Expert Warns of the Dangers of Swaddling Infants

The ancient practice soothes infants—but also has risks.



It was good enough for Jesus, as the coming holiday season reminds us—not to mention Prince George, who got his first intro to the public wrapped in a white muslin version by Brooklyn’s own Aden + Anais brand. The swaddling blanket has become haute bébé couture, with new moms from Sandra Bullock to Beyoncé pledging allegiance to the ancient practice of tightly wrapping infants from head to toe—albeit in au courant versions of swaddling blankets from companies like Little Giraffe, Munchkin and Summer Infant. The soothing technique has undergone a major revival; nine out of 10 American infants now get the wrap treatment in their first six months of life. Evidence has shown it reduces crying and colic and helps lull babies to sleep.

But a British pediatric orthopedic surgeon has stepped forward to warn that new studies show baby-bundling can have a serious downside. In an article in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Southampton University Hospital professor Nicholas Clarke writes that because swaddling straightens the legs and shifts the hips forward, it increases the chance your baby’s hips will become misaligned (a condition known as hip dysplasia) and may heighten the risk of osteoarthritis—and the need for hip replacement—later in life. An educational campaign in Japan that warned grandmothers not to swaddle grandchildren cut the incidence of hip dislocation in infants in half.

Swaddling can be safe, so long as baby-wrappers take care not to wind blankets so tightly that legs can’t bend up and out at the hips. And any swaddling product you buy should include a pouch for your baby’s feet and legs, leaving them free to move. So keep on wrapping, but not too tightly, please.

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  • cindy

    My grand child is 6.5 months old and is still being swaddled. He hates it and scolds his mother with his complaints. How crazy is otto tie someone up to sleep? I believe it causes terrors. I want to be able to move around when I sleep. This baby has a flat head because he can only sleep on his back swaddled. It’s cruel and absolutely crazy. I can’t hardly stand to watch it’s cruelty. He cant roll over and sleep in a comfortable position. I hear him on the baby monitor grunting and groaning to escape. It ought to be criminal after the age of 3-4 months because that baby wants to move when he sleeps. Who sleeps in the same position all night long? People’s backs get numb and legs and arms get numb sleeping all night “duct taped”.
    It seems so simple….would you like it if it were done to you? Then why do it to another helpless human being?

    • Megan

      Wow, you just accused your child or child-in-law of cruelty. My goodness.

    • Peapod’s Dad

      Apparently you have never heard of the Moro reflex, where infants react to not being secured by reaching thier arms out to try an grab onto something. When sleeping if there is nothing to grab onto they often wake up, often without enough sleep. My son will not go to sleep if he is not swaddled or in our arms. We do not tightly swaddle him, just enough to make him feel secure.

    • Mary

      Your parenting skills seem to be slightly out of date. While the article makes a good point about methods of swaddling, there is a critical mass of research showing that babies sleep better and are more comfortable when swaddled. Babys, even up to 6 months, do not have the mental capacity to “want” to move in their sleep in the manner you suggest. Additionally, lots of babies have flat spots at a young age from sleeping on their back– it goes away and is the correct method, as sleeping on the stomach increases SIDS (aka baby death). Seems worth it. Finally, you accuse your own family of abuse over a common- and accepted- practice-; your priorities are clearly out of order.