Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
Usually, between 4-6 months, babies are ready to transition out of the swaddle for sleep. This can be a tricky period for your little one, as they have come to associate the swaddle with sleep and it will all be very new for them. Having your baby in a predictable nap pattern for their day will make this transition a lot easier, as you can guarantee they'll be perfectly ready for their naps, which will mean a lot less overtired or undertired fussing once the swaddle is gone.
Firstly, we would also recommend setting up some positive sleep associations and ensuring their sleep environment is spot-on before attempting to ditch the swaddle. Our recommendations are:
- Introduce white noise and play it as loud as a shower for all naps and overnight. You can find our white noise album here.
- Make the room nice and dark with no stimulating toys or nightlights.
- Give your baby an age-appropriate lovey or comforter they can hold once free of the swaddle.
- Encourage your baby to fall asleep independently, or self-settle, without active settling from you, which is much easier to achieve while they're still swaddled!
From there, we have two methods to transition out of the swaddle:
During this transition, keep everything else the same in your baby’s sleep environment: dark room, white noise etc. If you feel it is appropriate, you can add a cuddly for them to hold to help control their newfound freedom with their arms.
This method works by doing the unswaddling bit by bit, nap by nap.
Remove one arm out of the swaddle at the morning nap first, as this is the easiest for your baby to go to sleep. Give them the chance to go to sleep themselves, but if they are struggling you can try actively settling them for a few minutes to help them get to sleep while they get used to not having a swaddle (this might be patting or side settling). For the rest of their naps and overnight, keep both arms in the swaddle for now.
Overnight – once your baby is used to their arm out for the morning nap, take one arm out of the swaddle for their overnight sleep. Keep both arms in for their other daytimes naps for now.
Lunchtime nap - once your baby is used to their arm out for the morning nap and overnight, take one arm out of the swaddle for their lunchtime nap. They may wake after one sleep cycle, in which case you can go and resettle them if you'd like them to sleep longer. Keep both arms in for their late afternoon nap for now; as this is the hardest nap to achieve, try doing this nap in the car or stroller during this transition.
Day 6-7 & Beyond
Once your baby is doing all naps (except the late afternoon nap) with one arm out, take the other arm out, starting with the morning nap and in the same way you did the first arm. Begin with 2 arms out for the morning nap only, then overnight, then lastly the lunchtime nap. They may wake after one sleep cycle for their naps in which case you can go and resettle them back to sleep. Once both arms are out, you can also implement this for the late afternoon nap, but you might find your baby resists settling for this nap so you're best to try and do it in a stroller or front pack.Once free of the swaddle you can put your baby in a baby sleeping bag for all naps and overnight.
It is very normal for your baby to be a bit unsettled during this transition – they just have a new “normal” to adapt to that is very different from what they’ve known. It will get better!
With this method, you go cold turkey on the swaddle for all naps from day 1. You can actively settle your baby to sleep if they’re not settling well, being mindful of reducing the settling after a couple of days so as not to create a new sleep association.
Day 1 might be a bit tricky, but day 2 and 3 will be much easier! For the late afternoon nap, as this is usually a hard nap to get your baby to sleep, we recommend doing this nap in a stroller or in the car during the removal of the swaddle.
Once unswaddled, your baby may also wake one sleep cycle after bedtime. You can resettle them back to sleep if that happens. Do the same with any overnight wakes (allowing for feeds if your baby normally has them).
By day 3 your baby should be getting used to having no swaddle, so ensure you give your baby the chance to settle themselves to sleep if they were previously self-settling.
Any change for your baby is going to be hard, and unswaddling is no exception. What will make this transition much easier is having your baby in a good nap routineso they already have clear sleep associations and expectations.
If you need a hand getting better naps happening with your little one, or troubleshooting tricky patches like losing the swaddle, with our Sleep Programsyou can access not only our world-leading information, but also our exclusive customer support group! Just click here to get started.