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Sleep + Swaddle Research Made Simple

Sleep + Swaddle Research Made Simple

Do you ever feel like every time you read something about parenting, your child is on the verge of death? It’s amazing that any of us have survived infancy, really!! Well, I am sure you have heard about the recent American Academy of Pediatrics research published in the most recent Journal of the AAP in May 2016. No? Maybe that was just us in the medical community? Well, you can find the article here if you want to wade through it. But, it basically gave some mixed information about the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and the safety of swaddling your babies. Several news outlets used portions of the study to create terrifying headlines like, the New York Times, which said that Swaddling May Increase the Risk of SIDS, and you may have felt like people who swaddled their infants were terrible, neglectful parents who were willing to risk their baby’s lives for a good night’s sleep. That, of course, is not true. Swaddling, when done properly, can be very comforting and safe for your baby. Technically the research didn’t show us anything new, but I’ll break it down for you here and hopefully I can put your mind at ease.

Sudden Infant death syndrome (SIDS) is one of the scariest things as a new parent. The idea that our perfect little one could die suddenly without explanation is terrifying. And, SIDS really is a tragic occurrence that is extremely rare, but devastating to the families and parents who have faced it. SIDS is simply the sudden and unexplained death of an infant less than one year of age. The problem with SIDS, is that no one really understands what causes it. But, research has found some correlations that puts baby at higher risk of death.

A few known risk factors include,

  1. Stomach sleeping, especially before the baby is able to lift it’s own head well
  2. Smoking, drinking, or drug use during pregnancy and afterwards
  3. Poor prenatal care
  4. Prematurity or low birth weight
  5. Tobacco smoke exposure following birth
  6. Overheating from excessive blankets.
This important research is why we now have the guideline that infants should be placed on their backs to sleep and that we should keep pillows and fluffy blankets out of the baby’s crib. However, SIDS remains the leading cause of death in young infants. So, we can continue to improve education and research. So, what’s story with swaddling? Well, the most recent research had some limitations because of study design and data analysis. And, it should be noted that the study does NOT say that swaddling causes SIDS. It does not. But, the basic swaddling guidelines for your baby’s safety are:
  1. ALWAYS put your baby on their back to sleep. The risk of death was higher with babies who were swaddled and then placed on their stomachs or sides. A baby who is swaddled has limited ability to move or lift their heads and are at a higher risk of suffocation if on their stomach.
  2. Along those same lines, once your baby is able to roll over from back to front, or even from back to side, he should not be swaddled. Most babies start to roll around 4 to 6 months, so that’s about the time to wean them off swaddling. 
  3. You should always use a light muslin or gauze blanket, like those from Little Unicorn, to swaddle your baby in order to avoid over-heating. If you would be hot, your baby will be hot too.
  4. Make sure your swaddle is not too tight around the hips and legs to prevent hip dysplasia from improper hip position.
  5. Also, avoid swaddling the chest too tight so that you don’t inhibit chest expansion and your baby can take nice big deep breaths.
  6. Make sure you get adequate prenatal care and avoid tobacco or drug use during and after the birth of your baby.

If you haven’t heard of the Owlet monitor, I would highly recommend one for peace of mind! It keeps track of your baby’s oxygen levels and will alert you if he or she is dropping their oxygen level or heart rate. And, always remember to use common sense and your own judgement when taking care of your baby. I believe in the mom instincts!  Love your kids. Do your best. 

About the Writer

Micalena Perkins is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner currently practicing in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is a mother of a little girl and twin toddler boys.
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