Parents are always getting new challenges – with regard to their children. It’s especially true with babies. Swaddling is one of those giant challenges and responsibilities that you’re bound to experience as a parent. But that brings up the question – can you let a swaddled baby cry it out?
In general, swaddled babies are also generally not old enough to do cry-it-out sleep training. Swaddled babies should not be allowed to cry it out while swaddled as it loosens the swaddle and become a choking hazard. Loose swaddling should always be fixed as soon as possible.
Now, I know that getting a full night’s sleep is a strong pull. But let’s make sure that you’ve got all of your swaddled babies and cry-it-out questions answered. Ready? Let’s do this – and we’ll cover all of the nuances beyond the boiler-plate answer.
Can You Let a Baby Cry It Out While Swaddled?
You should not use cry it out as a variant of sleep training for your baby while swaddled for many reasons.
- Swaddled babies can’t protect their airways if the swaddle gets loose.
- Babies who are swaddled are generally too young for a cry-it-out (CIO) method to be effective.
- Swaddled babies can’t self-soothe as effectively, making CIO a whole lot harder.
1. Swaddled babies can’t protect their airways if there’s a hazard
As a Registered Nurse, the ABCs of health is always at the forefront of my mind. The airway is A – and a baby who’s screaming in a swaddle is likely to loosen their swaddle enough that it becomes a choking hazard.
Trust me. After four kids and trying all of the swaddles – I have yet to find one that can handle a screaming, squirming baby and not become a potential hazard. Some are better than others in that they take longer to become a choking hazard. But if you let a baby scream until they fall asleep? The odds are that the choking hazard is a matter of when (and not if).
Another potential hazard to breathing is rolling. Once a swaddled baby learns to roll onto their stomach, they’re kind of stuck. They don’t learn to roll back onto their back for a few more days or weeks. And being on their stomach is associated with an increased risk of SIDS.
Always put a swaddled baby to sleep on their back to minimize the risk of SIDS. You can ask your pediatrician for more ways to minimize the risk of SIDS.
2. Swaddled babies are generally too young to CIO
Cry it out method or any other sleep training works for babies of 4-6 months or older. I generally don’t recommend using CIO until a baby is closer to 6-8 months, though.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says you should stop swaddling a baby once he is about 6 months old, although a few infants love to still be wrapped up even until they’re 6 or 8 months old. My four kids all liked being fully swaddled for falling asleep until around 6 months old, and they were still partially swaddled (for bedtime only) until about 8 months of age.
3. Swaddled babies can’t self-soothe by sucking yet (usually)
Other sleep training experts say that not using cry-it-out with swaddled babies is so that the baby can still find their fingers (or thumbs) to self-soothe (source). That’s definitely true, too. But it’s a whole lot lower on the list of potential problems and reasons as to why it’s a bad combination of techniques.
Even so, it is a reason – and so it’s worth mentioning.
Babies can normally start self-soothing once they’re able to pull things to their mouths. They’re usually going to first go for fingers or thumbs. This tends to happen at about 4 months of age.
Can a Baby Self Soothe if Swaddled?
Now, I’ve talked about how babies can’t self-soothe via sucking when they’re swaddled. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that swaddling is a form of soothing.
Various studies and anecdotal evidence agree that swaddled babies enjoy the snugness and constriction of the swaddling blankets. Plus, it’s warm. So it’s just like the baby is back in the womb.
How Long Do You Let a Baby Cry It Out (unswaddled)?
After surveying thousands of parents, I’ve found that most babies cry it out in about an hour. There are some babies that only cry for a few minutes. Then, there are other babies that take as long as two hours in the initial cry-it-out session. But it’s usually only about an hour.
There is not a hard and fast rule that leads to a fixed time limit for crying. It varies among babies and families as it is already mentioned above that it differs with the temperament of each baby.
To read more about how long it takes for a baby (who’s old enough to do CIO) to cry it out, make sure you read my complete guide to crying it out.
Why Does CIO Not Work for Newborns (swaddled or not)?
Newborns’ brains haven’t generally finished maturing enough to have solid sleep patterns, so trying to enforce a sleeping pattern may not work yet. The maturation process finishes at about 4 months of age. Those four months are sometimes called the “fourth trimester.”
You can read more about the 4-month milestones you need to know before sleep training right here.
When Should You Swaddle a Crying Baby?
Swaddling is the mainstay of calming as it decreases the startle reflex of your baby. It’s one of the 5 S’s that Dr. Harvey Karp promoted in his groundbreaking book, The Happiest Baby on the Block (available on Amazon here). His 5S’s include:
- Side or stomach position
These techniques may soothe your baby – as long as you’re calm, too. Feel free to mix and match the various S’s to maximum effect.
Final Thoughts on Cry It Out for Swaddled Babies
I get how tempting it is to let a baby cry it out while still swaddled. I’ll even admit to a half-hearted attempt at doing it when we were particularly sleep-deprived. But that’s why I can tell you that it doesn’t work. And that it’s not safe.
So skip the worry – and use a different sleep training method for your baby under 6 months until your baby outgrows the swaddle. Or start phasing out the swaddle as soon as you can – so that you can use cry it out as your sleep training method of choice.
You can do this, friends. You’ll get sleep again soon.