Is your newborn breaking out of being swaddled?
Are you a new parent lost and confused on what to do?
Worry not, we’ve got you.
The technique of keeping babies swaddled has been around for so long, and for good reason. Swaddling your baby is supposed to imitate the feeling of being inside the womb!
Introduction to Swaddling
Being swaddled is especially helpful for premature babies — many NICUs promote swaddling to make them feel more secure.
It’s supposed to make the baby feel hugged and, therefore, safe.
The feeling of safety then brings calm to the baby, letting her relax enough to fall asleep without fussing all night.
That means more sleep for you too!
So if you’re smelling trouble because your baby wants her hands out of the swaddle, we’re here to help out.
We’ll also be answering other related questions you may have regarding swaddling and WHEN and HOW to transition your baby out of it when it’s time.
Is It OK If My Baby’s Hands Come Out of the Swaddle?
The good news is YES!
You don’t have to abandon swaddling forever if your baby wants their hands out of the swaddle.
Swaddling with the baby’s arms out is perfectly safe as long as she’s swaddled tight.
You don’t even have to transition her into an arms-swaddled wrap later on. You could just stick to having the baby’s arms always being free every time you swaddle her.
It will also make transitioning out of the swaddle easier when the time comes.
When Should Babies’ Hands Be Out of the Swaddle?
From the newborn stage to about 2 -4 months old, most babies are fine with swaddling the traditional way.
After this, you could slowly transition her from swaddling by putting one arm out. You could start with your baby’s left arm first and see if it works for a few nights.
Then you can move on to both arms out and then let go of the swaddle altogether.
What to Do If Baby Keeps Getting Hands Out of the Swaddle
If your baby starts to take one arm (or both arms) out of the swaddle by the time she’s 2- 4 months old, she’s probably telling you it’s time for a swaddle transition out.
If she’s younger than 2 months, maybe she just prefers it that way, and you could stop swaddling with her arms in it in the first place.
How Long Does It Take for a Baby to Get Used to Arms Out of the Swaddle?
Sometimes the baby sleeps the first night soundly when her arms are taken out of the swaddle, and sometimes it takes a few more nights to adjust.
If your baby is having a hard time getting used to her arms out of the swaddle, try easing her out of it slower (more on that later).
Start with one arm out, and take more nights to get her used to it before moving on to both arms.
Is It Okay to Swaddle a Newborn With Arms Out?
If your newborn breaks her arms out of the swaddle, you don’t have to worry too much.
It’s perfectly okay to swaddle her with her arms free. Just make sure the swaddle is snug enough around the baby’s chest for her to be able to self-soothe.
Why Babies Break Out of the Swaddle in the First Place
Here are a few reasons why…
Reason #1: Swaddle Isn’t Snug
The swaddle is supposed to feel like a hug. It mimics the same comforting experience babies used to feel inside the womb. It helps them transition to the outside world.
If it isn’t tight enough to make your baby feel safe in that snug swaddle hug, babies tend to feel anxious. Then your newborn breaks out of it and fusses.
Newborn babies also have a startle reflex, an involuntary motor response where they extend their arms and throw their heads back (sometimes accompanied by crying) whenever they get startled.
This reflex can be triggered by almost anything: sudden movements, loud noises, intense light, or even their own movements.
If the snug swaddle isn’t tight enough, especially around your baby’s chest, their own movements can also trigger this reflex and keep them wide awake all night long.
So make sure to swaddle them tightly, but not TOO tightly!
Reason #2: Wrong Swaddle Blanket Size
If you have a loose swaddle blanket for your little guy, chances are you have a lot of extra material left over after you’re done with the swaddle wrap.
That extra fabric could find its way to your baby’s face, or your baby might break free of the swaddle wrap and get tangled up in it, posing a SIDS risk (or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Make sure to get a blanket that’s just the right size for your baby.
The rule of the thumb is that you get to wrap the blanket tight enough around your baby’s chest and WITHOUT the extra fabric when you’re done swaddling your baby.
Also, it’s best to use a muslin fabric swaddle. It’s LIGHTWEIGHT and BREATHABLE, giving your baby burrito the ultimate comfort!
Is It Normal for Newborns to Hate Being Swaddled?
Well, sometimes YES.
Like adults, many babies, even as young as newborns, already have preferences.
If your newborn baby hates swaddle time, chances are there’s something in the swaddling routine that the baby reacts negatively to.
Maybe it isn’t swaddling itself that your baby hates so much. Maybe you just need to try out a new technique.
What to Do If Your Baby Hates Being Swaddled
Check out a couple of our newborn sleep tips…
1. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Make your own bedtime routine with things like a nice warm bath followed by lullabies. You could swaddle her right after the bath and before the lullabies. You could also incorporate feeding into the mix.
Start the routine at the same hour every night, so she gets used to it.
She’ll start looking forward to your night sleep routine in no time!
2. Stop Traditional Swaddling
She might prefer swaddling with one or both arms free, or she isn’t very fond of cotton muslin fabric and feels more comfortable in bamboo sheets or jersey.
Experiment with a few different methods, and you’re sure to find something that will create the dream swaddle your newborn will be perfectly content with.
Frequently Asked Questions About Swaddling
What Age Do Babies Get Out of Swaddles?
Ideally, babies should outgrow the swaddling by the time they are 2 – 4 months old.
According to AAP guidelines, you should immediately stop swaddling the moment they can rollover.
At the age of 2 months old, babies can already roll back tummy first. Some babies can keep doing it continuously, while others take a few months more to master it.
