As a new or expecting parent, you've likely read all about the different ways to help your newborn sleep - and swaddling is often the top of the list.
However, swaddling isn't much good when your Houdini baby manages to wiggle out of it every night!
Fortunately, the reason for your baby breaking out of their swaddle is likely easily remedied, so don't feel like you need to give up on this great technique for baby sleep just yet!
If your baby breaks out of swaddle blankets during naptime or wriggles their arms out while you aren't looking, we're here to help:
Why your baby is breaking out of the swaddle
Though you might have had some practice during prenatal classes or been shown how to swaddle at the hospital, doing it by yourself on your own baby isn't always so simple!
But don't worry - if your baby's breaking out of the swaddle blanket, there's likely a simple reason (and as you'll find out later, an equally simple solution.)
From birth and until they're a few months old, your baby will experience the Moro reflex, also known as the startle reflex.
This causes your baby's arms and legs to flail out and curl back in again when they're surprised by something like a loud noise.
Your baby's startle reflex is a common reason for them breaking out of the swaddle, as they're able to push it off when they flail. This can be avoided by making sure that you swaddle your little one with their arms snug against their side.
Though you might feel reluctant to wrap your baby up tightly in a swaddle, keeping it loose can actually be less safe and lead to more nighttime breakouts if your little one can wriggle their arms free.
The secret of a successful swaddle is keeping your baby’s arms snug, while leaving the blanket loose around the knees and hips so they can bend and open easily. You’ll know that your swaddle is perfectly taut if there’s just enough room to sneak a couple of fingers between the swaddle and your baby’s shoulders. - Happiest Baby
When swaddling, you'll always want to make sure that your baby's arms are snug and straight down by their side, with only a couple of fingers of space between the hem of the swaddle blanket and your baby's shoulders.
Another issue that can come up if the swaddle is too loose is accidentally triggering your baby's rooting reflex.
If the blanket touches your baby's face, this can trick them into thinking it's a breast, leading them to get upset when it isn't actually feeding time!
Having a blanket loose - or anything loose - in your baby's crib at night without your supervision is also considered unsafe by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
To avoid this, try to wrap the blanket in a v shape around their shoulders so it isn't touching their face - this can stop them from getting fussy and fighting the swaddle.
Incorrect size blanket
If your baby seems to pop out of their swaddle blanket not long after you've wrapped them in it, it might be too small for them.
When you're using a traditional swaddle blanket, you'll want to ensure that it can wrap all-around your baby's body.
Too tight on legs
You'll want your swaddled baby's arms to be straight down and tightly wrapped to their body, but that isn't the case for your baby's legs, which need some more loose wiggle room to prevent hip dysplasia.
When wrapping your baby, make sure they have plenty of room to move their legs and hips under the blanket, for both their comfort and their safety.
As an adult, you kick off the duvet on hot nights when you're getting too warm - and your swaddled baby might want to do the same thing sometimes!
If your baby is overheating - some signs of this include flushed cheeks, damp hair, and feeling hot to the touch - consider removing a layer of their clothes underneath.
You can also try using a lighter swaddle blanket like our Zen Swaddle premier, made from a breathable bamboo-cotton blend.
Although you might want to leave some space for your baby to suck their thumb or have one arm out, it's actually better in most cases to keep their arms tightly inside the swaddle.
Not only does this contribute to the snug and secure feeling that helps your baby fall asleep when swaddled, but it also means that there's less opportunity for them to completely unwrap the swaddle in the night and fully break out of it.
If you want some extra help getting the right swaddle fit every time, why not try our new Zen Neo swaddle pod?
Benefits of swaddling for a newborn
So, why should you want to swaddle your little one in the first place? Swaddling has been practiced for thousands of years across hundreds of different cultures around the world, and has a range of benefits that are still effective and helpful for modern parents in the 2020s!
Not only does it keep your baby from waking themselves up with the Moro reflex during the night, but it can also help them feel more secure by creating a warm and cozy environment that can ease their womb to world transition.
There are also extra benefits like preventing your baby from scratching their face as they sleep and keeping them on their backs in a safe position through the night.
Here are the main benefits for swaddling a newborn:
What you can do about it
When your baby breaks out of the swaddle every night, it can be tempting to think that you need to give up on it altogether, but hold on!
If your baby is breaking out of their swaddle for any of the reasons listed above, there are plenty of solutions out there to get your swaddled baby sleeping peacefully!
