Swaddling and SIDS – what the new report ACTUALLY says

The latest headlines linking swaddling to cot death are concerning. But the headlines don't give the full story - we investigate the full facts

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If you find swaddling soothes your baby, and it’s something you have been routinely doing, you might might be a bit worried about the reports in the press at the moment about the link with SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Some headlines have gone so far as to suggest that some experts are now warning against the practice. But actually it’s not as black and white as that. 

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So what did the research find?

The researchers concluded that:

  • Swaddled babies who were placed on their side or front for sleep had a higher risk of SIDS
  • Babies who were swaddled and found on their fronts (but may not have been put down to sleep on their fronts) had a higher risk of SIDS

And so their overall advice is:

  • Once babies can roll over and move on to their sides of fronts by themselves, they should no longer be swaddled. This is often around the age of 4 months

This makes sense knowing the strong link between babies sleeping on their backs and a lower risk of SIDS.

Where has the research come from?

The research is based on the analysis of 4 different studies on SIDS (not on swaddling) by researchers at the University of Bristol.  

The studies they looked at covered research in England, Tasmania in Australia, and Chicago, Illinois, over 2 decades. The findings were published in the Journal of Pediatrics.  

What were the researchers looking for?

The lead author of the report, Dr Anna Pease, says that while looking into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, they also tried to gather evidence as to whether there was an association between swaddling for sleep and SIDS.

What did they find?

Dr Pease says that their analysis found an increased risk of SIDS for swaddled infants who were placed on their side or front for sleep, and was also found to be higher in babies who were swaddled and found on their fronts.

The reports also found there was a higher risk for older infants who were swaddled for sleep.

Dr Pease advises: ‘We found some evidence in this review that as babies grow older, they may be more likely to move into unsafe positions while swaddled during sleep, suggesting an age is needed after which swaddling for sleep should be discouraged. Most babies start being able to roll over at about 4 to 6 months.”

However, Dr Pease also acknowledged that the studies were all “quite different” and that “none gave a precise definition for swaddling making it difficult to pool the results”.

What are other experts saying?

Addressing the new study, Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it is very important to educate parents on the issue, as there are around 290 deaths in the UK each year as a result of SIDS. 

She said: “Researchers found that the risk of SIDS when placing babies on the side or front for sleep increased when they were swaddled and the risks were higher for older infants. 

“This, coupled with what it is already known about SIDS such as the increased risk when a mother smokes during pregnancy, further emphasises the need for education to encourage change.”

What should you do?

If you want to swaddle your newborn or young baby that’s fine – but stop as soon as your baby is showing signs of trying to roll. Don’t wait until you see your baby roll before you stop swaddling

And, as advised by safe sleeping guidelines, you should always place your baby on his or her back to go to sleep. This is especially important if your baby is swaddled.

Dr Pease does not say in the report that parents shouldn’t swaddle – just to think about how you are doing it, and make sure you are doing it safely

She writes: “On a practical level what parents should take away from this is that if they choose to swaddle their babies for sleep, always place them on their back, and think about when to stop swaddling for sleep as their babies get older and more able to move.”

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