Latest Baby Danger: Swaddling


The art of swaddling is something many the father brags about being an expert in, and hospitals often take a newborn, wipe them off, swaddle them tightly and hand them back to mom within the first ten minutes after birth.

We've heard it makes babies sleep longer or better, prevents them from waking themselves up when they startle, and overall, helps babies be more secure.


But the problem is, it has negative health impacts, and even increases the risk of SIDS, but only if swaddling is being done at the wrong times and in the wrong sleep position.

Skin-on-skin contact, a.k.a. Kangaroo Care, is incredibly important to newborns. It can literally make the difference between life and death, as mom's body is designed to hold a newborn to warm them (no need for machines when mom is better, unless there's a medical reason mom can't hold baby right away). When on mom's chest, especially skin-to-skin, baby's breathing begins to mimic mom's respiration and even the heart rate levels out.

Breastfeeding in the first hour, but as soon as possible even in that hour, is optimal for baby's initial health, since after about an hour or two, baby goes into a deep "recovery" sleep, and then will wake up ravenous, which can make the first feeding incredibly difficult. But when baby is swaddled, their senses are dulled and they can't use their hands to help them locate the breast and nipple. Yes, you can raise baby to your breast, but when they are allowed to be an active participant and get comfortable and naturally curl their arms around the breast or even knead it with their tiny hands to encourage letdown and flow, it goes more smoothly.

Swaddling during those hospital days can make can make a huge difference in the baby's health and the success of initial breastfeeding and weight gain.

Swaddled babies separated during their first two hours lost more weight.  

Swaddled babies kept in the nursery were colder and consumed less milk

Swaddled babies in the nursery lost more weight despite consuming more formula. Possible reasons for this that the researchers suggested include:

  • Severely limiting baby’s movements is stressful, which burns more calories.
  • Swaddled babies receive less touch, which can compromise growth in preterm babies.

Pretty major impact, isn't it?

Swaddling, especially the tight swaddles dads pride themselves on, have even been showing evidence of being a significant factor in hip dysplasia. The AAP even recommends that pediatricians who find out their patients swaddle do Ortolani and Barlow examinations to test for a hip click, and that if it's present, they should advise their patients to stop swaddling immediately. The reason some more primitive cultures don't have this issue with their 24/7 swaddled babies is they're wrapped in the frog position, with the legs folded up almost cross-legged, like they are in the womb.

Now, I know a lot of people swear their baby needs to be swaddled to sleep well, and that they sleep better that way and don't wake themselves up as often, but unfortunately, contrary to our country's belief that the most important thing in a baby is making them sleep well, too deep or secure of sleep is actually a bad thing -- it can make babies sleep through feedings they need, causing breastfeeding supply issues, poor weight gain and even delay the drop of bilirubin levels. But most moms would certainly notice if too many hours went by and baby slept through feedings.

The biggest worry is if you swaddle your baby when she is ill, and in a very heated room, and have her sleeping in the prone position (face down). This can increase the risk of SIDS. But swaddling alone when baby is sleeping on her back does not increase the risk.  

After everything I've read about swaddling, it seems the only benefit is less interrupted sleep for baby. With the risk of breastfeeding failure, hip problems, and weight gain problems it's enough to make me re-think swaddling.

Did you know any of this? Do you swaddle your babies?

Editor's Note: This version has been edited to reflect changes in the text. Thank you for your comments.


Image via Swaddle Babies/Flickr

baby health, baby sleep, breastfeeding, sids


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mtnma... mtnmama111

I heard recently that one culture swaddles their infants from birth to a year- now I am having a brain fart and cannot recall WHICH culture.. but my thinking at the time was that it would *help* the parents as it would keep the children from being active- and from getting in the way.. our first liked being swaddled a bit- but I would always undo her so we could snuggle.. so I guess I knew instinctively about this.. the SIDS stat is frightening tho...

rocks... rockstarmom2b

Wow!! I knew it was causing hip issues, but I had no idea about all this!! It makes plenty of sense though. The nurses handed Olivia to me in the hospital and I for some reason was afraid to unwrap her! Lol she looked like a little sausage in a blanket! Haha! I unwrapped her about an hour after they brought her to me and I laid her on top of me and she was so much happier and content. She LOVED to be snuggled and nursed. Oh... This makes me miss her being so small... Now she won't let me cuddle her unless she's sick... :(

yenca615 yenca615

I swaddled my last 2 babies.  I only did it when it was time for them to sleep.  I wouldn't keep them in it for hours upon end which is what it seems this article implies.  My youngest had jaundice and was born Jan '10.  we had to keep him naked until his biliruben levels normalized.  we didn't swaddle him at all until after his first doctor checkup.  both babies woke up every night for their feedings and if they didn't I went in and woke them up. I know how important it is for them to feed every 2-4 hours.  We loved swaddling. 

Brade... BradenIsMySon

Who doesn't do the frog leg position when they swaddle? Duh.


I can see the issue with the other things mentioned though.

rocks... rockstarmom2b

Mtnmama, I know that the Mongolian culture keeps their babies tightly packaged near the mothers breast for at least the first 6-12 months. They get NO tummy time, I don't know what their SIDS rate is, but their breastfeeding rates are almost 100%!

wendy... wendy46121

I really didn't know about any of these things.  We *are* taught that swaddling helps them feel more comfortable, like they are tight in our womb... but I see even now that's just another myth of modern parenting that is perpetuated to make the parents life easier, but has no benefits for baby.  I'm going to say if we want babies to be comforted as if they are in our wombs, then putting them skin to skin against you is the most logical choice.  

Emera... Emerald_storm01

Wow, what a load of crap. My daughter was in the NICU for 43 days and not only did they encourage and promote kangaroo care, but they also encouraged and promoted swaddling.  Not being able to move causes stress which burns more calories?  Yeah, ok, because they are used to being able to flail their arms and legs at will while in the womb, right?  One of the reasons swaddling is promoted is because they tightness of the wrap allows a brand new infant the comfort of being secure and warm in mom's uterus.  

thedg... thedgoddess

My kids HATED to be swaddled but were okay with a sling, as long as they were in front and their head and feet stuck out the whole time.

Britt Eger

Wow this is the first time I have really felt like an article posted on the stir was such a load of BS! Well let me rephrase, you have taken common sense things twisted them to make a big deal, and twisted statistics to make it seem like some huge thing. I am shocked by what a poorly researched, informed, and written article this is. Not only that you are scaring unknowing young mothers into going against the good advice of their docs or midwifes. Shame on you. I did kangaroo care with both my boys, it was great for them and for me. I also swaddled both my boys during their naps and at night, as they got older I only swaddled their arms. I never swaddled them during breastfeeding and I don't know anyone that ever did, it would be very hard to hold them if they were swaddled during breastfeeding. Just like kangaroo care, the best way of breastfeeding is skin on skin contact as well. 

nonmember avatar Jenny R

The link in the article from the New England Journal of Medicine regarding the increased risk of babies dying of SIDS is when the baby is PRONE and swaddled. Since it's safe to assume that moms are not leaving their swaddled baby face down, I don't think we have to worry about this statistic.

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