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How to transition out of a swaddle: 4 easy steps with pictures

Swaddling is a great technique to help your baby adjust to life outside of the womb. By wrapping them up into a little baby burrito, keeping their arms tight to their body, you can prevent baby's startle reflex from waking them through the night and keep them feeling safe and secure when they're put to bed. Most parents find that a swaddled baby is a baby who sleeps through the night and through their naps!

But while swaddling has lots of great benefits, there comes a time when it can become more harmful than helpful. When your baby is growing up beyond the swaddle blanket, you might worry about how they'll feel without it during nighttime sleep and naps, and start to dread the transition.

But don't worry - there's plenty you can do to keep your little one feeling calm as they adjust to their new nighttime sleepwear and routine! Here, we'll help you learn when you need to stop swaddling your baby, how to transition out of a swaddle blanket, and what products can help you through this adjustment period.

In this article

  • When to stop swaddling
  • Why transition
  • How to transition out of swaddle
  • 4 transition methods
  • Adjustment period
  • Best transition products

      Follow the steps here, and we assure you that you and your baby will transition out of a swaddle like a pro.

      Signs that your baby has outgrown a swaddle 

      6 signs your baby has outgrown the swaddle

      According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should stop swaddling as early as 2 months old

      The exact age to stop swaddling can vary depending on the baby but as a general rule of thumb, 8 weeks is the soonest, and 12 weeks is the absolute latest!

      Common readiness signs:

      • Fighting being swaddled.

      • Breaking out of the swaddle.

      • Starting to rock and roll over.

      • Waking up frequently, after a history of sleeping well.

      • Decreased Moro reflex

      Why transition baby out of a swaddle

      • SAFETY: If they are starting to roll, we want to encourage that, and we want to do it safely. You can’t stop it, so celebrate it!

      • DEVELOPMENT: Even if they aren’t rolling yet, you need to get them out for developmental reasons. The startle reflex goes away by 4-6 months, and in my experience babies who keep the swaddle longer than 12 weeks tend to more easily wake themselves up during sleep as they’ve become so used to the swaddle.

      Should I stop swaddling cold turkey?

      If your baby is a pro at self-soothing, going cold turkey to stop swaddling might work fine for your family - otherwise, it might lead to disrupted sleep from a confused baby who isn't sure where their favorite sleepwear went.

      This is where sleep aids like sleep sacks can be a lifesaver! For example, if your baby has been using our Zen Neo Pro, which has a gently weighted pad to mimic your touch, our Zen Sack with a similar pad could keep your baby feeling calm with a little familiarity.

      How to Transition out of Swaddling in 4 easy step

      Once you know it’s time to stop swaddling your baby, it is important to have a plan in place to make the transition easy. 

      Instead of going cold turkey, we have created a simple step-by-step plan you can follow each day to successfully transition from a swaddle to a wearable blanket in as little as 7-10 days.

      • Pick a start time, nap or bedtime. Either one is okay! Begin my taking one arm out of the swaddle, and allowing the other arm to remain contained.

      • For the next nap, swap! Swaddle the arm that was last free and take the other arm out.

      • For the next night waking, swap! Swaddle the arm that was last free and take the other arm out.

      • Continue swapping back and forth between arms for each nap and night waking.

        Follow a 4-Step Swaddle Transition Plan

        4-Step Swaddle Transition Plan

        Just like you would take a little time to adjust to a new sleep routine, a new mattress, or a new pillow, babies can take some time adjusting during this transition out of a swaddle.

        This simple transition plan will help your baby adjust to sleeping without the swaddle. We recommend transitioning from your swaddle to a weighted baby sleeping bag, like the Zen Sack. Without being swaddled, the baby's arms will be free. The Zen Sack's comforting weight helps mimic your touch and the snugness of a swaddle, which can make the transition much easier. 

        Zen Sack classic help baby transition from swaddling

        Sweeter Sleep Story

        “Love this sleep sack! My little guy loved to be swaddled. It was so hard transitioning him from having his arms swaddled in. We tried several different sleep sacks but nothing worked until we tried this one. It took a few nights for him to get used to it, but now he goes to sleep very quickly once he's in it and sleep 8-10 through the night!

        - Kayla M., 8/1/2017

        The Zen Sack™ is gently weighted to help ease the transition out of swaddling. It helped Kayla get her baby sleeping better, it could help yours too.

