (not sweaty), and their legs should be able to move freely. Also, for safety reasons, do not swaddle your baby if they are sick with a fever, as this can also lead to overheating.

If you’ve tried swaddling your newborn a few times and it seems like they hate it and you’re ready to give up, consider these 3 things:

  1. If your baby is under 6 weeks and cries every time you swaddle them, don’t give up! Sometimes newborns don’t like the process of being swaddled, but once they’re swaddled they are happier.
  2. Try different swaddles. Is the swaddle blanket you’re using too small? Does your baby dislike having their arms down and would maybe prefer a swaddle that keeps their arms up? Babies have preferences, even this little! Explore if you can and return what doesn’t work.
  3. Try using a transitional swaddle. Some swaddles allow for arm movement, while still helping to soothe the startle reflex. 

When and How to Transition Your Baby Out of the Swaddle

Swaddling is an essential part of baby sleep during the newborn stage. But surprisingly, this phase passes fairly quickly and before you know it, it’s time to transition your baby out of the swaddle. Keep these 3 things in mind when deciding if it’s time to stop swaddling your baby:

  1. The swaddle has become a sleep association: Just like any external object, the swaddle can easily become a prop when it is something a baby NEEDS to fall asleep. Or, when it helps a baby fall asleep, but it no longer helps your baby lengthen naps through a single sleep cycle. 
  2. Your baby has started showing signs of rolling: Rolling is such an exciting developmental milestone for your little one! But, it can also be a “fun” little back and forth game for parents who are waking up in fear a million times a night to roll their baby back over onto their back… If this sounds like your baby, it’s best to immediately stop using the swaddle if you still are! 
  3.  Your baby is 8 weeks old: The safest time to remove the swaddle is by 8 weeks or when you see first attempts at rolling, whichever comes first. If your baby hasn’t started showing signs of rolling yet, but they are nearing 8 weeks old, consider focusing on getting used to a transitional swaddle, starting with one arm out of the swaddle, or moving to both arms out. The concept here is that you don’t want to learn your child can roll while they are swaddled in the middle of the night, and many babies begin to show signs of rolling at as little as 8 weeks. So, this is the most conservative advice for removing the swaddle. 

When the time comes to begin the transition from the swaddle, there are a few options for leaving it behind: 

  • You can try stopping cold turkey. Just remove the swaddle and stick with it! It will be tough for a few days to a week or so, but sticking with it leads to success more quickly. 
  • Try keeping one arm out of the swaddle for several days, then move toward having both arms out.
  • Try a transitional swaddle and follow the recommendations from the manufacturer on age, height, and weight recommendations. 

Transitioning out of the swaddle can be a tough phase with lots of startling awake, but just know that it doesn’t last forever and babies WILL get used to sleeping without a swaddle with lots of practice! 

If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or schedule a call with me for some personalized support. 



[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27244847/ 

[2] [3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28394766/

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