There are many benefits to swaddling your baby, but incorrect swaddling can lead to serious health problems like hip dysplasia. Follow our tips to avoid these risks and get the most out of swaddling your baby.
After years of encouraging parents to use swaddling as a way to calm infants, pediatricians are cautioning them against using incorrect methods that may do more harm than good.
In September 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study showing that hip dysplasia, a condition that affects thousands of children and adults each year that is caused by misalignment of the hipbones, can be traced to improper swaddling techniques. The condition, also known as developmental dysplasia of the hip, hip dislocation, congenital dislocation of the hip, or loose hips, prevents the hip joint from functioning properly and wears on the joint faster than normal. Unlike a dislocated shoulder, which can be easy to spot because of the pain associated with it, those with hip dysplasia don’t experience discomfort until the later stages, when the condition is harder to correct.
“Pediatricians have known for decades that the legs are sensitive to improper swaddling,” says orthopedic surgeon Charles Price, the director of the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI) and study author. “Our issue is that we didn’t realize that swaddling is as widespread as it is. Our job is to educate parents and those who work with newborns about how to correctly swaddle children. Since swaddling became popular in the United States, pediatricians have been struggling to catch up to moms who learn how to swaddle but may not learn how to swaddle correctly.”
Like most things, there are benefits and risks to swaddling, says Harvey Karp, M.D., FAAP, creator of “The Happiest Baby” book and DVD series. “We started using car seats in the 1970s and children were killed because some car seats were not installed correctly,” Dr. Karp says. “We had a choice: either stop using them or educate people on how to use them correctly. We chose to educate people. It’s the same with swaddling.” Dr. Karp, a Queens native who graduated from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, goes on to compare the results of swaddling to a doctor testing for the knee-jerk reflex. “If you’re off by an inch, you don’t get the reflex,” he explains. “If you’re not swaddling correctly, you won’t see the benefits. It’s all or nothing, and technique is critical.”