When Should I Stop Swaddling My Baby?

swaddled baby

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It's commonly known that little one loves to be swaddled—plus, sometimes it’s the only way they’ll sleep for more than a few hours at a time! But now that your baby is getting older, you may be wondering how long it’s okay to continue swaddling them. And if there’s a time swaddling is no longer advised, you likely want to know what comes next. How will you be able to keep your baby soothed (and sleeping!) when you can longer swaddle them?

Swaddling involves snugly wrapping your baby up in a blanket with only their head peeking out. Here, experts explain what the benefits of swaddling are, how to do it safely—and most importantly, when it’s time to stop, and what to do instead.

What Are the Benefits of Swaddling?

When your baby was in the womb, they were cozy and “held” 24/7. According to Ilan Shapiro, MD, chief health correspondent and medical affairs officer at AltaMed Health Services, many babies miss the security of the womb, which is why being wrapped up in a warm blanket can be so soothing.

“For nine months, babies are acclimated to the warmth and tight space of the womb,” Dr. Shapiro describes. “Swaddling a baby can create a feeling of security and comfort after birth.”

There are numerous research-backed benefits of swaddling. For example, studies have found that swaddling can help newborns sleep longer and more deeply. Swaddling can also decrease crying in infants and elicit a “calming response,” according to a 2019 study published in PLOS ONE.

Swaddling may be particularly helpful for premature babies, explains Jenelle Ferry, MD, a neonatologist and the director of feeding, nutrition, and infant development at Pediatrix Neonatology of Florida. “In the immediate newborn period, it can help an infant better organize motor development, especially if they were born prematurely,” she explains.

Finally, swaddling may also help babies who startle easily, Dr. Ferry says. All babies are born with a strong startle reflex, one of several normal newborn reflexes, she explains. Swaddling can reduce the number of times that the startle reflex wakes a baby up, Dr. Ferry describes.

How to Swaddle Safely

If you choose to swaddle your baby, it’s important that you do so safely. Rachel Schlueter, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Physicians in Omaha, Nebraska, recommends brushing up on the Academy of American Pediatrics' (AAP) guidelines for safe infant sleep.

“To comply with AAP safe sleep guidelines, it is recommended to place a baby alone, on their back, and on a flat sleep surface free of any stuffed animals, bumper pads, or fuzzy blankets,” she describes. “Because we do not want free-floating objects in the crib or bassinet, a swaddle is a safe way to provide warmth without increasing the suffocation risk.”

Keep in mind that there’s a small risk that the swaddle blanket could come loose and create a strangulation hazard, says Dr. Ferry. That’s why you should make sure the swaddle blanket is placed securely on your baby.

“You can do this by choosing a thin blanket for swaddling and ensuring the ends are tightly tucked to avoid loose bedding,” Dr. Ferry says. “There are also a variety of swaddling products available that are enclosed by Velcro, which can help the swaddle be maintained.” Additionally, Dr. Ferry recommends using a thin blanket, to prevent overheating of your baby.

When Is the Right Time to Stop Swaddling a Baby?

The AAP recommends that you stop swaddling your baby when they are able to roll over. All babies are different, but rolling over can start as early as 2 months, according to the AAP. Dr. Ferry agrees with that guidance. “Once your baby can roll, a swaddle can restrict their movement and lead to increased risk for suffocation,” she describes.

Dr. Schlueter also agrees with the AAP guidelines; she advises her patients to stop swaddling at about 2 months of age. “I typically recommend transitioning from full swaddle around two months to ensure that baby's arms are free to help adjust and shift to protect their airway,” Dr. Schlueter says.

What Are the Risks of Swaddling for Too Long?

One risk of swaddling for too long is that it can restrict a baby's movement, and as they become more mobile, it’s important for them to have time to explore and exercise their bodies. “We all need movement, and if a baby isn't moving their arms, it can limit blood flow to the extremities and body,” says Dr. Shapiro. “Blood flow and regular movement is key to the growth and development of a child.”

Swaddling for too long can increase a baby’s risk of developing hip dysplasia, where the hip joints don’t develop normally. The AAP warns that swaddling a baby too tight can increase their risk of developing hip dysplasia. Dr. Ferry adds that swaddling a baby for an extended duration can also increase this risk.

Relying on swaddling for sleep can also make it hard for babies to develop good sleeping habits, Dr. Ferry says. Swaddling may not be an issue in the early months, but as your baby exits the newborn period, swaddling can interfere with their ability to learn self-soothing skills, Dr. Ferry explains.

“Newborn brains don’t develop the capacity for habit forming and sleep training until a couple of months of age, which is also when they start to learn to self-soothe, Dr. Ferry says. “Swaddling too long can be counter-productive to encouraging self-soothing and long-lasting sleep habits.”

Alternatives to Swaddling

If your baby has outgrown swaddling, you might be wondering what a safe and helpful alternative might be. Dr. Schlueter’s answer? Sleep sacks.

Sleep sacks are basically wearable blankets that can stay securely on your baby’s body during sleep. The AAP says that they are safer than using a blanket, because there’s no risk of them getting tangled in the crib bars or suffocating your child. Many babies also find them comforting, says Dr. Schlueter.

“While swaddling cannot be continued once a baby is able to roll, sleep sacks can be used well into toddlerhood,” she says. “Sleep sacks allow for full arm range of motion but continue to provide the warmth and comfort of the swaddle.”

Additionally, at about the time that your baby outgrows the swaddle is a good time to start to develop some healthy sleep habits, says Dr. Ferry. “Helping to create good sleep habits and a sleep environment are healthy ways to help your infant sleep without swaddling,” she offers.

According to the AAP, healthy sleep habits include keeping to a regular bedtime, establishing a bedtime routine, and keeping your baby active during the day.

A Word From Verywell

Swaddling can be a helpful way to soothe a fussy baby, and help them sleep. But as your baby approaches 2 months of age or so—and especially as they work on their rolling over skills—it becomes time to wean from swaddling. All babies are different, though. If you have further questions about when it’s best to stop swaddling your baby, don’t hesitate to reach out to your baby's pediatrician or healthcare provider.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Lejeune F, Delacroix E, Gentaz E, et al. Influence of swaddling on tactile manual learning in preterm infants. Early Human Development. 2021;153:105288. doi:10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2020.105288

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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.