This post may contain affiliate links that I may receive a commission from if you click & buy. In addition, the information on this site is NOT intended to be medical advice. See my full policy for more information.
Is your tiny little newborn breaking out of their swaddle? No worries, believe it or not, this dilemma is far TOO common amongst littles. I’m going to share why this happens and how you can learn to swaddle so that baby is cozy all night long WITHOUT breaking out of their swaddle!
Plus if that doesn’t work, we’ll talk about the signs that it could be time to STOP swaddling your baby!
As a mama of 2 wild little boys — we dealt with the swaddle problem often during those early days.
I’d wake up to a baby crying after he yanked his arm right out of his snug swaddle just to smack himself in the face, get startled, and be wide awake for the 10th time in 30 minutes. As a new mom at the time, I was so confused.
So trust me, I’ve been in your shoes and I know how much it sucks.
However, there is hope! I spent A LOT of time learning about baby swaddling, talking to sleep consultants, learning why babies actually love to be swaddled, and which swaddles are the best.
I’m going to share the tips I used to help me end the swaddle outbreaks, ready?
What is Baby Swaddling and Why Do New Parents Do It?
The act of swaddling a baby is a way to keep your baby safe and comfortable as they transition to a world outside of the womb.
Swaddling is also a recommended safe sleep practice, but when is it ok to stop swaddling? The American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that “parents DO NOT swaddle their baby if he or she shows signs of rolling over”.
So, the first question I want to ask you is, does your infant show signs of rolling over? If they don’t the tips below will apply to you. If they DO, then it’s time to transition out of that swaddle asap!
If you’re unsure of the signs that indicate your baby is ready to start rolling, keep reading, we cover that information down below.
The BEST swaddle to prevent your newborn from breaking out
After going through all the reasons your swaddled baby may be breaking out of their swaddle and the various swaddles, I found the BEST swaddle to use is the embebabies swaddle wrap.
This velcro swaddle provides the best of all scenarios:
- wraps baby’s arms snug and in place
- has an option for legs-out swaddling
- has an option for arms-out transitional swaddling
- easy access to diaper changes (without taking the whole swaddle off)
Why Do Babies Break Out of Swaddle?
You already know the point of the swaddle is to keep baby safe and comfortable — so why do they try to get out of it?
In order to help babies stop breaking out of their swaddles, we need to understand why the heck they’re doing it in the first place.
Some of the most common reasons: for a baby breaking out of their swaddle include:
- not swaddled tight enough
- being swaddled in an incorrect sized blanket
- wanting their hands/feet out of the swaddle
- feeling too hot in the swaddle
- distracted due to the swaddle or their hands touching their face
The goal isn’t just to swaddle a baby aimlessly but to help them feel comfortable enough to ensure the baby starts to develop healthy newborn sleep patterns that will transition into their later years of life as well.
If your baby is fighting the swaddle every single time they’re wrapped up, it’s likely time to start transitioning baby’s arms out of the swaddle.
Baby Isn’t Swaddled Tight Enough = Baby Breaking Out of Swaddle.
The secret to a good swaddling technique is to wrap the arms tight & snug while leaving the legs a bit looser.
This is because the tight snug wrap mimics the snug womb-like experience for the baby. It provides them with soothing comfort as they learn to live in the outside world.
This is why when the baby is swaddled too loose, they’re able to wiggle their arms up and out or completely unwrap themselves from their swaddle. Once that happens, they tend to get fussy or agitated because their soothing tight comfort is now gone. From there, the only way to help them is to re-swaddle them again.
In addition, babies have what’s called a Moro (startle) reflex. The Moro reflex is one of the baby’s first defense mechanisms to be able to alert when something startles them. This could be a loud noise, when they spit up while sleeping, if someone touches them, etc… If the baby isn’t wrapped up snug, their startle reflex could get the best of them and keep them up all night.
And if the baby is up all night, likely, so are you!
You’re Using The Wrong Size Baby Swaddle
You’re probably wondering how to tell if your swaddle is too big, too small, or just right for baby.
Generally, a swaddle that is too big won’t allow you to wrap baby snug around the chest, in fact, you’ll find you have lots of extra material that ends up getting wrapped up all bulky around the baby which isn’t safe.
Any excess fabric can pose a safety issue and risk of suffocation if the baby manages to wiggle out of the swaddle and gets tangled up or covers their face with the fabric.
Always be sure to choose a traditional swaddle blanket that’s approximately 44” x 44” & preferably a muslin fabric as it’s very lightweight and breathable. My personal favorite swaddle blanket to use for both boys (whenever I did use the blanket style swaddles) was the Aden + Anais Muslin Swaddle Blankets.
These swaddles are great because you can get them in a pack of 4, with over 12 cute pattern options to choose from!
Baby Wants Hands Out of Swaddle
Some babies simply don’t like their arms being wrapped down at their sides. Some prefer their arms upon their chest while others prefer their arms completely out of the swaddle entirely!
Typically, most babies benefit from having their arms swaddled even if they don’t want them to be, but if the baby is adamant about breaking out of their swaddle and DOESN’T seem to startle themselves with their arms out, you can always try using a swaddle that allows more arm movement!
