real life

Disturbing news for anyone who's swaddled their baby

The first time I watched a midwife 'swaddling' my new baby it looked like he was being assaulted. It reminded me of my local butcher wrapping a roast in that shiny paper they use - quickly, efficiently, securely and with no means of escape.

So after years of swaddling my three children - because I was told to at the hospital - it seems this practice is outdated and potentially harmful. Experts are warning that it's bad for our children's hips. They say it can lead to 'developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH)'.

The condition raises the likelihood of needing a hip replacement in middle age or developing late onset osteoarthritis.

Nicholas Clarke wrote in the British journal Archives of Disease in Childhood: "Traditional swaddling is a risk factor for DDH. In order to allow for healthy hip development, legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints. The babies' legs should not be tightly wrapped in extension and pressed together.''

When I asked my midwife why we swaddle babies she said it comforts our babies who have just left the comfort and security of our womb. Swaddling goes back to the days of ancient Greeks and Romans and has been used in the Western World for decades. In Australia the practice is still wide-spread with most hospitals recommending the practice. Swaddling also prevents babies from waking themselves up with the 'startle reflex', when a baby moves suddenly while they are sleeping.

It made sense at the time.

But I never swaddled my babies so tightly that their legs were straightened. For me it was always about trying to secure their arms. Could it be that swaddling has it's place but that we've been taking it too far?

I was never good at swaddling my children. Philip hated to be swaddled and would writhe and struggle until his arms had escaped. He'd then fall peacefully to sleep with his arms rest on either side of his head. He kicked the rest of it off by the four week mark and then blissfully slept in various positions all over the crib, eventually rolling onto his stomach for the face-plant sleep which left me a nervous wreck. HE CAN'T BREATH, I'd whisper to my husband as I gently moved his head so his nose wasn't at all blocked.

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Day care centres in the US are quietly moving away from swaddling and have been since 2011, with centre workers say they have trouble getting the children in their care to sleep as a result. The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Public Health Association has released its third edition of "Caring for Our Children," a set of safety guidelines for early care and education programs. According to those rules, swaddling can increase the odds of serious health outcomes, particularly if a baby is placed on his or her stomach to sleep, and can also increase the risk of hip problems. "In child care settings," the standard says, "swaddling is not necessary or recommended."

"Many babies sleep better when swaddled but this can be achieved by focusing on the top half of the body," Dr Clarke wrote  in the Archives of Disease in Childhood published by the British Medical Journal.

Australian paediatrician Dr Harriet Hiscock of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute agrees. "Parents who are going to wrap need to learn to do it in a safe way. The baby must be able to fully stretch out their legs. The wrap should be tight at the top and looser at the bottom."

In Japan there has been a huge push to stop parents swaddling their babies and as a result, hip dislocation in babies has halved. Even baby clothing manufacturers make sure that store-bought swaddling clothes have a loose pouch or sack for the baby's legs and feet, allowing for plenty of hip movement and flexing these days.

Paediatrician Alastair Sutcliffe of University College London has studied countries like Nigeria where women traditionally carry their babies with the legs splayed around their waist. Hip dislocation in infants in Nigeria is unseen.

"I would advise that if a baby needs to be wrapped up to get off to sleep that parents do this in a sympathetic and loose manner, and not tight especially around the babies' hips," he said.

I don't feel like such a failure anymore!

So when it comes to swaddling babies here's what to keep in mind:

* Swaddle babies securely around the top but keep the wrapping loose around the hips;

* Some babies don't like to be swaddled and you just need to read your baby as best you can;

* Stop swaddling your baby by around two months old;

* Make sure all swaddling products you purchase have room for babies to relax their hips;

* Remind midwives that they are wrapping a baby, not a roast...just joking. She was actually quite good and Philip didn't mind at all. He fell asleep seconds later.

Image credits: Instagram and hip-baby.org

Did you swaddle your babies?