By Andrea Grace – Sleep specialist
Swaddling is great way to help very young babies to sleep well. It gives them a really lovely feeling of security and for those babies who need to be held all the time, the gentle pressure of swaddling can replicate the feeling of being held close to you.
Whilst swaddling can be very helpful in the early weeks, some babies struggle with their sleep when the time comes to move on to a sleep bag. Don’t worry – with a bit of thought and planning, you will be able to manage this transition successfully and with confidence.
Should I swaddle or not swaddle my baby?
Not all babies are swaddled of course, but there are a few circumstances which make it helpful as a settling tool.
If baby is startling themselves awake
You might have noticed as your baby is falling asleep, they suddenly twitch or jerk and wake up. These “sleep starts” or myclonic jerks are perfectly normal but in some babies, they can delay the onset of sleep and make the whole process of drifting off a real struggle. Being swaddled prevents the flailing of your baby’s limbs which tends to wake them up.
Babies who have eczema or other itches
By containing a baby’s hands, swaddling prevents them from scratching or rubbing as they go to sleep and during sleep itself. Lots of babies scratch or rub as they fall asleep, and due to the “itch – scratch – itch” cycle, we know that preventing the scratching will also prevent the itching and will lead to better quality sleep.
Babies who are fretful and unsettled
There are many reasons why some babies are more unsettled than others – discomfort and hunger are the most obvious, but sometimes, they just want a cuddle. It would be lovely if they could be held all day and night, but there are times when you have to put them down and swaddling will help to give them a feeling of security.
Is swaddling safe?
Yes, if you follow safe sleeping and safe and hip friendly swaddling guidance for babies. Safe baby sleeping advice is to always lay your little one down to sleep on their back and avoid front or side positions for sleep, especially if your baby is swaddled.
You should stop swaddling your baby when they show the first signs of rolling over.
Check out our guide to swaddling safely.
When is it time to stop swaddling?
Every baby is different and there is no set time when you should stop swaddling. Many babies enjoy being swaddled for several months whilst others will become frustrated by their restricted movement from as early as 2-3 months.
The most important factor to consider is safety and your baby’s movement. Swaddled babies should not sleep on their front, so when your baby is able to roll onto their front, you should think about stopping swaddling. You should be especially cautious when they are not yet able to roll back onto their back.
The best way to get rid of the swaddle
Your baby might struggle to go to sleep when you get first rid of the swaddle. It will feel strange to them if they are used to falling asleep easily with it on. Indeed, you may have even noticed them becoming sleepy as soon see their swaddling cloth.
The main key to helping your baby sleep without a swaddle is not to allow swaddling to become your baby’s only sleep trigger. From an early age, you should introduce some other sleep signifiers at bed time which will still let them know that sleepy time is coming and will help them to settle even though the swaddle has gone. These sleep triggers should include:
- A similar bed time routine using familiar phrases /songs etc
- A nightly bath
- Milk feed – with a dim light on to prevent your baby from falling asleep over the feed
- Goodnight song or story – same one each night
- Into the cot awake but sleepy, to settle for the night
For a few days before planning to remove the swaddle completely, you should stop swaddling your baby’s arms and just wrap their legs and body up to chest height. At the same time, you should gradually loosen the tension of the swaddling. Our Grobag Snuggle features special poppers on the arms so you can wrap baby arms in for a safe and snug swaddle or arms out as they transition to a baby sleep bag. If you feel that your baby misses the feeling of pressure from the swaddle, you place your arm gently across their upper body. As they start to settle, you can then take your arm away.
And although it is possible that you might have a night or two of less settled sleep, your baby will soon get used the change.