Posted in Amelia, Amelia on sleep, Baby sleep, Blog, Mother

Sleep chronicles: Giving up the swaddle

Admittedly, compared to our peers, we were really late in giving up the swaddle. Having read “The Happiest Baby on the Block” during pregnancy, we had been doing the “5 Ss” (Esses? I mean “S” in the plural.) since E was born: swaddling, shushing, swinging, sucking, and side/stomach positioning. Swaddling in particular became a big part of our sleep-time routine. We had been doing the “double swaddle” with the muslin blanket and tucking E into the sleep sack (“The Snuggle Buggle,” as we called it).

As she got older and older, I began to fret that we shouldn’t be doing this anymore, that maybe not having access to her arms while she snoozed was somehow psychologically damaging. In addition, all of my mommy friends were surprised that we were still swaddling. And my own mother called it “binding.” (Helpful! Wait, no…)

Conversely, I fretted that she needed that squeezy sort of sensory input to feel calm and relaxed enough to go to sleep. And hell, it did the trick—she was going to sleep easily. Baby sleep is such a precarious thing—why would I do anything that could jeopardize a good thing? Any attempts I had made to not swaddle her for naps until that point had resulted in a No Nap, which resulted in a tired little girl. So I had reason to be nervous!

Either way, I was fretting. So at just over a year old, I decided to experiment with giving it up. It had to happen sometime. Plus, she had started to wiggle out of it while sleeping, so it seemed opportune.

I talked with my aunt, who has a background in sensory integration. She suggested giving E something to hold on to while she was falling asleep. My own brother, who is autistic, used to fall asleep with his head on a music box . (An aside: Processing information coming from the five senses can be challenging for persons with autism; they can become overwhelmed by the amount of information coming in and unable to filter.) “Some people just need that much sensory input to feel calm,” she told me.

As with any swaddle, you wrap one arm, then the other, and tuck them underneath the baby. My strategy was to gradually ease out of the swaddle, one arm at a time. So come naptime, I swaddled her, leaving one arm out, and put her in the sleep sack. A modified “Snuggle Buggle,” if you will. Then I thought I’d try the sensory thing—I gave her something to hold: her small, wooden hairbrush. And you know what? It worked. Some babies have a soft, squishy lovey they want to cuddle while drifting off. E needed more input. Her lovey for a time was a hairbrush. Yep.

Again, my plan had been to ease her out gradually. One arm, then both arms, but still wrap up her middle and put her in the sleep sack. But after a while with the one-arm, she started to wiggle out of the whole kit and caboodle—sleep sack and all. Finally, that and the coming of warm weather led us to give up the swaddle, cold turkey. For a time, she would still hold on to the brush and clack it up and down her crib slats while she waited to fall asleep “Attica! Attica!” . But now, she goes to sleep without the brush. We still do the other parts of our nighttime routine (nursing, rocking, pacifier, white noise machine, saying “It’s time to have a rest!”), but the swaddle has been effectively dropped.

I’m learning every day that figuring out how to parent to suit your child’s needs is a process. We have our own “living laboratories” on whom to try different techniques. It is our job in that process to be lovingly sensitive to our little ones as we figure our way along together.

About Amelia

Amelia is a former public health communications specialist; she has a master’s of public health degree and focused on community development and maternal and child health. She is pleased as punch to stay at home fulltime with her 14-month-old daughter, in addition to doing some editing and writing work on the side.

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  1. I swaddled Zane until 10 months, and then I gave it up with what I call a nap wrap. I lie him on a diagonal blanket with his head on one corner, and loosely wrap the two side corners over his tummy but under his armpits, leaving his arms out, and I fold the bottom up over his feet. He is snug and slightly squeezed, but when he wiggles around in sleep or in getting to sleep, it comes right off so he’s not totally bound up. It’s a nice sleep cue, when I lie him on the blanket and start wrapping, he starts rubbing his eyes no matter how spazzy he was moments before.

  2. We swaddled until 10 months also. I was so nervous about giving it up. I kept hearing that we would magically “know when” to do it. It was kind of interesting how it happened. Magnus got a bad cold and was super stuffed up. I kept thinking, if he could just sleep on his stomach, then his nose would clear up a bit and he’d be able to sleep better. so we unswaddled him while he was sick, and he slept amazingly well. He immediately went to sleep on his stomach and I didn’t have to suck any mucus out (with those suction thingys) all night long. After that, he just seemed to like moving around and being free in his crib. At that time also, he had started touching his hair when he got tired. He seemed to be quite irritated we were swaddling him when he just wanted to touch his hair. 🙂
    That’s how he falls asleep now. So cute!

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