        Try the Zen Sack  

        A gradual transition will work best for you and your baby. Our 4-step plan takes as little as 7-10 days – but every baby is different, so it might take shorter and it might take longer. No matter what, every parent who owes a full night’s sleep to their favorite sleep swaddle should follow this plan before their sleeping beauty outgrows swaddling and disrupts their restful nights.

        Swaddle Transition Plan Step 1: Swaddle arm(s) free

        how to transition out of swaddle step 1

        Start by swaddling with only their dominant arm out. Why only one arm? In case the Moro-reflex(also known as startle reflex) is still prevalent, the closed arm will offer resistance necessary to curb the disturbance caused by the jerking of both arms that comes with no swaddle. Try this for 2-3 nights.

        try swaddling with both arms out

        If there is no Moro-reflex present or your baby is used to sleeping with one arm out, you can try swaddling with arms out completely. Try this for 2-3 nights. Every baby is different, so this step may take only a few days or it may take a week or so. Be patient!

        #ZenTip: Keeping Arms out

        Find a swaddle that can be used with arms in AND arms out, like the Zen Swaddle. Take a look at the diagram below to see how simple it is to swaddle with one or both arms out.

        diagram how to swaddle with one or both arms out

        Swaddle Transition Plan Step 2: Check if it’s too early to transition

        how to transition out of swaddle step 2
        • After 3-4 days, get both arms out!

        If there is no Moro-reflex present or your baby is used to sleeping with one arm out, you can try swaddling with arms out completely. Try this for 2-3 nights. Every baby is different, so this step may take only a few days or it may take a week or so. Be patient!

        Once you have tried the one-arm or arms-free solution, your baby will let you know if he or she finds it easy to settle in their new state. Try this option during nap-time at first so you can observe your baby's response.

        If your baby still shows signs of Moro-reflex (or startle reflex), is unable to sleep at all, or is still waking up multiple times during sleep periods, it might be too early to transition. Try swaddling for a couple more weeks and then give it another go.

        It is normal for your little one to take a little longer to fall asleep at first, but this should change after a couple of days.

        Zen tip: When baby starts to roll over

        how to transition out of swaddle: zen tips
        Our Zen One isn't just a fantastic swaddle - it's also a great tool for transitioning your baby out of the swaddling stage! Featuring two detachable and quick-to-dry mesh sleeves that can be easily zippered on and off, it can be used during and after the swaddling adjustment period without having to go completely cold turkey.

        Swaddle Transition Plan Step 3: Transition to a wearable blanket

        how to transition out of swaddle: step 3

        During the daytime, try to up that tummy time! One of our most popular podcasts so far is the one with Baby Begin, talking about tummy time - and for good reason. It's one of the first exercises your baby will ever do, and it's vital for their muscle development and for reaching exciting milestones like crawling.

        Experts recommend 5-6 tummy time sessions per day, about 3-5 minutes per session, which can be increased in length as your baby gets older until your baby can go for a full hour. By giving your baby tummy time, you can help them practice rolling over back and forth, which is great for safely sleeping without a swaddle.

        The Zen Sack is gently weighted on the chest

        This gentle pressure helps with the transition as it provides a more secure, comforting feeling than regular wearable blankets.

        It also has plenty of room to move and grow and eliminates the safety concern of loose blankets in babies' sleep environments. Plus, its 2-way zipper makes diaper changes a breeze! Moms who have used it report their baby sleeps 2 hours longer on average!

        The Zen Sack™ is lightly weighted, making it perfect for
        transitioning out of a Swaddle.

        Make the transition

        Here's a review about the Zen Sack and transitioning, we hope you will read more to make sure it's the right fit for you and your little one.

        Zen Sack premier helps baby transition out of swaddling

        Sweeter Sleep Story

        Transitioning out of the swaddle was very difficult for our baby. He needed the feeling of closeness in order to sleep. We tried several other sleep sacks with no success until we finally found the Zen Sack. He loves how the weighted portion feels like a snuggle and sleeps much more soundly. We'll be buying another so we have one on deck while the first is in the wash!

        - Valerie C., 8/3/2017

        The Zen Sack's gentle weight helped Valerie's baby sleep better out of the swaddle. It could help your little one, too.

        Learn how it works  

        At first, you should place the weighted part on your baby’s chest as your baby sleeps on his or her back. Before your baby starts rolling over, sleeping on their back is the safest.

        Once again, consistency is key, so persist for 2-3 days before determining if the solution is working or not.

