By now you’ve probably read the latest attention grabbing headlines “Does Swaddling Babies Raise the Risk of SIDS” or “Common Parenting Practice Tied to Higher SIDS.” Since this is a technique not only relevant to our moms, but also one we highly recommend as a way to soothe a fussy baby, we wanted to take a moment to address.
According to a study published May 9th in the online edition of the journal Pediatrics, infants swaddled during sleep have a greater risk of dying from SIDS, especially if they are placed on their stomachs. News outlets and Social Media have had a field day with headlines, however, CEO of The Pump Station & Nurtury® Cheryl Petran believes many of the posts going viral to be misleading: “They took this and twisted and rolled it up into a messy little ball.”
According to The Pump Station & Nurtury® Co-Founder, Corky Harvey MS, RN, IBCLC “Swaddling is the cornerstone of settling a fussy baby. Learning how to swaddle so that babies are quiet helps with parent attunement with the child in learning how to handle and read them.”
Most of the articles go on to suggest that, according to the study, swaddling can be risky. However the actual conclusion of the study supports 2 widely held factors parents and pediatricians have already known for quite some time.
1. Infants should avoid sleeping on their sides and stomachs to reduce the risk of dying from SIDS. Infants must be put to sleep on their backs.
2. There is an age at which you should no longer swaddle.
Contrary to what some headlines suggest, the researchers identified a “small but significant risk” associated with infants swaddled and put to sleep on their backs. This finding actually keeps very much in line with the recommendation of pediatricians like The Pump Station & Nurtury® expert, Dr. Tanya Altmann, who states, “It’s perfectly fine to swaddle your baby and put them to sleep on their back in a safe sleeping environment.”
That being said, there was a small percentage of the infants who died of SIDS and who were swaddled and put to sleep on their backs that were found on their stomachs. This finding may have more to do with age and the fact that the baby is capable of rolling over.
So how long can you swaddle your baby for?
“Around four months of age a lot of babies will start breaking out of the swaddle. So, you may want to try swaddling them from the armpits down with their arms out and then taking away the swaddle when they become more mobile. A sleep sack is a great alternative. Your baby can still be warm and cozy, but their arms won’t be pinned down at their side. So follow your baby's lead if they enjoy being bundled up in a swaddle, then it’s perfectly safe and fine,” says Altmann
According to sleep specialist and Creator of The Happiest Baby on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp, “Swaddling is recommended until at least 4 months. Many babies are ready by that age, however, some benefit from an extra few months of swaddling. At 4 months, try to swaddle with one arm out (it’s important to keep the white noise playing all night). If your baby sleeps well with one arm out, you can stop the wrapping (but still continue the sound). However, if he does not sleep as well with one arm out, continue with the regular wrapping and sound and try the one arm wrapping again in another month.” Stop altogether if baby is rolling to their stomach.
Corky Harvey believes, and Dr. Karp might also argue, that "Swaddling helps to prevent babies from rolling to their stomachs as soon, therefore lessening the risk of SIDS. The small number of babies that died of SIDS while swaddled and on their backs may have died whether swaddled or not. There is no way to remove all risk." She goes on to ask "Was the baby a vulnerable baby (preemie or ill? was there a smoker in the house? Was the baby in a separate room? All experts—including McKenna and the AAP-- believe that babies need to be near the parent (arms reach) for the first 6 months of life.
"It should also be noted that SIDS rates have declined sharply in recent years. We have removed babies from stomach sleeping, and have put them on their backs. That proved to be, singularly, the most significant factor in reducing the instances of SIDS, according to anthropologist and author, Dr. James McKenna.
So perhaps instead of suggesting a perfectly safe, respected, and highly recommended technique for soothing your baby is the cause for SIDS, the viral headlines should be reading “If you’re going to soothe your baby via swaddling, be sure to do it properly!”
If you would like to read more info on this subject we suggest these two articles
You can also learn more about swaddling and other important information on how to help your little one to sleep, stop them from crying, give the first bath, and of course, how to Breastfeed & bottle feed in our BabyCare101 DVD or Digital Download
If you would like recommendations for sleeping sacks, we have several suggestions in our list of essential baby care items.