I actually used the Arms Up Love To Dream swaddle for my first as he HATED his arms being wrapped up. He’d fight his swaddle all night long until we’d let an arm or both out. Thankfully he never startled himself awake after removing his arms, but we decided to give the Love To Dream swaddle a try and what’d ya know. It worked WONDERS for us!
The cool part about the Love To Dream swaddles is that they have various stages of swaddles so it can grow with the baby as they get older.
Baby Wants Legs Out of Swaddle
Maybe baby’s arms aren’t the problem. Maybe they want their legs out (or you’re swaddling their legs too tight).
Regardless, there’s a solution!
My personal favorite is the Embebabies swaddle! This swaddle was an absolute lifesaver with my 2nd boy! He always hated his little legs having any kind of blanket or fabric over them.
The reason that embebabies swaddle worked so well is that it actually folds up, allowing it to become an open-leg swaddle wrap! How genius is that!
You can see above how snug my little guy is with arms wrapped up snug and his little legs out, able to stay cool.
Another option (which I have not personally tried) is Anna & Eve arms only wrap. I looked into this one and read a lot of great reviews about it, however, I didn’t like that it wasn’t a true swaddle.
I also am not sure that I like the idea of a baby’s arms being strapped down vs. wrapped in a swaddle where they can still have some movement — definitely check it out and research it for yourself if you think your baby would like this kind of wrap!
Know When to Stop Swaddling Baby (if baby fights swaddle)
According to the AAP, it’s important to stop swaddling babies whenever they “start showing signs of attempting to roll” [source].
This is because whenever baby begins rolling from back to belly, they NEED to be able to use their arms and push up off the mattress for safety reasons.
Yes, it can be a suffocation hazard if your baby is swaddled when they’ve finally learned to roll onto their bellies.
On average, most babies will begin showing signs of rolling around the ages of 3-4 months of age. However, some babies begin even earlier around the 2-month mark.
If you’re unsure of what signs indicate the baby is ready to roll over, here are some signs to start watching out for:
- Baby using their hands to push up during tummy time
- If the baby can roll onto either side
The other reason that’s often recommended to stop swaddling is that some baby swaddle blankets (you know, the ones made from a large piece of fabric) can have too much loose fabric when the baby stretches it off. This is a safety hazard.
Different Types of Baby Swaddles
Another important piece to understanding how to swaddle your baby efficiently is to be familiar with the different types of swaddle blankets out there.
Traditional Swaddle Blankets: Traditional baby swaddles tend to be made out of muslin or cotton, they come as a large square measuring 44″x44″. Using a traditional swaddle blanket takes some time to master, but once you get it down, you can learn all kinds of different methods to swaddle your baby!
Velcro Swaddles: Velcro swaddles take the guesswork out of swaddling. Most of them have a sack for the baby’s legs, with the upper portion a velcro wrap that secures the baby’s arms. Of course, there are different styles with more or fewer features (like a zippable bottom for easy diaper changes or a buttonable fabric to make size adjustment easier). These swaddles tend to get praise from lots of parents for making swaddling simple and easy!
Zen Swaddle: This baby swaddle is unique of its kind as it features a gently weighted design to mimic the feel of being in your arms. When this swaddle first came out I remember being skeptical about it, but after hearing so many great reviews, I think it can be a very effective way to swaddle your baby!
Sleep Sacks: A sleep sack, unlike a swaddle, does not hold a baby’s arms down snugly. It’s more like a wearable blanket vs a swaddle. This is great to use once you’ve transitioned out of a swaddle, We personally LOVE the Woolino Sleep Sack. It is meant to grow with baby from 2 months old to 2 years old so you definitely get beyond your money’s worth! And if you decide to give it a try you can use my code MOMAFTERBABY10 to save 10% off!
Tips for Transitioning Out of Swaddle
So, you decided it’s time to start the transition process out of a swaddle. Typically you can do this one of two ways.
The first way is a slow transition. With the slow transition, you can start by letting one arm out at a time over a 2-4 night period so long as the baby is handling it well until they’re totally out of the swaddle.
The second way is cold turkey. With both of my boys, this method didn’t work, but for some it does. When you remove the swaddle cold turkey, a sleep sack like the Woolino Sleep Sack comes in extra handy as it still provides a safe and comforting feeling for babies as they end their swaddling days.
Other tips can help you transition your baby out of a swaddle:
- Make sure that once you transition your baby out of the swaddle, you’re not placing loose blankets or other unnecessary sleep items into their bedding (we always want to follow safe sleep practices).
- Using a white noise matching (if not already) is another way to promote a smooth transition out of a baby swaddle.
- Consider consulting with an infant sleep consultant.
- Consider swapping out the swaddle for better options, like a sleep sack.
Something to always keep in mind is that those early newborn days can be brutal. You might feel like you’re doing everything wrong when your baby seems fussy in their swaddle or doesn’t want to sleep, but rest assured, these things are often more normal than not. If your baby keeps breaking out of their swaddle, hopefully, these tips can help you navigate the problem and get more sleep!
Need More Help With Baby Sleep? Look Here: