Can Swaddling Save Your Baby's Life?

swaddled babyI'll never forget how proud I was when I learned to finally swaddle my son correctly. It took time, trial and error, and a bunch of different blankets, but once I mastered it, I loved doing it and seeing him all wrapped and snug -- my own baby burrito.

He slept that way for months. In fact, I was convinced he'd be swaddled until he went to college. He's now 7 and sleeping without a swaddle, but it was a technique I found very helpful in getting both of my children to sleep.

So I was surprised to see reports that said it may be dangerous, though they did speak to that little fear that was always in the back of my head about the swaddle coming undone and the blanket suffocating my child.

But some experts are coming out staunchly in support of swaddling, even saying anti-swaddling advice could "trigger illness or have deadly consequences."


"Swaddling a baby is perfectly safe", stated Pamela Diamond, a certified postpartum doula and baby sleep consultant, in a press release. "There are people out there who are spreading fear-laden messages that are patently false, lacking in evidence, data, and clinical studies and go directly against decades of clinical research. To advise parents to use an arms-free swaddle or no swaddle is downright absurd."  

Some pretty strong words.

But many experts agree. Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, touts swaddling's power to reduce infant crying and therefore reduce parental exhaustion.

"Swaddling is essential to public health because infant crying and the exhaustion it causes in parents are main triggers for postpartum depression, SIDS, child abuse such as Shaken Baby Syndrome, breastfeeding failure, maternal smoking, marital stress, car accidents, and over-diagnosis and treatment of babies for illness, among others," he states.

All good points, but like most controversial issues, there are pros and cons on both sides.

According the American Academy of Pediatrics, swaddling has been used for centuries by parents and has been proven to help infants sleep better. It's especially useful for preemies who show "improved neuromuscular development, less physiologic distress, better motor organization, and more self-regulatory ability when they are swaddled."

And while it can help reduce SIDS because it keeps infants on their back -- the safest way to sleep -- once babies are able to start turning themselves over, then swaddling can actually increase the risk of infant suffocation because the blanket can come loose.

Swaddling has also been linked to increased risk of hip dysplasia in infants and perhaps an increased risk of respiratory infections if done too tightly.

The takeaway from all this is, yes, swaddling can save lives, BUT you have to do it properly and be vigilant about watching your baby's development and know when to stop. Follow your instincts, talk to your doctor, and hopefully you and your baby will sleep better for it.

Do you swaddle your baby? Does it scare you to do so? Does it scare you not to?

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