Can My Baby Sleep Without a Swaddle Blanket?
It can be tempting to keep using the swaddle since it’s what makes your baby sleep soundly at night, but the short answer is that eventually, YES.
You will be able to put your baby to sleep without a swaddle. Just make sure you ease her out of the swaddling properly and slowly.
Your baby hates changes in their routine (especially if you already follow a consistent bedtime routine), and suddenly bidding the swaddle goodbye will most definitely bring sleep regression.
A great transition alternative to the swaddle is the sleep sack.
It’s like a looser form of the swaddle with holes for arms, so your baby gets used to not having her arms straight all night long like inside the swaddle.
When Should I Stop Swaddling My Baby?
It’s best to start transitioning your baby’s body out of the swaddle BEFORE she starts rolling over.
Typically, as soon as she shows signs that she might roll over soon. This happens when she is at 2 – 4 months of age.
Babies also start to lose their startle reflex at around 3 months, which is what the swaddle protects them from.
So 2 to 4 months old is when you should gradually get your child to adjust to sleeping without being swaddled.
Although, many parents might miss these signs, so you could also opt to start transitioning from the swaddle as soon as their 2-month-old mark is nearing.
Tips for Transitioning Out of the Swaddle
Most babies (and parents) have difficulty leaving the swaddle routine, so here are a few tips to make that part easier…
Tip #1: Look Out for Signs of Rolling Over
You don’t want to take out the swaddle entirely suddenly without proper easing out of it.
Abandoning the swaddle cold turkey (without an adjustment period) will most likely bring with it sleep regression and stress to both your baby and you.
So what’s a new parent got to do?
First, watch out if your baby shows signs of rolling over because that is the perfect time to start transitioning her.
Now, how do you know it’s a sign she will be able to roll over soon?
If your baby tries to turn on her side.
You’ll know she’s making an attempt if she starts:
- Lifting or pushing her head from the bed
- Lifting her legs while laying on her back and trying to move her hips
- Rolling onto her shoulders
- Rolling from side to side using her hips
Or you also opt to…
Tip #2: Stop the Swaddle Routine Early
You want to avoid being the parent who misses the signs and suddenly has to completely abandon swaddling now that your new baby has started rolling over.
So BEFORE she even shows the signs, you can already start transitioning her out of the swaddle. Many babies have no problem leaving the swaddle when it’s done properly and slowly.
Here’s how new parents can do it:
While your baby is still used to being swaddled tight, put her arm on the left side out. Get her used to this, then take both arms out.
If your baby is already being swaddled without her arms inside, congratulations! You can skip this step and head on over to the next.
Start using a swaddle sack. It’s like a swaddle, but it’s loose on the legs and the rest of the body. It also has holes in the sides for your baby’s arms.
Another name for it is the wearable blanket. It isn’t safe for babies yet to sleep with an actual loose blanket before they are at least one year old, so this would last the baby a while.
Wearable blankets are also safe enough for your baby when she rolls over. If your baby wants to, she can also easily reposition herself if she has trouble breathing or sleeping.
It does not limit her range of motion, so it’s also a great solution when you suddenly find your baby rolling over and have to stop the swaddle suddenly.
Now that we’ve met the swaddle blanket, let’s take the adjustment period one step slower and easier.
You could opt to trade the swaddle blanket for the sleep sack altogether, or you could also alternate between a newborn sleep swaddle and sleep sack for a few nights first to get your baby better adjusted.
And that’s it! You can ditch the swaddle completely when you feel that she’s ready.
What If I Didn’t See the Signs and I Just Saw the Baby Start Rolling Over?
STOP having her sleep while swaddled AT ONCE.
Once your baby can roll over, it poses a risk of suffocation if you keep your baby in the swaddle.
It will be harder to leave the swaddle without the convenience of the adjustment period. You might find that your baby fights the sudden loss of the swaddle. Baby might even fuss for longer and keep you awake all night.
A good replacement for the swaddle that will retain some of the snug feeling she’s gotten used to in the swaddle is the sleep sack.
It still comfortably wraps around your baby’s body while being safe enough since it won’t restrict her movements.
More Tips to Soothe Baby to Sleep
It can be tempting to put your baby back in the swaddle when she fusses too much. But don’t give in! Try these instead…
Singing or Talking Softly
Usually, the mere presence of a parent is enough to make your baby feel snug and safe enough to sleep. Keep reminding her of your presence by talking to her softly or singing baby a lullaby.
It isn’t really important what your words say or which lullaby you sing. The only thing your baby wants is to feel you around them.
Maybe what your baby wants is the comfort of having something to suck on. Give her a pacifier, or even try breast or bottle feeding.
Remember not to let your baby to rely on a pacifier too much! You’ll have to resort to some pacifier replacements or alternatives as they grow older.
If all else fails, a sure way to calm your baby and put her to sleep is to pick her up. Holding your baby in your arms should do the trick if it’s the feeling of being swaddled and hugged that she misses.
You can keep holding your baby as she drifts off to sleep and put her down when she’s all settled, or just carry her until she calms down enough to put herself to sleep.
From your newborn breaking out of the swaddle to transitioning out of it, we hope we helped answer your questions and calm some of your worries.
Raising a baby is one of the greatest joys in life, but sometimes it can also be frustrating, and that’s normal too!
Just continue what you’re doing, asking questions, researching, and looking into your own parental instinct. After all, all you want is to make your child the happiest baby they can be!
August 4, 2022 – minor content edits