Swaddling my 7 month old baby

by Clare Ferris

Question: My 7 month old son will only sleep swaddled. Without a swaddle he wakes up every 30 mins and rubs his eyes and works himself into a state with his eye rubbing and intense crying. He has cried until he has made himself sick, he is never able to calm himself. We swaddle him by using a sheet to hold his arms by his sides, his body and legs are free. There is nothing wrong with his eyes, have double checked with the doctors, it is the action he does when he is fussing. He isn't calmed by music, cuddles, reassurance - he will only go back to sleep if swaddled again.

I am really worried we are still swaddling him at his age and don't know how we will break this cycle. Every time I put him to bed unswaddled he will wake after such a short time and is inconsolable. I have tried leaving one arm free but this is exactly the same. He is swaddled for naps and at night. I only started swaddling him for his naps at 5 months when this problem really started. He wasn't getting enough day time sleep to feed and function and was terribly overtired. He has been swaddled at night since birth.

Any suggestions really welcome.

Thank you.
Clare Ferris

Heidi's Answer: Hi Clare,

To stop swaddling becomes a must when a baby starts to break free from it, and wakes up because of that.

Your son seems to still enjoy it and sleeps well with the swaddle. That means there is no real urgency to wean him from it.

Of course you will want to wean him from the swaddle eventually, but you have time.

Can you subtly loosen the swaddle a little bit? Loosening a tiny bit every 2-3 days will be a first step for him to get used to being less tightly wrapped, while still having his arms fixed.

In the meantime you will want to work to reduce the habit of rubbing his eyes when he is fussing, and to work on self soothing.

To reduce the habit, start during the daytime, when he's awake.

He probably also rubs his eyes every now and then. Then, don't reprimand him, but gently take his hands away and lovingly give him something else to do. A good idea is to introduce a transitional object, say a favorite toy. Give it to him to turn away his attention from the rubbing. You will then later also give it to him to go to sleep.

This can be a soft animal, a soft little blanket, or similar. You may need to offer different ones to find out which one he takes to. Give it to him consistently at bedtimes.

I'm supposing you do have a regular bedtime routine in place and a schedule in which he takes regular naps and goes to bed well before being over-tired. Include the transitional object in the routine.

Then work with the gentle self soothing method to help teach him go to sleep by himself. With the (looser) swaddle for now, and then later on without the swaddle.

Good luck,

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