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Swaddling babies 'can cause hip problems'


Parents are being warned there is a risk of hip problems in babies if they are swaddled.

Swaddling used to be a universal practice before falling out of favour, but a more recent resurgence in popularity has prompted experts to speak out about the risks.

Paediatric orthopaedic surgeon Professor Nicholas Clarke said an increasing number of babies are being swaddled due to a perceived calming effect, but it can lead to developmental hip abnormalities.

There was a 61% rise in demand for swaddling clothes in the UK in 2010-11, according to the expert.

Writing in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood , Professor Clarke said swaddling can force the baby’s hips to straighten and shift forward, which increases the risk of misalignment.

He also suggests there is a knock-on effect of a risk of arthritis and hip replacement in later life.

Professor Clarke, who works at Southampton University Hospital, called for midwives, neonatologists and paediatricians to give advice to parents on “healthy swaddling practices”.

He said: “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.

“The babies’ legs should not be tightly wrapped in extension and pressed together.”

Jane Munro, quality and audit development adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, said the increasing popularity of swaddling has also led to concerns about babies overheating and a heightened risk of cot death.

She said this latest research also reflects concerns that swaddling - “especially tight swaddling” - can affect a baby’s natural posture.

“Normally a baby will lie with the hips flexed, and swaddling may reduce the degree to which the baby can keep this natural position,” she explained.

“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.”


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Readers' comments (4)

  • Rubbish. The only problem is too tight waddling. My Grandma said, "Crying baby? Wrap in a small blanket" It works, they have been held close in the womb and enjoy the security and warmth. Of course they was no central heating, in her day, so one must be wise. A small sheet maybe

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  • michael stone

    A female researcher was talking on Radio 4 a few months ago about a similar issue, of nappies forcing infants to employ a 'wider-than-natural' gait.

    So she had a lab full of naked toddlers.

    Asked by the R4 interviewer 'so are you recommending no nappies at home, then ?' she said 'I'm not sure about that - this was a very messy research study'.

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  • If swaddling is considered bad what about these tiny baby carriers? just before I saw this article and the one in DT I was looking at a less than tiny baby in one of these and its legs were bent up (probably its natural position) but they were touching the end of the carrier, no larger than a supermarket shopping basket, with no wriggle room at all. then a toddler came past in a push chair and I had just the same impression.

    but surely if the swaddling theory was correct many more young children and adults would have these problems?

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 30-Oct-2013 9:11 am

    This was being discussed on Radio 4 yesterday - it seems even the 'anti-swaddlers' (they had a doctor who has looked at this) accept that the 'legs bent up' (which isn't a complete description of the position) swaddling is okay, and not harmful.

    As usual, the debate is about the detail.

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