60-Second Health

Resurgence of Swaddling Brings Hip Fears

Swaddling infants is safe when done correctly. But done wrong, it raises the risk of osteoarthritis and the need for hip replacement in middle age. Dina Fine Maron reports

When it comes to feeling safe and warm, there’s nothing like being tightly bundled up in blankets. And snugly swaddling for babies is on the rise—it can sooth excessive crying and help induce sleep. Nine out of 10 infants in North America are swaddled in the first six months of life, and the demand for swaddling clothes soared by 61 percent in the U.K. between 2010 and 2011.

But there’s a downside to the resurgence of traditional swaddling, where the arms are restrained and the legs are stretched out: fears that it will fuel developmental hip problems in babies, known to be linked to the technique.

Swaddling can force the hips to straighten and shift forward, causing misalignment. Which can boost the risk of osteoarthritis and the need for hip replacement in middle age. That’s according to a report in Archives of Disease in Childhood. [N.M.P. Clarke, Swaddling and hip dysplasia: an orthopaedic perspective]

These issues do not mean we need to drop swaddling altogether. It can be safe as long as the swaddling allows a baby’s legs to bend up and out at the hips, allowing the hip joints to develop normally. With that in mind, infants—and their parents—can rest easy.

—Dina Fine Maron

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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