Age, sleep position, and appropriate swaddling technique very important in considering new study
Swaddling is one of the most widely used infant sleep practices, but a recent study linking it to an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has a lot of parents panicking. The research showed swaddling may increase the risk of SIDS by about one-third, but some important factors in the study like age and sleep position could help parents rest a bit easier.
For the study, researchers pooled data from 760 SIDS cases and 1,759 control cases spanning about 20 years. Just like doctors have been warning us for years, swaddled babies experienced a higher SIDS risk when put to sleep on their stomachs or sides. According to the findings, about eight percent of babies in SIDS cases were found sleeping on their stomachs — a practice that’s dangerous whether a baby is swaddled or not.
Researchers also noted the risk of SIDS increased as swaddled babies approached six months of age, meaning the level of danger could have something to do with babies’ increasing mobility. “Babies start to roll over between four and six months, and that point may be the best time to stop [swaddling],” lead study author Dr. Anna S. Pease told the New York Times.
Most importantly, researchers say one of the limitations of the study was the definition of swaddling. None of the analyzed cases provided a clear definition of swaddling, so there’s a lot of room for error. As any parent can tell you, swaddling a squirmy baby can be a total shit-show. It’s possible that some of the danger could be from improper swaddling, rather than the practice of swaddling itself.
SIDS is still the leading cause of death for babies under one. In 2014, the most recent year for which CDC data is available, SIDS was responsible for about 1,500 infant deaths, so it makes complete sense to heed all advice that could potentially help babies sleep more safely. The problem is, this study doesn’t seem to tell us whether swaddling should be out for good or not.
Instead, the research seems to confirm a lot of what we already know about how babies should sleep: flat on their backs and free of blankets or other obstructions. Says lead researcher Dr. Rachel Moon, “The take-home messages are, if the baby is getting old enough where they can roll, they shouldn’t be swaddled, and they shouldn’t sleep on their stomachs or sides.”
Parenting is a tough gig, especially because the best practices seem to change every other week. When I had my first kid five years ago, swaddling was the go-to for sleeping. Now, it’s suddenly a questionable practice associated with one of parents’ greatest fears. It’s important to pay attention to each new risk and warning, but we also shouldn’t freak ourselves out.
In this case, if we’re using safe sleep practices, adapting our methods as our babies grow, and only swaddling if we’re certain we can do it properly, it sounds like we’re on the right track.