The revival of swaddling is one of the newest baby trends but some scientists are warning it may lead to a rise in babies with hip problems.
Celebrity babies, such as Prince George and North West, have been photographed swaddled as newborns – prompting many other new parents to follow suit and swaddle their own baby.
But swaddling critics point to a study carried out by the Universities of Bristol and Warwick that suggests swaddling can put your baby at risk of joint damage and overheating.
What is swaddling – and why do parents do it?
The centuries-old technique involves tightly wrapping babies’ arms and legs with a blanket to comfort and calm them. The theory is that feeling this enclosed and secure reminds babies of being cradled tightly in their mother’s womb. There are also many old wives’ tales that swaddling can ease colic (a condition where very young babies cry uncontrollably for no apparent reason).
So is swaddling really dangerous or not?
It’s all about how you do it – and, specifically, how tightly you do it.
Overtight swaddling could lead to a condition called hip dysplasia, says Professor Nicholas Clarke, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon.
“Infants are born with very flexible joints,” he says, “and newborns are also under the effects of relaxin, a hormone women produce when they’re pregnant to loosen their own joints and make birth easier. So a newborn’s joints are more prone to issues at this age than any other. They need to be able to bend their legs up and out at the hips.”
Many health professionals do advise against swaddling for these reasons, says Rosemary Dodds, from the National Childbirth Trust. “But it is not straightforward,” she says. “There is evidence for and against swaddling. Some professionals prefer to give clear instructions and tell parents not to swaddle because that seems like the simplest option in the light of the evidence.”
How do you swaddle safely?
Professor Clarke says he doesn’t want to put parents off swaddling completely. “I advocate swaddling in the right and safe way,” he says, “which means ensuring your baby is not rigidly wrapped but has enough room to bend his or her legs.”
Swaddling definitely isn’t advised once your baby can roll over, and is usually only suitable from birth up to 3 months.