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Swaddling and SIDS – Is There a Real Risk?

Jan 31 featured image.jpgSWADDLING IS ONE of the first skills that many new parents are taught, and it typically happens before they even leave the hospital with their baby. Once the baby is born and is whisked away for its first checkup, the nurses often return the baby bundled up for warmth and comfort. Some mothers may learn how to swaddle before they even deliver their baby because they want to know how to keep their newborn warm and safe.

Swaddling is believed to comfort babies by reminding them of the tight quarters they lived in before birth. They may also feel more secure, since their arms and legs are held tight in a safe position. As the baby starts to grow, swaddling is often a way to encourage sleep for longer periods of time, and many parents – desperate for even one hour of sleep – will bathe and swaddle their babies with hopes of some rest.

The problem is that modern studies are suggesting a potential connection between swaddling and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, otherwise known as SIDS.
This is one of the biggest fears that many new parents have, and it’s the reason many mothers keep their babies close by in bassinets rather than placing them in a crib. Every parent must do their research to pick up tips for preventing SIDS, but they may not expect one of those tips to be “don’t swaddle.”

Factors that May Increase the Risk of SIDS

swaddled infant-1.jpgOne meta-analysis of studies related to swaddling and SIDS revealed two factors that may increase the chances of SIDS when a baby is swaddled:

    • Position: Babies swaddled and then placed on their stomachs or sides were more likely to experience SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies sleep on their backs because it allows for easier breath control and lowers the risk of SIDS. Infants don’t have the muscle strength to move or turn their faces from the mattress or floor if they’re suffocating. Even at an older age, a swaddled baby’s arms are confined and that makes it more difficult for them to move if their breath is restricted or they experience other dangers.
    • Age: The studies showed that babies older than six months were twice as likely to experience SIDS. While there isn’t enough evidence to say that swaddling a baby beyond that age is a cause of SIDS, the study did recommend further exploration into a specific age beyond which swaddling should not be used. One good suggestion is to stop swaddling once a baby is strong enough to roll over and lift their upper bodies with their arms.

It’s important to note that this study states that further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between swaddling and SIDS. It doesn’t go as far as to state that swaddling a baby and placing them on their side or stomach will lead to death. It simply suggests that there is enhanced risk for a swaddled baby sleeping in those positions. The study even noted slightly elevated risk for swaddled babies sleeping on their backs, but the risk grew with side or stomach positioning.

To Swaddle or Not to Swaddle

There is no clear-cut answer to this question. Each parent must do what feels right for their baby after thoroughly studying all potential SIDS causes.

If you want to play it safe, swaddle your baby only when they’re positioned on their back for sleep and you’re nearby to intervene if trouble arises. The risks for SIDS increase when the baby is left alone in a swaddled position for a long period of time. Many soft cloth over-head or over-shoulder baby carriers allow you to mimic a swaddled position without actually swaddling your baby. This is a good option when carrying your baby while they’re awake or sleeping.

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