Is swaddling your baby safe?

Many new mothers the world over are taught the same thing: that it is normal, if not encouraged, to swaddle their babies in the first year of the baby’s birth. I can remember growing up as a child hearing anecdotes of my European great-grandmother wrapping up my baby brother “tight like a soldier.”

The practice of swaddling babies, wrapping them in a tight cocoon-like blanket, has been passed down through generations of families and is even today still taught in hospitals. It is thought to be soothing and calming, helping the little one to settle into sleep. But what if this traditional practice could actually be harming our children?

According to an American study, swaddling infants may be linked to the phenomenon of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a tragic occurrence that even the most attentive parent should be careful of.

According to an American study, swaddling infants may be linked to the phenomenon of SIDS. Photo source: iStock.

The study took into account data including 2,519 cases of infant death, 760 of which occurred as a result of SIDS. Of these 2,519 deaths, a significant 323 infants were swaddled, and nearly half of those swaddled were lost to SIDS.

Further research showed that when babies were set to sleep swaddled on their side or stomach, their chance of dying of SIDS was 50 per cent greater than blanket-free babies in the same placement. When placed on their backs, the rate of SIDS caused deaths lessened, though still showed greater risk than unswaddled children.

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This overall risk of SIDS related death increases with the age of the baby, as those at an age of six months or more are more active, and therefore more likely to move into a potentially fatal position.

However, according to SIDS and Kids, swaddling infants is still safe and can help babies to sleep on their backs, but only if done correctly.

According to their “Safe Wrapping” poster the infant must be: “placed on their back”, face uncovered, in a non-bed-sharing environment. The wrap should be made of “muslin or light cotton material” and should be wrapped in a manner that is “firm, but not tight”. In order to avoid over heating, an additional factor related to SIDS, the infant should be lightly dressed beneath the wrapping. Once your child is over the age of six months, and therefore more likely to roll over into a dangerous position, it is recommended that swaddling be ceased at this time.

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