Improper swaddling may lead to hip dysplasia or developmental dysplasia of the hip. When in the womb the baby’s legs are in a fetal position with the legs bent up and across each other. Sudden straightening of the legs to a standing position can loosen the joints and damage the soft cartilage of the socket.
Many parents find that swaddling can provide comfort for fussy babies, reduce crying, and develop more settled sleep patterns. When babies are swaddled, care should be taken to swaddle properly so the baby is safe and healthy.
There are many ways to swaddle babies by using blankets or commercial products designed for swaddling. In order for swaddling to allow healthy hip development, the legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints.
The baby’s legs should not be tightly wrapped straight down and pressed together. Swaddling infants with the hips and knees in an extended position may increase the risk of hip dysplasia and dislocation.
Instructions on how to swaddle properly
- If using a square cloth, fold back one corner creating a straight edge.
- Place the baby on the cloth so that the top of the fabric is a shoulder level. If using a rectangular cloth, the baby’s shoulders will be placed at the top of the long side.
- Bring the left arm down. Wrap the cloth over the arm and chest. Tuck under the right side of the baby.
- Bring the right arm down and wrap the cloth over the baby’s arm and chest.
- Tuck the cloth under the left side of the baby. The weight of the baby will hold the cloth firmly in place.
- Twist or fold the bottom end of the cloth and tuck behind the baby, ensuring that both legs are bent up and out.
- It is important to leave room for the hips to move.
What about “sleepsacks” and commercial products?
Some parents choose to wrap their babies in sleepsacks specifically designed for swaddling, instead of using a simple cloth or blanket. Commercial products for swaddling should have a loose pouch or sack for the baby’s legs and feet, allowing plenty of hip movement. However, even some of these commercial products can confine the legs if they are tightened around the thighs.