AHEAD: Six simple tips for babies who prefer having their hands free
If you think that your baby wants their hands out of the swaddle and you’re trying to figure out how to (safely) get some sleep, you’re in the right place!
Swaddling mimics the close quarters of the womb, and let’s face it, they loved it in there!
That said, in utero, your baby had the option to keep their hands near their head or chest—whereas while swaddled, they’re sort of forced to accept how you position them.
So what should you do when you have a baby who doesn’t want their hands tucked away?
Should you wrap the swaddle more loosely—or is that a SIDS risk?
Should you buy a different type of swaddle?
Do you even have to keep swaddling?
We’re about to answer all of these questions.
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Here are 6 tips for babies who want their hands or arms out of the swaddle:
First thing’s first: consider whether it’s still safe to swaddle.
Many parents have no idea that swaddling becomes a big safety risk when an infant shows signs of being able to roll over.
Here are a few examples of signs of rolling:
- Arching his back and pushing his head back
- Raising legs in the air and swaying his hips
- Throwing both arms over to one side
- Pushing off a surface with his leg(s)
- Rocking back and forth to the side
If, while your baby is awake, he positions himself onto his side, it’s probably a sign that he’s getting close to rolling.
Any of the above would indicate that it’s time to stop swaddling. This is because the risk of death is high if a swaddled infant rolls onto their stomach.
According to current AAP guidelines:
“Parents should stop swaddling as soon as their baby shows any signs of trying to roll over. Many babies start working on rolling at around 2 months of age.”
If your baby is over the age of 8 weeks or has already started rolling, stop reading this post and start reading this one:
When and How to Stop Swaddling: The Ultimate Guide
All of the tips that follow are for babies who have NOT met the aforementioned milestones.
Try the “Arms Up” Swaddle.
For many babies, it’s less important to have their hands out than it is to have their arms up by their head.
(You may have seen your little one in this position during ultrasounds!)
If you haven’t tried this swaddle sack yet, you should.
It contains your baby’s arms so they aren’t awoken by their startle reflex, but positions them in their preferred position.
We loved this product so much, I ended up buying a second one to have on hand when the other was dirty.
Here’s a picture of Aden in his swaddle so you can see the positioning of his arms by his head:
Onto the next tip…
Give your baby exactly what [you think] they want: both arms out.
You can do this in one of two ways:
- Swaddle them tightly at armpit level, leaving their arms above the swaddle blanket.
- Use a swaddle sack with wings like this one. Secure the wings around your baby’s chest, leaving their arms free.
For many babies, compression around the torso is all that’s needed to feel secure.
Related: How Many Swaddles Do I Need?
Important Safety Note:
When using a swaddle blanket, the swaddle must be snug and secure around the infant’s upper body, no matter the position of their arms.
Never wrap your baby in a swaddle that’s loose at the top, as this poses a suffocation risk.
(For healthy hip development, the lower part of the swaddle should be loose).
Try swaddling with just one arm out.
You may discover that your baby’s startle reflex is still too strong to be swaddled with both arms out, so sleeping with one arm free is a good in-between.
You can do this in one of three ways:
- Swaddle them tightly at armpit level, leaving one arm above the swaddle blanket.
- Use the aforementioned swaddle sack with wings. Secure the wings around your baby’s chest so that one arm is contained and one arm is free.
- Use a swaddle transition sack like this one that allows you to zip off one (or both) wings.
Try swaddling with baby’s arms inside the swaddle—but in different positions.
Many parents think that their baby doesn’t like being swaddled, but often the baby just doesn’t like how they’re being swaddled.
While this is counterintuitive, give these a try to see how your baby responds:
- Swaddling with arms straight down
- Swaddling with arms across baby’s chest
Drop the swaddle!
Lastly, consider ditching the swaddle altogether!
Babies do not have to be swaddled. There is no safety benefit of swaddling; it’s just common practice because babies tend to prefer it.
If your baby isn’t into being swaddled, here are two options:
- Switch to a sleep sack. (You can read all about this here).
- Make sure your baby is dressed properly for sleep — and don’t use a sleep sack or a swaddle at all. (Everything you need to know about this is here).
Stopping swaddling now will save you the trouble of transitioning when your baby approaches 8 weeks.
Since either way, the clock is ticking on when you need to stop swaddling, this may be a smart way to go!
Final thoughts on what to do when baby wants hands out of the swaddle
When your baby wants their hands out of the swaddle, as long as they are less than 8 weeks and haven’t shown signs of rolling, you’ve got a number of options to choose from.
It may take a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best for your little one. You can use a swaddle that positions a baby’s arms up, you can swaddle them with one or both arms free, you can try different arm positions inside the swaddle, or you can drop the swaddle altogether! You can be sure that your baby will tell you what they like best.
Remember, if your baby doesn’t absolutely need the swaddle to sleep, consider yourself lucky! It’s one less transition to deal with later.