Are you thinking of changing your baby’s name to “Houdini” because the baby keeps breaking out of the swaddle? You’re not alone. My friend Maggie called me up the other day to tell me, “My newborn doesn’t like to be swaddled.”
While it’s true that every now and then, there is a baby that hates being swaddled, it’s pretty rare. Most of them find it comforting, but even still, if your baby tries to get out of a swaddle, it can be frustrating.
As I mentioned recently, my eldest was easy to swaddle. It was obvious what she wanted and when she was ready to be done with it. Generally, when your baby gets arms out of the swaddle position like she was doing, they’re ready to transition to sleeping without swaddling.
But for my youngest, swaddling was like the magic way to make her sleep. Yet as much as that baby wiggles out of a swaddle, she didn’t want to be out of it. It was the ultimate catch-22.
It’s quite common for a baby to fight the swaddle but won’t sleep without it. Depending on how old your baby is and what’s going on, we’ll be able to figure that one out. So let’s walk through this journey together. I’m right here with you to help you get through this exhausting situation.
Do babies like to be swaddled?
Dr. Harvey Karp, a renowned pediatrician, cited a study that found babies cry more if they aren’t wrapped tightly enough. By nature, babies are designed to like swaddling. This is because it keeps them all snugly and cozy, just like they felt inside your womb.
If you just started swaddling your newborn and baby fights swaddle but won’t sleep without it, chances are pretty good that you might not be swaddling properly. You want the arms to be snug and the blanket to be loose at the knee and hip areas so they can bend and move them with ease.
It takes practice to swaddle the right way, and I don’t know a single person who got it perfect on the first try. I’ll recommend some products that can help at the end, so keep reading.
What happens if the baby fights swaddle?
In the case of my own youngest, she was a 2 month old breaking out of a swaddle. Her big sister didn’t do that until right at 4 months. But my little one? I think she might have been escaping the swaddle even before then.
Anyway, what I learned was that baby might want hands out of the swaddle. This can happen at any time though it tends to be more common toward the end of the swaddling phase. If your baby gets arms out of swaddle often, you should read my post on how to swaddle with arms up and arms out.
Experts think babies put their hands up to suck their fingers, which might shed some light on why Houdini baby gets arms out of the swaddle. What should you do? Make sure you’re swaddling those arms straight. Bent arms let those hands wiggle and squirm their way out. When that happens, the baby wakes up fighting the swaddle.
Another reason a baby escapes swaddle wraps is that you could be folding it in such a way that it’s touching the cheek. With newborns, this can stir them and make them think a boob full of milk is waiting for them. When they realize it’s not a milk boob, after all, they begin crying, and the baby kicks out of the swaddle. Folding it into a V near the neckline should help.
How do I stop my baby from breaking out of his swaddle?
So, you want to tame Houdini there? I totally understand, but first, we’ve got to determine why your baby is escaping from the swaddle. Let’s go through the list of reasons why babies do this sort of thing and the solutions you can apply to remedy the situation.
You’ll know your swaddle game is strong when you’ve got the arms tight and the legs loose. Remember, you want to recreate that snug feeling in the womb. If your baby can wiggle loose and escape that swaddle, though, you’ll have a cranky baby on your hands.
This is especially true if your baby hates the swaddle but still startles. That Moro reflex I recently talked about is a defense mechanism that kicks in even while sleeping. If they’re wrapped snuggly enough, they will not wake themselves up and sleep until it’s time to be fed.
- Your blanket isn’t the right size
Just like in Goldilocks, you have to find the perfect size. The blanket you use for swaddling could be too big or too small. If it’s too big, you won’t get a snug wrap around the chest. You’ll have too much material and what looks like a bulky, crying burrito.
That extra fabric is very dangerous too. It can lead to suffocation if your baby escapes the swaddle in this situation. So, what’s the right size for swaddling? A blanket that is around 44″ x 44″ is ideal. Muslin is an excellent fabric for swaddling because it’s cozy, adds warmth, and is breathable.
- Your baby doesn’t want hands in the swaddle
Whether she wants to suck on her fingers or simply likes having her hands near her face, your baby might be pulling the Houdini routine because she doesn’t want those arms at her sides. If she’s getting bigger, she might just be ready to start transitioning out of swaddling.
