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How to swaddle with arms out: Step-by-step guide

baby getting into zen swaddle


Swaddling is an age-old practice that has helped newborn babies fall asleep for centuries - but for some little ones, it isn't quite that simple!

Whether they like to suck their thumb or they just crave a little more freedom, some babies like to swaddle arms free, rather than the traditional way with arms straight against their sides.

If you're a new parent with a little Houdini baby who wants to sleep with their arms out, we're here to help with a step-by-step guide on how to swaddle your baby arms free!

Is it still safe to swaddle With Arms Out?

baby in zen one swaddle with arms out

If you've never swaddled your baby with one arm or both arms out before, you might be understandably concerned about the safety of it - after all, isn't the point of swaddling to keep baby's arms tucked in?

Swaddling still feels snug and secure even without arms being wrapped up, as just the slight pressure on your baby's chest can help to ease the womb-to-world transition.

Swaddling your baby with one or both arms out is perfectly safe, as long as you continue to wrap her blanket securely. In fact, some newborns prefer being swaddled with one or both arms free from the very beginning.      - whattoexpect.

This is also a great swaddling technique for babies who roll earlier than 4 months, as the American Academy of Pediatrics state that you should stop swaddling when your little one can roll independently.

By keeping their arms out, you're making sure they're sleeping safely while still giving them the comfort of a swaddle.

How to swaddle with arms out

Swaddling your baby with their arms out of the swaddle blanket is pretty similar to swaddling the traditional way, just with a few little differences.

Above, you can see a quick guide on how to swaddle your little one with their arms out, with detailed step by step instructions below:

arms out swaddle infographic

If you're looking to become a swaddling master, check out our blog on how to swaddle your baby for more information!

Practice swaddling with arms out your baby

Swaddling is practiced by parents all around the world, but that doesn't mean that everyone's an expert straight away! From swaddling too loosely to using the wrong kind of blanket, there are a few pitfalls you can fall into if you aren't careful.

Although millions of swaddle blankets are sold each year, many parents never learn to swaddle a newborn correctly. This is worrying, as incorrect swaddling, much like leaving loose blankets in the crib or placing baby to sleep on their front, can pose a safety risk.

Even if you get confused at first, by the 5th or 6th time we're sure that you'll find it as quick and straightforward as changing your baby's diaper, and it'll be a part of your baby's sleep routine that you look forward to!

If you're still having some trouble, there are plenty of tutorials out there to help, and asking parent friends to do an in-person demonstration can also help - you got this!

Transition to sleep sack

The swaddling stage doesn't last forever, and eventually you'll have to transition away from your swaddle blanket and towards something like a wearable blanket.

This transition needs to happen once your baby is rolling over from their back to their tummy independently, which usually happens around the 4 month mark (though anytime a little earlier or later than this is also perfectly normal).

Our blog on transitioning to a sleep sack is great if you're starting to go through this process. On the other hand, if you want sleepwear that can keep your baby sleeping soundly even after the swaddling stage, why not try our Zen One?

With its quick-drying mesh sleeves that can easily zip on and off for thumb suckers, it's convertible from a swaddle sack to a wearable blanket and features a gently weighted Cuddle Pad to mimic your soothing touch.

No time to swaddle? 

Nested Bean’s Zen One classic takes all the guesswork out of getting the right fit when swaddling your baby - and it's designed to keep even the trickiest babies from escaping. Learn more about the Zen One here!


Other Resources

Mayo Clinic: How to swaddle a baby

National Library of Medicine: Moro Reflex

Healthychildren.Org: Swaddling: Is it Safe?

Hip Dysplasia Institute: Hip-Healthy-Swaddling

Commonly asked questions about swaddling with arms out

Can I swaddle my baby with their arms out?

Absolutely! Though many parents assume that you have to keep your baby's arms within the swaddle blanket, it's completely safe to have one arm or both arms out when they're sleeping. This is great for thumb suckers or babies who like to have a little more freedom as they snooze.

If you're wanting to swaddle your baby with their arms out, you can try our Zen One convertible swaddle. With its quick-drying detachable mesh sleeves, this swaddle sack is perfect for swaddling little one's arms free - just zip one or both of the sleeves off.

You can even continue to use it after your baby has transitioned away from swaddling with both sleeves removed!

When do I need to stop swaddling my baby?

You'll have to stop swaddling your baby when they can roll over from their back to their tummy independently, as being swaddled and rolling onto their front can pose a SIDS risk for your baby. Most babies start to roll over at around 4 months old, but it's completely normal if your baby rolls a few weeks before or after this.

Regardless of their age, if they're rolling, you'll need to make the transition.

What can a baby wear when you need to stop swaddling?

If you've found that your swaddle blanket was the only thing keeping you and your baby from having sleepless nights in the newborn stage, you might be understandably nervous about transitioning baby to a new kind of sleepwear.

But don't worry - a sleep sack like our Zen Sack can provide a similar sense of comfort as swaddling while still being arms free for safety.

How long does it take to stop swaddling?

When you have to stop swaddling your baby, you don't need to go completely cold turkey - in fact, babies tend to find the transition less jarring if you spread each stage out over the course of a few nights.

For example, you might start by swaddling with one arm out while your baby sleeps for a few nights, then move on to both arms, before switching out the swaddle blanket altogether.

When does the Moro reflex stop?

If you don't know already, the Moro (or startle) reflex is a natural instinct your baby is born with. It essentially means that, when faced with a loud noise or sudden movement, your baby responds by flailing out their limbs - which can wake them in the night.

You might have found that swaddling was the best way for your baby to sleep through their Moro, or startle, reflex, as it kept their arms tight to their side and prevented them from flailing out so much. But what do you do about your baby's startle reflex when you can't swaddle anymore?

Fortunately, the Moro reflex usually starts to fade away when your baby is between 3 and 6 months old - essentially when they start rolling!

This means that you're unlikely to run into any issues when you stop swaddling, as the reflex itself is likely to be going or gone by the time you have to transition.

Athena S.

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