Swaddling is the practice of wrapping a baby in a blanket or cloth for warmth and comfort. If done correctly, swaddling can have several benefits, such as:
Swaddling can curb crying and promote sleep in infants because it mimics the security of the womb. Swaddling also limits the Moro reflex, which is the infant’s instinct to spread out his arms and become aggravated due to a sudden loss of support.
If done incorrectly, studies have shown that swaddling can lead to developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH).
- Out of 500 parents from a 2010 survey, 82 percent said they swaddle their infants.*
- Approximately one out of every 20 full-term babies has some looseness in the hips.
- About three out of every 1,000 babies with hip instability will need treatment.
- At birth, about 17 percent of infant hips have some form of dysplasia or immaturity.**
A caregiver should not wrap the baby’s legs straight and pressed together. The newborn’s hip joints are not strong enough to hold an extended position.
There is no set age at which to stop swaddling your baby. It can be done for several weeks or several months. When the baby starts breaking free of the blanket, it is likely time to stop swaddling.
See our step-by-step guide for instructions on how to swaddle safely.
What is DDH?
DDH is also known as hip dysplasia. It is a disorder that can be present before or after birth and covers a wide range of hip problems, like looseness or dislocation. DDH can go unnoticed because it does not cause pain or prevent walking. It can lead to problems with movement in adults, including early arthritis of the hip.
Signs of DDH that a parent might be able to spot are:
- The leg may look shorter on the affected side.
- The hip may move differently.
- Folds in the skin of the thigh or buttocks may look uneven.
- Space between the legs may look wider than normal.
- The hip may shift, click or clunk with some movements.
- Hip may be stiffer than normal.
DDH and Swaddling
DDH is considered one of the most common congenital defects. Most cases resolve themselves in the first few days after birth. Improper swaddling, with the infant’s legs extended, can prevent this from happening.
Several cultures with a history of swaddling have a higher rate of DDH, such as Saudi Arabia, Japan, Turkey and the Navajo Indians. In 2007, a study in Turkey found swaddling was the greatest risk factor of DDH–more than breech delivery, gender or family history. A similar study found that American Indians had a 33 percent rate of DDH in infants until improper swaddling was stopped.
To help prevent DDH, Japan used a nationwide program to avoid improper swaddling. The program reduced the rate of DDH by 82 percent in 1975.
*Ipsos Public Affairs