Adventures of a one armed baby (or one way to wean from a swaddle)

A while back I collaborated with Heidi Holvoet on a “why and how to” swaddle article. Heidi is a sleep consultant, author and owner of Baby Sleep Advice. In the article, I wrote that swaddling is one of the best tools new parents have for calming newborns and helping them to sleep better. I explained how swaddling prevents the startle reflex from waking newborns and creates a comforting, womb-like sensation.

Eventually though, even the best tools get thrown out of the toolbox. The startle reflex begins to disappear around 14 weeks of age or so. Around the same time, babies gain the coordination to bring their hands to their mouths to self soothe, and some babies begin to roll. The risk for SIDS increases greatly if a swaddled baby is lying prone so being able to roll over is a clear sign that it is time to lose the swaddle.

But how?

There are several ways you can do it, including using transition products like a Zipadeezip. In this article, we are going to look at the approach my client Andi took and how it worked for her and her baby.

Adam was around 4 months old when she decided to start swaddle weaning. He had rolled over from back to belly for the first time around this time, and his older sister weaned from her swaddle at 4 months, so it made sense to her to start.

“I was concerned that if he remained swaddled, he might roll over in his sleep while swaddled and get stuck,” Andi said. “I knew he needed to be very good at rolling over for this to be an issue, but after seeing him do it one time, I thought it was a smart idea to get the process started.” 

Though the timing made sense to Andi, Adam wasn’t yet on board. He loved being swaddled and, even with just one arm out or using a Zipadeezip he was quite fussy. Andi decided to give him a bit more time and then try again.

I asked her if she was worried about getting rid of the swaddle.

“I wasn’t worried about the change at first because it was pretty quick and easy with my daughter, so I thought it would be a similar experience with my son. But when I saw that he wasn’t ready at 4 months, I felt unsure of what my next steps should be,” Andi said. “He slept great swaddled, and I was concerned that removing the swaddle from his routine would interfere with his sleeping. But I also knew he couldn’t stay swaddled forever. I quickly realized no two babies are alike, and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.”

So, after a couple more weeks, she started the process again. Being tuned in to her baby, Andi noticed that Adam liked to suck on his left hand. So, this time, she swaddled him with just his right arm in, leaving his left arm out so he could suck on his hand for self soothing. Using a Halo SleepSack (a sleep sack with a built-in swaddle for the arms) wrapped around his right arm and underneath his left, she started at nap time only. He fussed a bit but quickly got comfortable with having one arm out. She followed this routine for two weeks. She would try both arms out every now and then during this time and, since he showed her he wasn’t happy about it, she kept to one arm only.

After 2 weeks of successful naps like this, Andi decided to give it a try at night. The results: “It was seamless. He slept great with one arm out.”

Bolstered with confidence, Andi put Adam down for a nap a few days later with both arms out. She kept the Halo SleepSack wrapped around his midsection but under both arms. This gives baby a sense of comfort and familiarity of a swaddle even though arms are free. Andi feels like it also provides an extra layer of warmth for him while he still feels the snugness of the swaddle on his chest. He fussed just a bit with both arms out at first but quickly calmed and went to sleep. After a full day of three great naps with both arms out, it was time to give it a go at night. Again, he did beautifully. Andi told him, “Buddy, you are not going to be a one armed baby anymore!“ He slept all night and woke up happy.

On to the next developmental milestone…