Is Swaddling Really Safe? Here are the Current Recommendations

SwaddleA pediatric study about swaddling infants and its connection to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has gained some recent media attention. As a parent of a newborn you may feel confused with conflicting information, you may be wondering if it is safe to swaddle your infant.

Swaddling infants has been practiced in cultures around the world and some studies have proven that swaddling infants can help curb excessive crying in infants and help newborns with sleep awakenings promoting a more quiet sleep.

But swaddling can also unintended consequences.

One core concern on the part of pediatricians, breastfeeding advocates, and others is that routine swaddling interferes with a mother’s intuitive response to her baby’s needs. “Crying is the baby’s language, his voice; it’s the only way he has to tell you he needs something,” stresses internationally-known breastfeeding advocate, pediatric nurse practitioner, and educator Kittie Franz. “Newborns are about need, not want. Before you use this tool (of swaddling), find out what he needs—don’t just shut him up.”

You can read Mothering’s in-depth article on the risks and benefits of swaddling right here

Although the new study in Pediatrics found a connection between SIDS and swaddling it also concluded that the highest risks for babies who were swaddled were infants over the age of 6 months, and infants who were swaddled and put on their tummy or side for sleep.

If you choose to swaddle, follow these recommendations:

  • Always place your baby to sleep on his or her back. Do not put your baby to sleep on his or her tummy or side. Prone sleeping (sleeping on tummy) and side sleeping are associated with an increased risk of SIDS.
  • When babies are swaddled, care should be taken to swaddle properly to avoid future hip problems.  According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, improper swaddling may lead to hip dysplasia or developmental dysplasia of the hip. When in the womb the baby’s legs are in a fetal position with the legs bent up and across each other. Sudden straightening of the legs to a standing position can loosen the joints and damage the soft cartilage of the socket. Find more information and a video on hip-healthy swaddling here.
  • It is safest to stop swaddling when your baby starts showing signs of being able to roll over, this usually happens around 3-5 months of age. The risk of a baby rolling over and getting onto their side or stomach while swaddled may increase risk of suffocation and/or SIDS. When babies are starting to roll over, parents and caregivers should transition the baby from swaddling to a less restrictive covering for sleep.
  • Take precautions so that your baby does not overheat when swaddled. The American Academy of Pediatrics has linked overheating to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. The baby could be too hot if you notice sweating, damp hair, flushed cheeks, heat rash, and rapid breathing.
  • More Info on Reducing risks of SIDS: SIDS is uncommon in infancy but most likely to happen in infants between age 1 and 4 months. Parents can take precautions to decrease the risk of SIDS by putting their baby on his or her back to sleep, by breastfeeding. It is also important to avoiding using soft bedding. Find more information on how to take preventative measures against SIDS here.

Image Credit: Mark Wilkie


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