There is nothing more satisfying than holding a tightly swaddled little baby. Watching my swaddled little guy sleep was one of my favorite things to do when he was a tiny newborn.
But is he safe?
What about if he rolls over while swaddled? Is it safe for babies to roll over in a swaddle?
There comes a time when it’s no longer safe for baby to be swaddled. There will be some signs that it’s time to stop swaddling and there are things you can do to make the transition out of swaddling go smoothly.
What is swaddling?
Swaddling is wrapping a baby up in a soft blanket so their arms and legs are inside the blanket. Many cultures over thousands of years have wrapped up newborns to make them feel safe and secure.
Why do people swaddle their babies?
It is believed that swaddling creates a snug feeling resembling the environment of the womb, making babies feel safe and secure.
Swaddling also inhibits involuntary arm and leg movements that can wake a sleeping baby up.
A newborn baby who is securely wrapped up in a blanket is also easier to handle than one whose arms and legs move about perpetually. New parents often find that swaddling their baby does wonders to calm him down and study shows that swaddled babies sleep better and longer than their unswaddled counterparts.
Is swaddling safe?
The short answer? Yes, swaddling is safe, provided you use your common sense and do it properly. You can ensure safety by securing the wrapping blanket in some fashion so it doesn’t come loose. Loose blankets are not safe for newborn babies while they sleep, especially unattended.
The best way to ensure your swaddling blanket doesn’t come loose is to use a blanket that has a Velcro closing. This way the swaddle will always remain taut.
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Once your baby reaches a certain age, or more specifically certain milestones, swaddling should be stopped. The number one sign that your baby has outgrown the swaddle is as soon as he can roll over on his own.
Safe sleep guidelines
As mentioned above, make sure that the swaddle blanket you use can’t come unraveled. There are many options of swaddles that securely close with a Velcro or some sort of safety mechanism. Also, make sure that there are no other blankets or pieces of clothing in the bassinet or crib.
Secondly, have a look at these safe sleep guidelines provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which are aimed at preventing SIDS (Sleep-Related Infant Deaths). Here is the summary:
- Put your baby to sleep on his back on a firm surface with a tight-fitting sheet that won’t come loose.
- Avoid the use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows, and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
- Babies should sleep with their parents in the same room ideally for the first year, but at least for the first six months.
- Babies should share their parents’ bedroom but not their bed.
- Never place the baby on a sofa, couch or cushioned chair, either alone or sleeping with another person.
- There is not enough scientific research to say whether in-bed sleepers (devices that hold babies in place on their parents’ bed) are safe.
- Swaddled babies should always be placed on their backs.
- As soon as the baby shows signs of trying to roll over, swaddling should be stopped.
Is it safe for babies to roll over in a swaddle?
The short answer? No, it’s not safe for a baby to roll over in a swaddle.
If your baby is rolling but needs a swaddle to sleep, it’s time to start looking into alternatives and transitioning out of the swaddle – see below for more.
Sometimes even newborns end up rolling to side in a swaddle. There have been cases of babies rolling at 2 months. Be aware and observe what your baby is doing when not swaddled – he’s probably trying the same while swaddled.
Why is it not safe to keep baby swaddled when they are trying to roll over?
Swaddling prevents your baby from using his arms to help him to get into a different position or lift his neck and head.
There is a risk that a swaddled baby trying to roll over can land in a position that restricts their breathing. Even worse, being restricted, the baby could be stuck in this position.
1. Transition swaddle with arms free
This is the best first step toward un-swaddling. If you have been swaddling your baby for a while, you have likely found him with one or two arms outside the swaddling blanket a few times. This is usually a sign it’s time to start transitioning away from the swaddle.
Swaddle your baby with one arm out at first and then try both arms out.
Try this during nap times first and if that goes well, give it a shot during the night.
The best transition swaddle I’ve found is the Zipadee-Zip from Sleeping Baby. The the Zipadee-Zip is not a tight swaddle but it gives your baby the feeling of the swaddle with some added freedom to move the arms and even soothe himself with his own hand.
Here is the video showing how this swaddle transition works:
2. Try a sleep sack
Alternatively, you can transition from a full swaddle to a sleep sack. Sleep sacks are one-piece items, with a vest for the top that frees the arms completely and a bag for the legs that allows ample room for kicking.
This is how the Nested Bean Zen Sack works:
3. One-piece sleepsuits
For babies who seem to dislike being covered, a one-piece sleepsuit might be the answer. Depending on the fabric that was used it can be warm and cozy while allowing freedom of movement. The sleep suits are usually sturdy enough to give your baby a feel of being wrapped but not enough that they can’t move.
The most popular and best sleep suit is the Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit and it works like a charm!
When do babies roll over?
The age at which babies roll over can vary a lot from one baby to the next. In general, babies reach this developmental milestone when they have the necessary upper body strength as well as the coordination to get their body parts working together to roll over.
Most babies roll over for the first time around 4 to 6 months of age but it’s not uncommon to have babies rolling over for the first time much later than that.
Rolling over requires a combination or motor skills, physical development, neck muscles, back muscles and more. All working together to accomplish this seemingly simple task.
Rolling over can happen in one of two ways:
- Tummy to back
- Back to tummy
Most babies are able to go from tummy to back before the other way around. That’s because parents practice tummy time with their babies in order to build the strength in their neck and back to hold themselves up.
Are babies able to roll over when swaddled?
Babies typically start trying to roll over at around 4 months. Some will only do a full roll over on their own at 6 months or later.
BONUS: Download my FREE Baby Sleep Training PDF
You will notice their attempts by their rocking form side to side. In the normal course of events, a baby first succeeds in rolling over from his back to his tummy. It takes longer for them to learn to roll back onto their backs. By 6 to 7 months they are usually able to roll in both directions.
So, from around 3 months of age you should watch your baby for signs that he is trying to roll over. When you see it happen (or almost), it is the time to stop swaddling or start transitioning out of the swaddle.
Are sleep sacks safe for babies who can roll over?
Sleep sacks are perfectly safe for babies who can roll over because they allow your baby still have full control of his arms and be able to move the lower body freely. It is important however that your sleep sack is correctly fitted for your baby’s size.
A properly fitted sleep sack should not be too loose that is will ride up towards your baby’s face when he moves, but it still allows for free movement while keeping your baby cozy and warm at night.
I used the Nested Bean sleep sack from the age of 4 months all the way until 14 months and it was a perfect way to have him feel safe, cozy and still be able to move around.
Signs that it’s time to stop swaddling
You will soon know when it’s time to make a change. Watch out for any of the following signs.
1. Your baby doesn’t sleep as well as he used to
If a baby starts waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, it might be a sign that the swaddling has become bothersome.
Also, if a baby who has developed a good sleeping pattern suddenly can only sleep for short intervals at a time, it can be a sign that the swaddling is not contributing to a good sleep anymore.
2. Rolling over when not swaddled
When your baby rolls over or attempts to roll over, it’s time to stop wrapping him. He needs his arms to push up and move around. And he needs to be able to kick around freely.
3. You find baby with one or both arms free after a sleep or nap
You put down your baby nicely wrapped up and find him a few minutes later all untangled. You wrap the little bundle up again, but the same thing happens. Message? It’s time to stop swaddling.
4. Your baby resists swaddling
When your baby starts crying and squirming just as you bring out the swaddle blanket and put him on it, you just know that he doesn’t want to be wrapped up anymore.
It is safe for babies to be swaddled. It helps them to feel safe and cozy, and helps newborns to sleep better and longer.
However, as soon as your baby starts showing signs of wanting to change position and roll over, it’s time to put the wrapping blanket away and start transitioning to the next stage.