Swaddle transition: when to transition and how to do it safely

Swaddle transitioning can be done with minimal worries, we checked it with the experts.

Swaddle transition illustreated by swaddled baby
(Image credit: Getty Images / Future)

Swaddle transitioning may seem a little daunting at first, but babies are more adaptable than we adults sometimes give them credit for. 

Though, saying that, humans don't care for change - even the mini humans among us. So, after you've used your best swaddle and you're considering transitioning out of it heed these words; Pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, Dr. Claire McCarthy recommends patience during this process. "It can take a few days for babies to adjust to sleeping without a swaddle. Be prepared for some restless nights and don't be afraid to try different methods until you find what works best for your baby."

Swaddling is a time-honored technique with many parents over the years learning how to swaddle a baby, it's great for comforting newborns and promoting healthy sleep. However, as babies grow and develop, they will eventually outgrow the need for swaddling and need to transition to a sleep sack, take a look at the best baby sleep books for any tips at this time too. In this article, we'll explore the swaddle transition process, including when to start, what to expect, and how to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Swaddle transition - when should it start?

From birth to 16 weeks is when most newborns are swaddled. However, as babies develop their motor skills, they may start to break free from their swaddle or roll over onto their stomachs, making it unsafe to continue swaddling. Experts recommend beginning the swaddle transition process between 2-4 months of age or when your baby starts showing signs of rolling over. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should stop swaddling their babies when they start to roll over, or at the latest, by 8 weeks of age.

Signs your baby has outgrown their swaddle;

  • 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

How to transition a baby out of the swaddle

  1. Pay attention to sleep patterns: Before transitioning your baby out of a swaddle, it is important to observe their sleep patterns to check if they're ready to transition. Look out for signs such as your baby breaking out of the swaddle throughout the night, or becoming more active during sleep.
  2. Gradual Transition: Start by gradually loosening the swaddle wrap so that your baby can get used to having their arms and legs free while still feeling the comforting pressure of the swaddle. This can be done over several nights or days.
  3. Use a Swaddle Transition Product: Consider using a swaddle transition product like a swaddle with an adjustable wing, sleep sack, or wearable blanket to help your baby transition out of the swaddle. These products provide a sense of comfort and security that can help your baby adjust to the new sleeping arrangements.
  4. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Ensure that your baby's sleep environment is conducive to restful sleep. This includes keeping the room quiet, cool, and dark.
  5. Provide Comfort: Provide your baby with extra comfort and support during the transition by offering a pacifier, singing a lullaby, or cuddling them.
  6. Be Patient: Remember that every baby is different, and it may take some time for your baby to adjust to sleeping without a swaddle. Be patient and consistent in your approach.mpty list

The transition out of swaddling should be gradual and done in stages. American pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp suggests that parents start by swaddling their babies with one arm out, leaving the other arm swaddled. This can help babies adjust to the feeling of having one arm free while still feeling secure with the other arm swaddled.

Over the course of a week or two, parents can gradually leave more and more of their baby's arms and legs free until they are no longer swaddled at all. It's important to be patient during this process and not rush things. Some babies may take longer to adjust than others, and that's okay.

Another important aspect of the swaddle transition is finding a suitable replacement for swaddling. Many parents find that using a sleep sack or a wearable blanket can help their baby feel secure and comfortable without the need for swaddling. These products allow for more freedom of movement while still providing a cozy, enclosed feeling that many babies find soothing. It's also important for parents to establish healthy sleep habits during the swaddle transition. This means creating a consistent bedtime routine and ensuring that their baby is placed in a safe sleeping environment. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be placed on their backs to sleep, on a firm, flat surface, free of any soft bedding or toys.

How to swaddle a baby illustrated by swaddled baby on bed

(Image credit: Getty images)

Why transition out of the swaddle?

