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Is Baby Swaddling Safe? A Guide to the Recent Controversy

What's behind recent daycare baby swaddling bans, and what parents should know before they swaddle their infant.

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Story Highlights
The routine practice of swaddling can be soothing and pacifying for babies
To minimize the risk of SIDS, some experts recommend that swaddling be phased out around 2 months
Many daycares are discontinuing the practice of swaddling
There are additional safety tips you can take to minimize any health risks of swaddling

Many parents swear by baby swaddling to calm a newborn and promote sleep. But baby burritos have gotten a bad rap recently, with headlines over recent daycare bans in some states, and new studies that link too-tight swaddles to hip dysplasia. But could something that's routine practice in hospitals really be so unsafe?

“Swaddling is soothing and pacifying, but studies show an increased risk of SIDS if a baby is placed on his stomach to sleep or if he rolls over onto his stomach" says Rachel Moon, MD, FAAP and chair of the task force that authored the American Academy of Pediatrics' safe sleep guidelines. "Swaddling may also decrease the baby's ability to arouse. Since we believe that SIDS is often due to an inability to arouse in the face of low oxygen environment, if swaddling decreases this, this may explain why swaddled babies are at an increased risk for SIDS."

The age of your baby and the setting in which they are swaddled can make all the difference. Dr. Moon says swaddling should be phased out around two months, ahead of your baby learning to roll over, to minimize the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

The AAP does not recommend daycare until baby is 3 months old, by which time swaddling should no longer be done anyway. But even for younger babies where the practice is still appropriate, many daycares are no longer wrapping up babies since there are multiple caregivers and therefore less likelihood of consistent safe swaddling. Also, many daycares have gotten rid of any kind of blankets in the crib as a safety measure, including swaddles.
If you're planning to try swaddling at home, here are some safety tips that minimize health risks:

1. ALWAYS put your baby to sleep on his back (never on the stomach or side).
2. Discontinue swaddling around 2 months, or before baby starts rolling.
3. Only use a thin blanket for swaddling
3. Make sure baby is not overheating. Look for warning signs like sweat, flushed cheeks or rapid breathing.
4. Keep the bottom of the swaddle loose so hips can move. Baby should be able to bend legs up and out.
5. Keep the crib free of loose blankets, stuffed animals, bumpers or anything that could cover your baby's face.

Mom of two Sasha Emmons is a writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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