The Swaddling Debate: Is Swaddling Dangerous?

swaddled baby sleeping

To swaddle, or not to swaddle? There is mixed advice out there among parents and childcare experts. Some say swaddling can contribute to SIDS or other issues. Others say, when done properly, swaddling is not only safe, but it is also highly beneficial for baby and parent. Here in lies what has been called the Great Swaddling Debate.

This isn't a light decision, such as picking the stroller style you like best, or what color to paint the baby's room. This is an important safety concern that requires you to consider factors at play with your particular infant. Newborn caregivers need to know: is swaddling dangerous?

What is Swaddling?

Swaddling is the practice of tightly wrapping an infant in a blanket to promote sleep. While swaddling is popular among some parents and pediatricians, some research on swaddling is divided.

swaddled baby with a hat

In his book, "The Happiest Baby on the Block," Dr. Harvey Karp explains how swaddling helps to mimic the confines of the uterus, giving babies a comforting feeling. However, in recent years, in states like Minnesota, swaddling is now illegal in child care centers. This ban is reportedly based on a 2011 decision by the National Resource Center on Child Health and Safety which cites, "evidence that swaddling can increase the risk of serious health outcomes," including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and hip diseases.

Is This Just a Concern in Daycare Settings?

The status of swaddling becoming illegal has thus far only applied to childcare centers, where perhaps concern with overuse or misuse of swaddling could be a factor. After all, if done improperly, swaddling could lead to overheating, not enough infant arousal times, or delaying development in grossly extended periods. Too much swaddling may be the main problem, rather than occasional swaddling to aid with sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has not taken an official stance on the safety of swaddling in child care settings, but they note that swaddling "is an effective way to calm infants, especially in the newborn period, and is generally used in the first three months of life."

newborn in crib

What Are the Reasons to Swaddle?

Dr. Karp's famous "Five S's" for calming fussy babies are: swaddling, side/stomach position, swinging, shushing, and sucking. Swaddling can keep your newborn from making sudden movements and startling, thereby promoting sleep. This can be crucial, especially for parents with colicky babies, in those early months.

"Swaddling has been done by people around the globe for at least thousands of years," says Penny, a natural parenting blogger who discusses the great swaddling debate on her 'Penniless Parenting' blog. "There's proof that Jesus was swaddled, which means that at least for 2000 years people have been swaddling their babies." The common use of swaddling when it proves effective with a given baby speak positively for its safe use.

What Are the Concerns with Swaddling?

While formal research has yet to establish a direct connection, some in the medical field have questioned whether swaddling will increase hip problems in infants. Researchers acknowledge that swaddling may aggravate DDH, developmental dysplasia of the hip, so it should be avoided in children already known to have some hip issues. Many of these associations, however, involve wrapping a child too tightly, rather than just snugly; learning what is the right level of tightness to the swaddle is important for your child.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your choices when it comes to swaddling.