If your baby is still startling herself awake with her arms out, try wrapping her with her arms up. You can see my recent post on how to do that. But if she’s no longer startling herself awake, you can indulge her by swaddling her with one or both arms out of the swaddle. This worked for my youngest.
- Or the legs
Again, check how you’re swaddling your baby. If the legs are too tight, simply making sure it’s looser there can help. If not, though, you may want to try leaving the legs out of the swaddle.
When should a baby be out of a swaddle?
Generally speaking, babies will be done with swaddling around 4 to 6 months. You’ll want to look for the signs that she’s ready to transition from swaddling. In the case of my eldest, one day, she just didn’t want it and slept like a charm. I had to work my butt off with my youngest, though, to help her transition from the swaddle.
What to look for:
- Baby is more active
- Arms keep coming out during sleep
- Baby is getting really strong
- She fights your swaddling efforts
- Baby rolls over
- More frequent waking in the night after having slept well for a while
- Lack of startle reflex
Can a baby suffocate from a swaddle?
The risk of suffocation tends to be more from sleep position and age. It’s why the AAP always says to put babies to sleep on their backs. But if they’re swaddled, can’t they roll over and suffocate? Good question! That’s why when the baby is rolling over, you need to halt the swaddling, or at least get those arms out.
Another risk that I mentioned above is that of using a blanket that is too large for swaddling. The excess material can smother your baby, so always choose one that is the right size.
What about swaddling older babies?
With a baby that can roll over on her own, you should avoid swaddling. For many babies, though, this sudden change can bring out their color. Transition to arms out and consider using a different product type to help (I’ll discuss that just below).
Products That Can Help You Swaddle and More
Now for the products that can help you and your baby get a safe and wonderful sleep. Check out my favorite picks for your swaddling problems!
Escape proof swaddle
If your little Houdini is a newborn that definitely needs swaddling, this Sleepea is the answer to your prayers. It’s soft and cozy and allows you to swaddle up your baby in literally 5 seconds. While I didn’t have this myself, my friend Amanda had recommended it, claiming it tamed her darling Jax and allowed them all to sleep safe and sound.
Also known as a sleep sack, a wearable blanket is a great choice when you’re transitioning from the swaddle stage. Halo is a popular brand, made from quality materials that most of my friends had recommended to me. We could not find this brand while we were in China. We did manage to find some sort of knockoff, and while it probably wasn’t as good as this Halo is, it definitely did the trick for us.
Arms up swaddle
You can stop fighting your baby on the swaddle when she wants her arms up or out. With love to Dream Swaddle Up, it was the answer to my friend Madison’s prayers.
As she told me, “Kenny wouldn’t stop wriggling his arms free, yet he got upset if we didn’t swaddle him. When we found the Love to Dream Swaddle Up, it was the best solution for us. When I give birth to this next baby, she will also be using it!”
You have a couple of options here if your baby is upset with having their legs contained, even if they can move their legs. One of the options is the Anna & Eve wrap, which secures arms only. I did not have this option when my youngest was a baby, but I have about 5 different friends who are enthused about this one.
Ideally, you should only use it when your baby is getting close to finishing the swaddling phase. It secures the arms so the baby won’t startle herself awake.
Does the baby need more independence? Try a sleepsuit! This one by Love to Dream should be the final send-off to your swaddling days!
Final thoughts on baby breaking out of swaddle
Before you buy anything or do anything different, please make sure you’re evaluating your situation with swaddling. Even if you’ve already had a baby or two, please remember that every baby is different. They, like us, have their personalities.
It was very evident with each of my daughters. My eldest stuck with the swaddling until she was 4 months old and not a day longer. She didn’t want her arms or legs wrapped. She just went to sleep like she’d been sleeping that way the whole time.
My youngest wanted always to be wrapped, yet she didn’t want her arms wrapped. And then when she started rolling over, we tried to transition her out of swaddling, and she wouldn’t let us! We finally found the solution in a sleep sack, which made her feel like she was wrapped without confining her so we could sleep soundly, knowing she wasn’t going to suffocate.
But know this…even when you do it all right, there will still be nights you shoot right up in bed and think, “OMG, the baby has been so quiet! Is she still alive? Is she breathing?!?” And you’ll tiptoe in there, and naturally, she’ll wake up, and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Because this is what moms do. It’s in our DNA. Enjoy those moments and remember, with safe swaddling, you all can sleep more comfortably. Most of the time, anyway!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.