Wrap a little tighter
Have you been following all of the instructions you were given on how to wrap your baby in a swaddle blanket and they're still breaking out? Try wrapping them just a tiny bit tighter in their swaddle!
Babies actually feel much more secure when they're bundled up with the swaddle snug against their arms and chest, while having the swaddle be too loose can encourage them to fight it.
Swaddle Houdini Trick
If you've got a real Houdini baby on your hands, give this simple trick from TakingCaraBabies a try: just use a blanket inside of your swaddle! This is a quick and easy way of preventing your baby's arms from bursting out, hopefully putting a stop to their escapes.
If you live in a hotter climate or are swaddling your baby in the summer months, you might want to dress them in just a diaper under the blanket and swaddle when using this technique.
While traditional swaddle blankets set a great foundation for swaddling in years gone by, we think it's time for an upgrade - which is why we've created the Zen Neo swaddle pod.
Rather than dealing with having to wrap your baby perfectly every time, we leave no room for error - just put your baby in, zip them up and wrap the flap around for a perfect fit every time!
Not only that, but like our other sleepwear, the Zen Neo is gently weighted to mimic your soothing touch and help your little one fall asleep without the need to be in your arms.
Is it time to transition out of the swaddle?
There comes a time when the swaddling days are over, and you'll need to start transitioning away from it. This is when your baby is able to roll over independently, which usually happens at around the 4 month mark (though it's perfectly normal for this to happen a little earlier or later).
If you're at this stage and you want to learn more about transitioning your baby out of the swaddle, check out our blog on how to stop swaddling here!
Worrying about your baby's sleep after you have to give up swaddling? Our Zen Sack can help! This sleep sack is gently weighted to mimic your soothing touch, and can help give your baby a little extra comfort during this period of change.
Baby breaking out of swaddle: Key Takeaways
If your baby has been breaking out of their swaddle, just remember these key points:
You don't necessarily need to stop swaddling - try some swaddle troubleshooting first
Swaddling helps newborns with the womb to world transition and can prevent wake-ups caused by the Moro reflex
Try wrapping the swaddle differently or using our Zen Neo swaddle pod
If your baby is starting to roll over, it's time to transition away from swaddling
No time to swaddle?
The Nested Bean Zen One classic takes all the guesswork out of swaddling your baby - and it's designed with quick-drying detachable mesh sleeves to promote self-soothing for thumb suckers. Learn more about Zen One here!
Commonly asked questions about baby breaking out of swaddle
What should you do if your baby is breaking out of the swaddle?
There are lots of reasons why your baby might be fighting or breaking out of their swaddle, so the first thing to do is identify the problem.
Some common reasons include leaving too much room at your baby's chest area, not wrapping their arms straight down, overheating, and using a blanket that's too small.
Often, parents find that Houdini babies break out of traditional swaddle blankets that aren't perfectly wrapped - so why not try a more modern option?
Our Zen Neo swaddle pod is the dream swaddle for parents who just want easy sleepwear - just zip your baby up, wrap the fabric flap around them, and let them get some sleep!
What is my baby's startle reflex?
The startle reflex, or Moro reflex, is a natural instinct your baby has from birth. When triggered, usually by loud noises or sudden movements, it causes your baby to suddenly stretch out their arms and legs for a moment before curling them back towards their body again.
This reflex is perfectly normal - but it can be the source of some frustrating nighttime wake-ups if your little one can't self-soothe back to sleep again!
That's where swaddling can come in handy, as having your baby's arms straight down against their sides can reduce the impact of the reflex and keep your baby from fully waking up.
When should I stop swaddling my baby?
You should stop swaddling your baby once they are able to roll from their back to their tummy independently. This usually happens at around 4 months old, but a little earlier or later than this is perfectly normal.
The reason you need to stop swaddling at this point is that there is an increased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) if they roll onto their front.
However, you don't have to go completely swaddle cold turkey; check out our blog on transitioning away from swaddling for more information on how to get through this process fuss-free.
What is the difference between a swaddle and a wearable blanket?
A swaddle, when used correctly, snugly wraps up your baby into a little burrito, with only their head and neck out of the wrap.
Traditionally, swaddles would be a large square of fabric, but these days you can get more modern swaddles like our Zen Neo that make getting a perfect fit easy every time.
On the other hand, wearable blankets (also known as sleep sacks) are more like a baby sleeping bag that they wear with their arms free.
A sleep sack like our Zen Sack can be used safely even after your little one has started rolling over and it's time to stop swaddling baby - and it might come in handy for self-soothing during sleep training down the line.