PhotoSwaddling – the act of wrapping a baby in a thin blanket or cloth -- is an extremely common parenting technique that has been practiced around the world for centuries.

Many believe that it has a calming effect that encourages sleep and relaxation, but new research indicates that it can actually be very dangerous.

An analysis conducted at the University of Bristol led researchers to conclude that swaddling a child for sleep can actually increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a condition defined by the sudden death of an infant younger than one year old.

Sleeping position is key

The researchers initially began their review to determine if there was a tangible link between swaddling for sleep and SIDS, but ran into complications with the prior studies. Despite these limitations, they found that the way in which a baby was put down for sleep made a huge difference when it came to increasing the risk of SIDS.

“We only found four studies and they were quite different, and none gave a precise definition for swaddling, making it difficult to pool the results,” said Dr. Anna Pease, lead author of the review. “We did find, however, that the risk of SIDS when placing infants on the side or front for sleep increased when infants were swaddled.”

This finding reinforces that it is important for babies to sleep on their backs, especially if they are being swaddled. The researchers found that the risk of SIDS nearly doubled for babies who slept on their sides while being swaddled.

Especially dangerous as children age

The analysis also revealed that swaddling becomes a more dangerous practice as a baby gets older. Pease explains that being able to move independently can increase a child’s chances of putting themselves in danger while they’re swaddled.

“We found some evidence in this review that as babies get older, they may be more likely to move into unsafe positions while swaddled during sleep, suggesting an age is needed after which swaddling for sleep should be discouraged,” she said, adding that most babies start being able to roll over at about 4-6 months.

The researchers hope that their findings will allow parents to examine their own parenting techniques and help them adjust so that their baby remains safe.

“On a practical level what parents should take away from this is that if they choose to swaddle their babies for sleep, always place them on their back, and think about when to stop swaddling for sleep as their babies get older and more able to move,” said Pease.

The full study has been published in Pediatrics.

Share your Comments