Is it safe to swaddle?

Does swaddling damage babies hips? Does it increase the risk of SIDS? Are there any 21st century benefits to swaddling? Swaddling is an ancient, traditional method of wrapping babies. The blankets or cloths used are tightly wound around the body thus restricting movement, particularly to the limbs. It dates back to around 4000 years ago until becoming unpopular in the 17th century, it appears it is becoming popular again in western civilisations but, some studies have cast doubt on whether it is safe to swaddle or not. Here is the low down:

Does swaddling damage hips?

Professor Nicholas Clarke, an orthopaedic surgeon from Southampton University Hospital, argues that swaddling may damage the development of babies hips. His theory was published in the peer reviewed journal ‘Archives of Disease and Childhood’. His opinion is that swaddling (tightly wrapping a baby) forces the hips into a straightened position where the legs are pressed together, and this he says, may lead to a condition called hip dysplasia.
Dysplasia is not always painful, but can cause joint abnormalities and long-term complications such as osteoarthritis. Severe cases can eventually require hip replacement.

Does it increase the risk of SIDS?

As there are only risk factors for SIDS and not causes, it is difficult for any study to pinpoint one action as reducing the risk. You should create a safe sleeping environment which includes not allowing your baby to overheat, putting him on his back and don’t allow anything to cover his face. Swaddling is a risk factor – it can result in baby overheating, the blanket coming loose and covering her face and may also stop baby’s natural survival reflexes from waking her during the night. If after reading this you still decide you would like to swaddle, you should follow these recommendations:

  • Be aware of the risks, particularly of the use of heavy materials and the risk of the blanket coming loose.
  • NEVER be placed your baby on her stomach when swaddled.
  • If you are going to swaddle, research suggests it is safest to swaddle from birth and not to change bed time practices at 3 months of age, this is when SIDS risk is
    greatest.
  • Always make sure Secondary caregivers (childminders/nannies/nurseries/family members) are aware of your child’s usual sleeping environment and
    practices and they stick to this ie they don’t decide to start swaddling or allowing baby to sleep on her tummy.
  • There has been a lot of research in to the cause of SIDS and as a new parent it is the thing we worry most about. I always like to play on the safe side. I used a fitted sheet, had nothing else in her bed, my baby had a sleeping bag (that fits) and I also had a sensor pad with an alarm. We also co-slept – I always made sure this was made safe and we never slept on the sofa. It can seem like a bit if a minefield but the safest advice is to follow the advice. No one is telling you how to parent, just helping you to make sensible, informed decisions. The more we know about the risks, the better decisions we can make about our babies sleeping environment. The most important new information for me in this post is the advice not to change your little ones sleeping habits at around 3 months of age. This is where the risk of SIDS is at its highest – this may be due to secondary caregivers not being properly informed. I hope you found this post useful.

    Do you swaddle? Were you swaddled as a child? Did you inform your child’s carer of his sleeping habits/environment?

    Resources: NHS