Transitioning from the swaddle to a sleep sack!

I am often asked how to transition a baby from being swaddled to having their arms free and sleeping with a sleep sack, and why use a sleep sack and not just regular thick pajamas?

In my opinion the best time to transition your baby out of the swaddle is at 4months old. This is when your baby’s nervous system has matured enough and now he won’t be constantly waking himself with jerky hand movements from the moro reflex. You need to transition your baby gradually. I recommend swaddling your baby with one arm out first. Let him sleep like this at night time and during the day for 5 days. Bear in mind, that the first night or two your baby is going to be a little restless as he gets used to the feeling of having his arm free. Then 5 days later, swaddle your baby with both arms out. ¬†Again your baby will probably take a couple of nights to transition. Having both arms out will be quite strange for him and often you will see he will wake himself with the movement of his arms. To help make this a little easier, I like to offer a transitional object. A great transitional object is a baby blankie or lovey. if you place the blankie, in one of your baby’s hands this will allow your baby to feel it as he goes to sleep. Being swaddled, your baby has gotten used to feeling of the swaddle blanket, so this gives your baby something to replace that blanket feeling. After five days of swaddling with both arms out you can switch to using a sleep sack. This should be an easier transition for your baby as he is already used to sleeping with both arms free.

I prefer to use a sleep sack instead of warm pajamas because it will resemble a blanket a little more than pajamas will. Not to mention if you have an active baby, it will take him a little longer to be able to move as freely in the sleep sack as he could do in pajamas. I’ve known a few little ones who, when they are bigger like to swing their legs up and over the side of the crib, this is less easy to do in a sleep sack! It is absolutely fine to use a sleep sack until your baby moves into a big bed. As long as he is in a bed by about two and a half years old.

Why does swaddling help?

Do babies really like to be swaddled? Absolutely!

When your baby is born his nervous system is still very immature, and swaddling helps your baby settle and relax and sleep better. The moro reflex (also known as the startle reflex) is present in infants and newborns for up to 4-5 months. So when your baby moves his arms in a sudden jerking motion, this is the moro reflex and this will constantly wake your baby from the sleep cycle and so the baby doesn’t get the rest that is needed. A newborn needs to sleep anywhere from 15-18hrs per day. If your baby is constantly waking itself like this you will end up with a very tired and fussy baby. This is what swaddling helps to eliminate.

It keeps your baby’s arms beside their bodies and gives the baby a chance to get deep restful sleep. Even if it appears that your baby will fight the swaddle initially, it is still the best thing. It also becomes part of the important routine with teaching your baby to sleep, they associate the swaddling with sleeping time and it helps them to relax in anticipation of sleep. Some babies on waking will wiggle and get their arms free of the swaddle, (obviously the tighter the swaddle the less likely this will happen) but even though your baby get his arms out this doesn’t mean he doesn’t like the swaddle. It simply means you have an active baby, who probably needs the swaddle more to get the right amount of necessary sleep needed.

As the moro reflex subsides around 4-5 months this is the right time to transition your baby out of their swaddle. They are able now to sleep without constantly startling themselves awake. The best way to transition your baby is to start by swaddling your baby with one arm out for 3-4 nights then swaddle with both arms out for 3-4 nights. At this point you may want to transiton your baby into a sleep sack as this is the best way to keep your baby warm without having blankets in the crib that they could get tangled up in.

Happy swaddling!