Is Swaddling Risky?

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SwaddleAs new parents we are always looking for ways to get through the toughest first months with our newborns. How can I get my baby to sleep better? How can I get my baby to stop crying? There are a million answers to these questions: gimmicks, gadgets, and folklore that promise to solve all of these normal baby problems. The bottom line always comes back to time. Give it time and your baby will develop the ability to soothe herself. Give it time and she will learn to fall asleep on her own. In the meantime how do we, as sleep deprived parents, manage to get through these months?

When my oldest was 5 weeks old and in the peak of her crying (and mine) and sleepless nights, we watched The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D. His tips on soothing a crying baby gave us hope, and swaddling was the one recommendation that proved to be the most effective for us. It wasn’t that we were able to stop her from crying every time; what he gave us was another tool to put in our new baby survival toolbox. It was something to do. It was a glimmer of hope. It was not a cure for her crying every time, but it was a cure for our sanity. But….. is swaddling safe?

There have been numerous studies looking into the risks of swaddling. This is what we know today:

  • Swaddling does NOT increase the risk of SIDS when a baby is placed on his back to sleep. In fact two studies have shown a decreased risk of SIDS in babies swaddled when sleeping on their backs.1,2  It is important to stop swaddling him when he is able to roll over onto his stomach, because a baby swaddled in the prone position (face down) is at greater risk for suffocation or SIDS. Some babies can roll over on to their stomachs by 2 months of age.

  • Swaddling CAN increase your baby’s risk of hip dislocation or dysplasia IF done incorrectly. If you swaddle your baby correctly her legs should still be able to bend up and out at the hips. Click here for instructions on how to do a “Hip-Healthy Swaddle”.

  • Swaddling CAN comfort a crying baby and DOES help babies sleep. The key to swaddling is to keep his upper body secure. This will prevent his Moro or startle reflex from waking him up. It also mimics the snug and secure environment he had in the womb.

The bottom line: swaddling is a safe and incredibly useful way to comfort a baby and help her sleep. Just make sure you do it correctly and keep your baby’s sleep environment free of loose bedding, crib bumpers, stuffed animals, bags or pillows.

Do you have any tips that helped your baby stop crying or sleep better at night?

References

1  Factors potentiating the risk of sudden infant death syndrome associated with the prone position. Ponsonby AL, Dwyer T, Gibbons LE, Cochrane JA, Wang YG. N Engl J Med. 1993 Aug 5; 329(6):377-82.

2  Clothing and bedding and its relevance to sudden infant death syndrome: further results from the New Zealand Cot Death Study. Wilson CA, Taylor BJ, Laing RM, Williams SM, Mitchell EA. J Paediatr Child Health. 1994 Dec; 30(6):506-12.

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