At one time, swaddling was a very common practice. Over the years, however, it fell out of favor because of concerns that is creates hip abnormalities. Doctors say that when a baby is tightly wrapped it can cause his hips to straighten and turn forward, creating misalignment. This misalignment can loosen the baby’s joints and damage the cartilage in his hip sockets, leading to hip dysplasia. In severe cases of hip dysplasia, the hip may actually become dislocated. In addition, infants with hip dysplasia are at greater risk for later hip problems, such as osteoarthritis or the need for middle-aged hip replacement.
But, parents are increasingly returning to this practice because it does have many benefits for babies, especially very young ones. When a baby is wrapped tightly in his blanket, it mimics the feeling of being in the cramped quarters of his mother’s womb, making him feel safe and secure. Babies who are swaddled sleep better and cry less. Also, swaddling can keep very young babies – who may not yet be fully able to regulate their own body temperature – cozy and warm.
Because of these many benefits, swaddling has now begun to experience a great resurgence in popularity. In America, about 90 percent of babies are swaddled in their first six months. And, in the UK, the demand for swaddling clothes was reported to have risen by 61 percent between the years of 2010 and 2011.
However, the growing popularity of swaddling has left many doctors concerned about whether we will start to see more cases of hip dysplasia in the future. They say that it is very important for parents to be aware of the risk for hip problems and to learn how to safely swaddle their infants.
According to Professor Nicholas Clarke, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Southampton University Hospital in Southampton, England, there are two steps that parents should follow to ensure that their babies are safely swaddled.
First of all, if the baby is swaddling with a blanket, parents should ensure that the baby’s legs can still bend up and out at the hips. This position allows the hip joints to develop naturally. If the baby’s legs are pressed together tightly, this puts too much strain on the hip joints.
Secondly, says Professor Clarke, parents who are using commercially available swaddling products should make sure that the bottom portion of the product is loose enough to allow for natural hip movement.
The following video, produced by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia, illustrates how to safely swaddle your baby while checking that your baby’s hip joints and legs can move freely.
Parents should be aware, however, that if a baby develops hip problems this is not necessarily their fault. Hip dysplasia is actually fairly common in newborn babies, with about 20 percent of babies being born with it. For this reason, your doctor will screen your baby at birth, as well as at your well-baby appointments, to make sure he has not developed this condition. In addition to tight swaddling, other risk factors include having a family history of hip dysplasia, breech birth and being a female baby. The most important thing that you can do as a parent to prevent this condition, in addition to making certain that your baby is safely swaddled, is to take your baby to his well-baby checkups so that any problems can be detected and treated in a timely manner.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening
How to Swaddle Safely – Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta