Bradley Thach, MD, addresses the issue of safety with the article “Does Swaddling Decrease or Increase the Risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?” In his research, he determined the following: “Fortunately in the present study, as noted previously, swaddling does not appear to impair sub-cortical arousals that are essential for adequate pulmonary function and appear to be the primary mechanism in terminating obstructive apnea in infants.”
In an extensive review, Dr. Karp, in his article “Swaddling: Boosts Baby Sleep, Stops Colic and Reduces Infant Risks”, addresses the concern of swaddling increasing or decreasing the possibility of SIDS or suffocation. He notes that two studies have shown that babies who sleep on their back and are swaddled have a 33% less risk of SIDS than unwrapped back-sleeping babies.
He suggests that swaddling might actually reduce SIDS and accidental suffocation due to the following benefits:
- Boost baby sleep so parents are not tempted to place baby in the dangerous tummy sleep position
- Boost baby sleep so parents aren’t tempted to bring baby into the adult bed. Parent’s profound slumber could be hazardous if they fall deeply asleep while holding their baby, especially if they sleep in a dangerous location (e.g. couches or beds)
- Keep babies from accidentally rolling onto the stomach. Babies who always back sleep – but accidentally roll to the stomach – have an 8-37 times increased SIDS risk (swaddled babies are less able to roll onto stomach)
- Promote breastfeeding. Swaddling reduces infant crying and boosts sleep, factors known to lead to early cessation from depression, exhaustion, lack of confidence in milk and reduced family/ physician support.
Another possible swaddling concern is its potential effect on nursing. This appears not to be an issue. In fact, the baby being calmer may enhance breastfeeding and improve maternal wellbeing.
Hip dysplasia has also been suggested as a potential negative result of swaddling, but the International Hip Dysplasia Institute states it’s safe. When swaddling, be sure that the hips are positioned in slight flexion (slightly bent) and abduction (away from the body). As long as the baby can bend their legs and move their lower extremities, swaddling may actually benefit the infant.
Dr. Karp even addresses the issue of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), sharing that the number one reason for SBS is infant crying. He refers to one report which states that 89% of parents who shook their babies visited a doctor prior to assaulting their babies seeking advice to calm their infant. He comments that if maternal wellbeing was improved, it may reduce possible stressors leading to SBS.