        Swaddle Transition Plan Step 4: When baby starts to roll over

        how to transition out of swaddle: step 4 Sleepsack

        Once your baby has taken to the arms-out swaddle style, it’s time to transition from swaddle to sleep sack.

        We recommend the Zen Sack - it has a lightly weighted Cuddle Pad™, which rests on your baby's chest, just where your palm would go.

        This gentle pressure helps with the transition as it provides a more secure, comforting feeling than regular wearable blankets.

        It also has plenty of room to move and grow and eliminates the safety concern of loose blankets in babies' sleep environments. Plus, its 2-way zipper makes diaper changes a breeze! Moms who have used it report their baby sleeps 2 hours longer on average!

        At first, you should place the weighted part on your baby’s chest as your baby sleeps on his or her back. Before your baby starts rolling over, sleeping on their back is the safest.

        Once again, consistency is key, so persist for 2-3 days before determining if the solution is working or not.

        Zen tip: When baby starts to roll over

        Once your baby is comfortable sleeping in a sack, they might start rolling onto their tummy to sleep. Babies tend to choose one or the other fairly consistently. 

        If you are using the Zen Sack, our Nested Bean sleep sack, reverse it so that the lightweight is resting on your little one's back. This feels like your palm on their back and helps them fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer.

        Adjustment period

        When it comes to making any kind of change for your baby, it's good to have a timeframe in mind so you can plan ahead. If you're wanting to stop swaddling your baby, it will usually take a few weeks to go through all of the adjustment period stages we went over.

        For example, you'll want to have three or four nights where your baby has one arm out of the swaddle, then another three or four nights with both of your baby's arms out, and so on.

        Of course, these timings can (and should) be adjusted to meet your baby's needs. For example, if your baby is bursting out of the swaddle every night and rolling over, you won't want to keep their arms in anymore. On the other hand, if your baby is finding it hard to let go of the swaddle, you might want to transition a little more gradually with a few nights extra for each step.

        Swaddle transition schedule

        • Pick a start time, nap, or bedtime. Either one is okay! Begin by taking one arm out of the swaddle, and allowing the other arm to remain contained.

        • For the next nap, swap! Swaddle the arm that was last free and take the other arm out.

        • For the next night waking, swap! Swaddle the arm that was last free and take the other arm out.

        • Continue swapping bath and forth between arms for each nap and night waking.

        • After 3-4 days, get both arms out!

        What if my baby won’t sleep without a swaddle?

        Once your baby starts showing signs that mean they need to stop swaddling, you'll need to start transitioning right away, otherwise your baby will have an increased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

        But if your baby is being fussy without their swaddle to keep them cozy through the night, don't worry! This is a completely normal reaction to have - and one that can usually be solved with a few tips and tricks!

        Swaddle transition tips

        • Best transition swaddle: our Zen One swaddle can convert into a wearable blanket with its detachable mesh sleeves, which can be easily zippered on or off to let your baby's arms out. This can help give your little one a feeling of comfort and familiarity as they transition away from swaddling.

        • Sound machine: white noise can help your baby sleep without fuss by blocking out the noise of the outside world when they're trying to snooze. Some baby-safe white noise machines even feature a setting designed to mimic your heartbeat for some extra comfort!

        • Blackout curtains: minimizing the amount of light that comes into your baby's sleep environment during naps and nighttime sleep can help by reducing any overstimulation your baby might be experiencing that is keeping them awake.

        • Pacifier: this classic sleep aid satisfies your baby's need to suck between feedings, giving them some comfort through the night and helping them self soothe through wake ups.

        Summary

        Here are the 4 steps to transitioning out of swaddle:

        • Once you have noticed the signs that it's time to stop swaddling, swaddle with one arm out for 2-3 nights than with both arms out for another 2-3 nights.
        • Monitor how your baby is receiving this change to their regular sleep circumstances. If your baby is not sleeping well unswaddled, try swaddling for an additional week or two.
        • Transition to a wearable blanket- these are made specifically for the swaddle transition period.
        • Keep an eye out for when your baby starts rolling on to their tummy. If you're using the Zen Sack, remember to reverse it so the weight is resting on their back.

        Remember all babies are different, so make an effort to be patient and consistent.

        Ready for a sleep sack? Our Zen Sack helps ease the transition from the swaddle while still providing continuous comfort and longer sleep. Learn more about the Zen Sack. 

        Other swaddle resources

        Healthychildren.Org: Swaddling: Is it Safe?

        Common questions from new parents

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