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Swaddling safety Ask the Experts

Swaddling safety

I’ve heard swaddling can increase my baby’s chance of SIDS—is it true? my little one sleeps so well when she’s swaddled, I’d hate to give it up if we don’t have to.

A: Initially parents were told swaddling could help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But now research indicates swaddling might increase the risk of SIDS. However, before anyone jumps to conclusions, let’s take a deep breath, evaluate what the research says, and learn how to swaddle safely for a peaceful night of sleep.

The powerful effects of swaddling have been known for hundreds of years, and people around the world reap the benefits. Swaddling is the act of wrapping an infant in a tight blanket or swaddle sack to prevent extra movement. It provides a womb-like experience that helps newborns feel secure. Decreasing a little one’s ability to move has also been found to help limit excessive crying and promote longer periods of sleep.

Although swaddling has many benefits, there are also risks when it is not done properly. Blankets that are not wrapped securely can scoot up and potentially cover baby’s face. You can prevent this by dressing your little one in a swaddle sack or swaddler that is designed to not obstruct her face.

If a swaddled baby rolls from her back to her stomach, she might not be able to roll back over. However, if you pay close attention to her development and what she is able to do while she is awake, you can stop swaddling before she hits the rolling-over milestone. If the weather is still chilly and you need to add extra warmth at night, use a wearable blanket that allows her arms to be free and doesn’t restrict her movements. Just be sure you are not overheating her.

The most important phrase regarding sleep during this time in your daughter’s life is “back to sleep is best.” Put her to sleep on her back with no extra blankets, toys or bumpers in the crib. If you do decide to swaddle, be sure to stop around 2 to 4 months—or when you notice she is trying to roll over. For now, though, enjoy a good night’s rest.

—Christina Pries, MSN, RN, CBC, improvement specialist for women’s and infant services at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan