When to Stop Swaddling: What Parents Need to Know
Are you a new parent? Congratulations? Chances are you have lots of questions too but that’s only natural. You want the very best for the new being you brought into the world. One question many new parents have is about swaddling a baby – should you do it and when to stop swaddling.Let’s look at what research shows.
What is Swaddling?
Swaddling is the age-old practice of wrapping a baby snugly in a blanket to make them feel comfortable and secure – and to soothe them. When you properly wrap a baby for swaddling it holds their limbs firmly in place. It’s a practice moms have carried out for centuries, as far back as the Paleolithic period. At one time, moms even used bandage-like strips called swaddling bands to secure a baby.
Swaddling creates a warm, protected environment like your baby had inside your womb. In medical settings, health care professionals use swaddling to comfort and protect premature babies who were thrust out of the womb too soon. The more high-strung and fussy a baby is, the more likely they’ll benefit from swaddling. Wrapping a baby snuggly makes them feel more secure and helps them sleep better during the night.
The younger your baby is, the more likely they’ll enjoy the security and warmth that swaddling provides. Most health care professionals recommend stopping the practice once a baby is able to roll over in a crib. In general, this happens at around three or four months of age. There’s another reason to stop swaddling after three to four months of age and it has to do with health.
Swaddling and the Risk of SIDS
Is swaddling a safe practice? Here’s a disturbing statistic. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. The risk was 13 times higher when swaddled babies slept in a prone position, three times higher in a side sleeping position, and two times higher when sleeping on their back. The risk also goes up in babies who are swaddled past the age of four months.
For these reasons, if you swaddle your baby, make sure they are lying on their back and only do it up until the age of three or four months. Once they’re able to move around in the crib and flip themselves over, swaddling may be risky. They could end up in a prone position.
Also of note is a study showing improperly swaddling a baby can lead to hip dysplasia or abnormal hip development. When your baby is properly swaddled, they should still be able to bend up and out at the hips and not have their legs forced into a straight or extended position.
The Bottom Line
The take-home message? Despite the security that swaddling provides a baby, it’s also linked with a higher risk of SIDS. If you swaddle, be sure to wrap appropriately, firmly but not too constrictive. Make sure your baby is lying in a supine position on his or her back and stop swaddling once your baby can turn over in the crib or no later than three to four months of age.
New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch. “Infant Swaddling Tied to Increased SIDS Risk” May 9, 2016.
International Hip Dysplasia Institute. “Are You Swaddling Your Baby Properly?”