Advice on Breaking Baby of Dependence on Swaddling

Updated on August 22, 2008
A.D. asks from Raleigh, NC
16 answers

Hello, Helpful Moms. I have a wonderful 3-month old son who overall is a very good sleeper. My challenge is that he sleeps well only when tightly swaddled, but now that he is bigger and stronger, he breaks out of the swaddle too easily and wakes himself up. I am using the Swaddle-Me blankets with velcro fasteners and I swaddle him very tightly, but he can still get a hand or a foot out when he goes into the lighter sleep phase. Basically, the swaddling no longer works, and I am wondering if any of you have had experience with weening your baby off the need to be swaddled. He goes to sleep well without the swaddle but wakes up at the 40-minutes point when he goes from deep to lighter sleep. Because he tends to touch his face when he wakes, I put his hands in mitts to reduce the friction and prevent him from scratching himself. I have even tried a sleep positioner as a way to ween him from the swaddling, but this has not worked. Any advice you have would be great, because we are starting to back-track on sleep progress. Thanks!

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So What Happened?

Thank you to everyone who responded to my request. After hearing many of your stories, I came to the conclusion that my son needs to be swaddled a little longer. I was not necessarily eager to break him of the habit, but did not know how to successfully keep him in the swaddle through the night. One of you suggested a technique to pin his arms down using a blanket folded into a triangle along his backside, using two triangle corners to tuck his arms (like the Miracle blanket) - great method! I then use the Swaddle-Me blanket to finish the swaddle, and now don't have to cinch it down very tightly to keep him bound up. This worked the first time I tried it and now my little guy is sleeping wonderfully again - he is clearly happier now that his sleep is uninterrupted and I thank you all!

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answers from Nashville on

how about feet pajamas? Maybe he gets cold and that wakes him. Or, how about those sacks that you put them in where it is like being swaddled but they can't get out, it zips up the front. Put a small onesie on him and then put him in the sack.




answers from Asheville on

This won't help with weening, but the thermal (waffle like) blankets swaddle bigger babies really well. I didn't know about this with my son and struggled with the sleep thing forever. But I babysit for a friends baby and swaddled him to sleep with one of these blankets until he was about 9 or 10 months old. It was a life saver at nap time for us.

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answers from Greensboro on

My thinking on this is that the swaddling or lack of it is not the problem after all, just the fact that he is a normal baby that sometimes will sleep well, other times not so well. And sometimes, just plain lousy. Just like napping in a swing, or while being held, swaddling only works for a little while then it's time to move onto something else. Any thing that seems to work well now will likely need to be changed in a few months. That's what the first year is all about. There is no map, no set schedule, not even much routine (to begin with anyway). As soon as you figure any one of those out, that little sweet thing will change it up on you.
So I'm gonna post some links below (a bunch actually!) from my all-time favorites, and Dr. Sears, to give you an idea of what is NORMAL sleep for a baby at this age and in the first year or so. Just know right now that it does not include any harsh Crying-it-Out techniques, stuffing baby with cereal, or schedules. There's a reason people talk about how sleep deprived moms are that first year. It's not easy! **Babies need help falling asleep and staying asleep and that job usually falls 100% on mom. Just know that you are not alone! And enjoy these early days. They go fast. Next thing you know he's a busy toddler!

Good luck and best wishes!

Newborn Babies and Sleep

Sleep Training, Beware!




Studies on Normal Infant Sleep
*(They don't sleep as well as most moms brag about!)

Sleeping Thru The Night
(It's happening waaaay less than people tell you!)

Mistaken Approaches to Night Wakening

Infant Sleep Chart

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Raleigh on

Hi A.,
My son had colic and we swaddled him until he was 5 mos old. Because of colic, he needed that extra sense of security that the swaddle blanket provided. We just went up a size when he was about 3 mos old and that helped keep him secure and prevented him from startling himself awake (we also used the swaddle-me brand). Once the colic subsided, we start using the sleep sacks (which you can get from BabiesRUs). This left his arms free, but still gave him a little security in knowing that he was wrapped in something. If swaddling is working for you, keep with it and get a larger size. I know they say that long term use of swaddling impedes development, but as long as he is getting plenty of head, neck, and arm workout during the day, it is totally fine (mine was ahead of the game in all motor milestones). Some babies just take longer to outgrow their startle reflex.



answers from Omaha on

I completely hear you! :) We used the kidalapalous...?spelling. I did find at Babies R Us a larger size that they can grow into that adjusted up to 6 months ish. That at least bought me some more time.

My next step was to only swaddle it at the waist down b/c they need their hands to be able to pull them up, roll over, get comfy (learning how to sleep by self), etc. Then eventually I just loosend it until it would fall off as she slept.

I will say the first 6 months, you should just do whatever you have to do to get them to sleep and get yourself sleep. Their patterns are so random it can be so many things causing them to wake. After 6 months though... :) they are ready to learn to sleep by themsleves. So once you are ready that is a good time to start teaching them how without any props.

Good luck and blessings,



answers from Memphis on

We used those too for #2 because he liked being held tight. At 3 or 4 mth he started working his hands and arms out. I then started putting him on his side in the cradle with a sleep positioner. This meant only 1 arm was "loose" to jerk and wake him up because he was basically laying on the other. I would make a pouch out of a receiving blanket. I holded the blanket in half and tucked one side under one side of the positioner with the fold side toward the head end. then I lay the sleeping baby on his side and pull the blanket snuggly around him, tucking it under his feet and the other side of the positioner. the "loose" arm was then just under the blanket. He could easily get it out and I had to check him a lot. If he stirred I would run in there and tuck that arm back under before he woke up all the way. After a month or so he could sleep through that arm coming free and has been fine since. When he moved to the crib and started rolling over he started sleeping on his belly. Every time I put him down he immediately flops onto his belly and tucks his arms under himself. I don't worry about it since his older and can roll over now. I know everyone says its bad to let them sleeps on their belly but I firmly believe that some babies won't sleep any other way. Once your confident in his mobility you may try letting him sleep that way. I had to with my 1st (now 4yrs) and now my 2nd (almost 10 mths)



answers from Louisville on

they have something called a sleep sack that is like a little blanket they wear they are great and its a bit looser than the swaddle. give them a try! (good luck ive never heard of a baby liking to be swaddled that long!! you must have been good at it!)



answers from Knoxville on

Hi A.,

My son also LOVED to be swaddled and slept really well when he was and not well at all when he wasn't. And around the 3 month mark he too was able to worm his way out of it. I ended up "reinforcing" the swaddle. I found some advice on another parenting website. I would lay out the swaddle blanket and then take a regular baby blanket (usually a square, light, cotton one) and fold it in half creating a triangle. I would lay that on top of the swaddle blanket, placing it so that the long edge would hit right where my son's armpits were, the top point of the triangle pointing down towards his butt. I would lay my son down on top of it, take one corner of the blanket over his right arm and then tuck it under his back, repeating the process on the other side. I know it sounds rather straight-jacket like, but it worked like a charm. Essentially it kept his arms snug down by his side where he couldn't wiggle out. You then finish with the swaddle blanket like usual. He would sleep so well like this, it was amazing. Of course I then worried that he would become addicted to it and unable to sleep without it, but around 6 months I noticed that he could get an arm out but would still sleep ok. So I started leaving an arm out of the swaddle and then eventually both arms, and the next thing you knew, no swaddle. I know this all sounds sort of extreme, but you do what you got to do to help them sleep and help you sleep! AndI know he found it comfy. Good luck!




answers from Raleigh on

Hey A.,

I can relate to you sleep interventions. Both my kids were swaddled and it did help the sleep process. We did it with my 5 year old until she was 7 months old.

One fact that I found helpful with my second child is that developmentally babies are just going to have erratic sleep patterns until they are 4 or 5 months old. Their brains are just not really ready to settle into a pattern before then. I say this so you can know that you might have a week of great sleep and then a week of not so great sleep. On or after 4 months I started putting my daughter down for naps and for the night awake, tired but awake..and swaddled until it just wasn't feasible anymore. It sounds like your little guy might soon be ready to go in the crib awake. This helps for him to deal with the mild wake ups. My daughter did cry some at first but she got used to it. She also ended up being MUCH easier to put to bed at night than my first child who I tended to rock or nurse to sleep.

Hope this helps!




answers from Nashville on

My youngest son, now 5, loved being very tightly swaddled. It was great in the beginning, but like you, he began to wake up early on. Unfortunately, babies are no different from the rest of us. They form habits quick and will react quickly to an uncomfortable change. Trying to hold on to that habit on your end will lead to frustration and resentment and it's not worth it. I held on till he was almost 4 months old and I couldn't take it anymore. Because I am a big believe in having children learn to go to sleep on their own, I simply made that transition for him. I would swaddle at first, but if he woke up, I let him cry. After a few days, that stopped and he stayed asleep, but I also quit putting him to bed swaddled shortly before 4 months because that memory imprints fast and it is much easier to make that transition when they are really young and can't pull themselves up, then to wait till they have more control and can communicate frustration easier. Believe it or not, my son still likes being swaddled. I simply changed that habit into a comfort time for him after his bath. I take part in it now. After a bath, I swaddle him tight and hold him for a while. Even at 5, he wants wrapped and if I don't hold him, he'll sit on the couch or bed for several minutes before wanting to get dressed. I love it! Good luck!



answers from Memphis on

Oh boy! I, too, had a daughter who was addicted to swaddling, and I held on to it for as long as I could, wrapping her more and more tightly. But she almost always found a way to get out. She also STOPPED sleeping through the night (7 or 8 hour stretches), and I thought she had gas or was having a growth spurt. In hindsight, I know she was just ready to stretch out and sleep unbound. Right about the time she started sleeping poorly, we were in the midst of a cross-country move. Once we got settled and got her room set up, we pretty much went cold turkey. Additionally, we did CIO at that time, just wanting to nip it all in the bud. (I should also mention that she had been sleeping in her car seat also because of acid reflux, and we started putting her down in her crib.) Needless to say, it was a pretty big change for her. We had tried the one arm out thing, but it really didn't do any good. So we just got rid of it altogether. We suffered through about 4 nights of crying, and then she slept really well, and still (for the most part unless she is teething or has a tummy ache) does.

I think 3 months is probably too young for CIO, but I would just go cold turkey on the swaddling. It will probably suck for a few nights, but then it will be fine. Or you could try it with naps for a week then move to nighttime. Make sure his fingernails are trimmed so he doesn't scratch himself.

If that doesn't work, I have also heard of a transitional wearable blanket made in the Netherlands, i think, that keeps their arms and hands covered, but not bound. We didn't use this, but i've heard good things about it. We did (and still do) use a sleep sack, though.



answers from Lexington on

Hey A.,

My son did the same thing...he loved being swaddled! Our pediatrician said we could swaddle him for as long as he wanted, but we decided that he needed to be weened from it. Once he was able to free his arms, we started just swaddling his body and left his arms free. His hands did wake him up quite a bit at first, but he eventually got the hang of it. He was swaddle free by about 5 months and then we started using a sleep sack. He is now 8 months and continues to sleep great in the sleep sack. Good luck! And congratulations on your baby boy!! My little man is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to's hard to express how much I love being a mother. Take care of yourself and your sweet baby.




answers from Hickory on

First, remember that every child is different, and not all moms agree on the best way to care for their children. You have to do what works for you and your familyl. With my son, we had a similar problem. We swaddled him until 3 months and it was difficult having him sleep unswaddled because he would wake himself up. After much research and asking tons of moms questions, we decided to give him a few nights without the swaddler to adjust. It only took 2 nights! He would wake himself up, cry for a few minutes, then fall back asleep! I can't promise it will be that easy with your son, I'm just sharing what worked for us! Good luck-



answers from Raleigh on

I know what you are going through. I went through the same thing with my daughter. I don't know what time you put him to bed but we had to put our daughter to bed earlier so that when she woke up she would cry herself to sleep for about 5 to 10 minutes and then she would be out. We put her to bed earlier because if we were laying in bed just listening to her cry I would have never been able to do it. I know it seems mean to let him cry but he is not hurt and it only last for about a week and then he will learn to just put himself back to sleep. I hope this was helpful and good luck.



answers from Raleigh on

I just went through this as well with my 4 month old. At 3 months, I tried about once a week to break the habit and it never worked -- he just wasn't ready. So we used the Miracle Blanket (the only thing that would keep him in for more than 10 minutes) for a little while longer. After his 4 month checkup a couple of weeks ago, we started letting him sleep with one arm out. We were terrified he would be up all night, but he only woke once. We did that for about a week, alternating arms. Last weekend we finally let him sleep in the sleep sack. He did fine through the night, but naps were more difficult. He is still waking himself up after 45 minutes during naps but is getting much better. I would suggest using the swaddle a couple more weeks (get the Miracle Blanket -- the swaddle-me is much too easy to get out of). Then try to wean him once he has started growing out of his startle reflex. Also, you may want to cut his nails and take off the mitts at that point. My son sucks his thumb now and that helps him go back to sleep.



answers from Louisville on

The Miracle Blanket really helped me learn to swaddle properly. It is made of a stretchy, t-shirt-like material with no velcro, but it has additional fabric "wings" that show you how to get baby's arms to his sides. I used the Miracle Blanket underneath the velcro Swaddle-me blanket - - this was, however, the middle of the winter, so baby only had a t-shirt (no jammies) to prevent overheating.

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