For safety, mainly, if baby is starting to roll you want to encourage that and to do it safely. With arms free a baby can lift their neck higher from the ground. When swaddled, their nose touches the ground. The swaddle transition process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the baby's temperament and the strategies used to help them adjust. The key is to be patient and consistent, as your baby may need time to adjust to the new sensation of sleeping without the added security of being swaddled. Some experts recommend gradually reducing the amount of time your baby spends in a swaddle, starting with daytime naps and gradually transitioning to night-time sleep. 

 What to expect when transitioning out of a swaddle? 

Maybe expect it to be a little challenging, humans don't like change. However all babies are different, some might take to life sans swaddle a-okay, other babies may need more time and comfort. Either way, be patient and kind with yourself and your baby - this is all new.

Some parents worry that their baby will startle themselves awake, or that they won't be able to soothe them without the swaddle. Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, recommends being patient during the transition process. "It can take a few days for babies to adjust to sleeping without a swaddle," says Dr. McCarthy. "Be prepared for some restless nights and don't be afraid to try different methods until you find what works best for your baby."

However, with patience and a few tried-and-true strategies, most babies adjust to sleeping without a swaddle. One strategy you may find helpful is to use a transitional sleep sack or wearable blanket. These products mimic the feeling of being swaddled while allowing your baby more freedom of movement. Other strategies include incorporating white noise or a consistent bedtime routine, which can help signal to your baby that it's time for sleep. Pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp recommends using a transitional swaddle, "[These swaddles] allow for more movement than a traditional swaddle." He also suggests introducing white noise as a way to soothe the baby during the transition. "White noise helps babies fall asleep and stay asleep. It's like a cozy, familiar sound that reminds them of being in the womb."

How to get baby to sleep without a swaddle?

Establish a consistent bedtime routine that signals to your baby that it's time for sleep. Mom-of-one Stacey tells us she always changed her newborn before bedtime. "There were some - okay, most - days where he'd been in the same onesie all day, I would still change him to signify bedtime, in a darkened room with hushed voices and the same music, to show him the feeling before bedtime."

There are a few things that you can do to help your baby adjust to sleeping without a swaddle:

  • Use a sleep sack: A sleep sack is a great alternative to a swaddle. It provides a similar sense of security and comfort, but allows for more movement. According to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, sleep sacks can be just as effective as swaddling in promoting sleep and reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Create a sleep-friendly environment: Make sure your baby's sleep environment is conducive to sleep. Keep the room dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. According to the NHS, the ideal temperature for a baby's room is between 16-20°C (60-68°F).
  • Stick to a routine: Establish a consistent bedtime routine that includes soothing activities like a bath, massage, or reading a story. This will help signal to your baby that it's time for sleep and can help them feel more relaxed and calm.

You can also try including a bath, a story, or a lullaby. Another strategy is to use white noise or other calming sounds to create a soothing sleep environment. Many parents find that using a transitional sleep sack or wearable blanket can also help their baby adjust to sleeping without a swaddle. It's also important to be patient and consistent during the swaddle transition process. While it may be tempting to give in and swaddle your baby again when they're fussy or having trouble sleeping, doing so can prolong the transition process. Instead, try to find other soothing techniques that work for your baby, such as gentle rocking, singing, or massage. Mom-of-one, Steph agrees; "Consistency is key, when you first try something out try to give it at least a week. This will give you and baby time to settle into it."


The swaddle transition is an important milestone in a baby's development. While swaddling can be a helpful tool for soothing and calming infants, it is important to start the transition out of swaddling by the time baby is 3-4 months old. This should be done gradually and with patience, as babies may take longer to adjust to the feeling of having their arms and legs free. Finding a suitable replacement for swaddling, such as a sleep sack or wearable blanket, can also help babies feel secure and comfortable. Ultimately, by establishing healthy sleep habits and promoting their baby's physical and emotional development, parents can help their little ones thrive.

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Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodToKnow covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. Just keeping on top of school emails/fund raisers/non-uniform days/packed lunches is her second full time job.