Swaddling may help soothe your baby and your ears – but should you?
The technique involves wrapping a baby in blankets, essentially mimicking the environment of a womb. This is thought to help calm fussy infants and increase the quality and length of your baby’s REM (rapid eye movement), or deep sleep. While it’s a common practice, some parents and medical experts aren’t in favor of it. The possible relationship between swaddling and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – one of the most common causes of death for newborn babies – has been a particularly hot topic this summer following the release of a new study.
Here are the pros and cons you should discuss with your pediatrician before deciding whether swaddling is right for your baby.
Wrapping babies snugly in cotton receiving blankets, muslin wraps or specially designed baby swaddles can help them feel warm and secure. The cozy cocoons help babies sleep longer, deeper and quieter, and with less spontaneous arousals to interrupt their slumber. Swaddling also helps keep sleeping infants in a supine position (on their backs), which helps decrease the risk of SIDS. Further, the technique seems to have especially positive effects for infants with certain impairments. Swaddling has been shown to improve neuromuscular development for low birth weight babies and reduce both psychological and behavioral distress among premature babies.
The reasons that motivate some caregivers to swaddle may pose additional dangers for infants. Negative effects of swaddling that have been proven include an increased risk of hip dysplasia when the swaddle restricts the movement of the infant’s legs and the possibility of developing pneumonia and upper respiratory tract infections if the blanket impedes movement of the infant’s chest.
A recent study suggests that swaddling increases the risk of SIDS. This threat is heightened when the babies sleep on their bellies and when they approach the age of 6 months. Note, however, that causation or correlation has between swaddling and SIDS has not yet been determined.
Handle with Care
The potential risks of swaddling may be prevented by doing it properly. Here are a few guidelines for safe swaddling:
- Wrap it right. Wrapping too tightly can cause dangerous overheating and may promote respiratory infections. Wrapping too loosely can create a smothering hazard if the blanket comes undone.
- Make sure the baby’s legs can bend fully at the hips. Wrapping too tightly can cause the baby to develop hip dysplasia.
- Always lay babies on their backs when they sleep.
- Babies who are old enough to roll over on their stomachs should not be swaddled.
- Babies should not be left alone in a crib with a blanket on or around them, so the safest way to swaddle is with your supervision.
Dr. Jessica Lanerie is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s new Sienna Plantation Clinic. After receiving her medical degree from Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Medicine in 2013, Dr. Lanerie completed a residency in Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in 2016. Her clinical interests include weight management, asthma and eczema.