Swaddling is quite popular throughout Kurdistan. It is an ancient practice that has been followed without question. As a child I was swaddled, but have chosen not to swaddle my own son, although initially I did try it for a few days. The debate on whether swaddling is beneficial or harmful has been ongoing for a while, particularly in England for the past 2-4 years the safety of swaddling has been widely debated because of its growing popularity. It is still legal to swaddle, and you can still purchase fancy swaddles from giant baby clothing companies. However, the question we should be asking ourselves is, does swaddling have benefits that outweigh potential disadvantages? The answer is not simple.
According to recent findings swaddling could damage the newborn’s hips because “in order to allow for healthy hip development, legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints”. Furthermore swaddling could lead to overheating of the baby and even cot death. Jane Munro from the Royal College of Midwives has said in a statement to the BBC “We advise parents to avoid swaddling, but it is also crucial that we take into account each mother’s cultural background, and to provide individualised advice to ensure she knows how to keep her baby safe, able to move and not get overheated”. It is noteworthy to point out that because of the ambiguity and lack of clarity regarding the research methodology of this study, it has led to criticism by Bazian (published on NHS). Criticism of this study has been published on Slate also (specifically, the failure of the study to distinguish between swaddled babies who were left on their stomach versus those who were left on their backs to sleep).
BabyCentre.com provides step-by-step instruction on how to swaddle your baby safely, and they provide a list of do’s and dont’s of swaddling, which are important to keep in mind if you are expecting your first child (they can be a handful, everything seems complicated). Keeping in mind that the safest way to swaddle (if you choose to do so) is by (1) avoid overheating (2) using the correct technique provided (3) making sure the hips can be flexed (4) waking the newborn for regular feedings (5) never putting them on their stomach to sleep, regardless of how much they cry.
Given the debate surrounding swaddling, why swaddle in the first place? Well, for several reasons. Some babies startle and wake themselves up, and this can make it quite hard for them to drift back to sleep without trouble (This is where the crying at 3 AM begins, and you’re not exactly sure how to quieten the newborn back to sleep). Some of the benefits of swaddling listed on heartswaddle.com are as follows:
- Regulate babies temperature
- Reduce the likelihood that the startle reflex will wake baby up
- Help baby to feel more secure and safe especially in the “fourth trimester” the first 3-4 months after baby is born
- Reduce excessive crying in young babies, especially babies with colic/reflux
- Help babies to get the sleep they need for optimum infant development
In the end, what is important is that you make an informed choice about your child’s wellbeing and whether you believe swaddling is beneficial or not, is a decision that you can make, no one else.