Swaddling obsession may cause hip problems in infants, say doctors

Mums, the word from doctors is in – loosen those swaddles, you’re wrapping baby too tight! A marked rise in Australian babies with hip problems has doctors warning against the popular wrapping technique where a baby’s leg movements are restricted.

Research shows the widespread calming method of wrapping a baby tightly in a blanket may lead to joint development issues later on because leg movement is restricted .

The study, just published in the Medical Journal of Australia, says swaddling may be to blame for the “worrying” increase in late-diagnosed developmental dysplasia of the hip in South Australian babies, with reports from New South Wales and Western Australia confirming the problem is happening nation-wide.

Doctors found there is “abundant evidence for the negative effects on hip development of wrapping, swaddling or carrying susceptible babies with hips tightly adducted and extended”.

baby newborn bundle swaddle sl

The study says there is growing concern among Australian doctors “that a resurgence in the popularity of swaddling, including the increased use of swaddling cocoons, which force the lower limbs into extension, places children at risk of late-diagnosed developmental dysplasia of the hip”.

The rate of late diagnosis for children less than three months of age in South Australia has risen from 3.5 per cent of all DDH cases in babies born between 1988 to 2003, to 11.5 per cent of all DDH cases in babies born 2003 to 2009.

The study recommends better awareness, education, and avoidance of inappropriate lower limb swaddling to reverse this trend. It says babies need to be able to move their legs freely as well as bend them in a ‘froglike’ position.

nappies nappy baby newborn feet sl

The International Hip Dysplasia Institute agrees, warning improper swaddling may lead to hip dislocation.

“When in the womb the baby’s legs are in a foetal 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,” the institute says.

“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.”

The Institute has published a video on how to swaddle your baby the ‘hip-healthy’ way. Take a look here:

The Institute warns that store-bought swaddle cocoons should have a loose pouch or sack for the baby’s legs and feet, allowing plenty of hip movement.

It recommends the use of the Australian-owned ergoPouch range of baby swaddles, saying the ergonomic bell-shaped style is “hip healthy“. 

Natalie Esler

Natalie is a Melbourne journalist and editor and loves her city's art, culture and restaurant offerings as much as a day at the footy with hot chips. Similarly, her toddler daughter spends equal amounts of time playing with toy trucks and trains as she does dolls and tea sets. Avid travellers, Natalie and her husband are always planning their next family adventure.

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