If you’ve been anywhere on social media lately, you might be wondering if swaddling could increase the risk of SIDS.
This topic has quickly become a trend on social media.
SIDS is a major concern – and something nearly all new parents worry about. From the moment we conceive, right through the early months we’re drilled to remember to put baby on her back to sleep.
It’s even embroidered on popular infant sleep sacks. It’s no surprise, then, that any new information regarding SIDS will quickly spread.
However, is it true?
Can Swaddling Increase The Risk Of SIDS?
First, we need to understand what SIDS means.
SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It’s the term used when an infant dies and there’s no known cause. SIDS is not death due to rollover by another person, nor is it death due to the airway being blocked.
Although SIDS has been a topic of research for quite a while, we still aren’t certain exactly what causes it.
When we hear news stories about infant death we need to remember that not every infant death equals SIDS. Not following infant sleep safety can increase the risk of SIDS, but typically it increases the risk of death due to entrapment, or an airway becoming blocked. Death with an attributed cause is not SIDS.
How Could Swaddling Increase The Risk Of SIDS?
While we aren’t certain exactly what causes SIDS, we do have some understanding of the potential causes, and why certain things increase or decrease the risk of it.
A study, published in Pediatrics, which found a potential link between swaddling and SIDS, says: “Impaired cardiovascular control, in association with a failure to arouse from sleep, leading to a reduced ability to respond to a cardiovascular stress (eg, profound hypotension), has been described as a potential mechanism leading to some sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths.”
In simple terms, an inability to arouse from sleep can be problematic for some infants. Infants are designed to wake easily and frequently. Unlike older children and adults, who are better able to regulate breathing and body temperature, and aren’t at risk for easily becoming dehydrated, infants need to wake easily to their body’s signals. If babies are too cold or too hot, they need to wake to alert their caregiver for help. If they’re in need of a feed or they’re experiencing any cardiac trouble, they need to be able to wake to their body’s warning signals, and cry for an adult.
Swaddling is found to help babies sleep more soundly for a longer period of time and this is what led researchers to look at it as a potential risk of SIDS.
It’s important, however, that we remember that correlation doesn’t equal causation. It’s also important to note that this study found the biggest increased risk was associated with being swaddled and put to sleep stomach down, on the side, or in babies over 6 months of age.
Does This Mean I Shouldn’t Swaddle My Baby?
As new parents we want to ensure the safety of our babies. It is our top priority. Sleep is also a pretty important thing to many new parents. Swaddling has been a technique used to help soothe infants to sleep and to help them rest comfortably.
This study included 760 SIDS cases and 1,759 controls. The results of this study suggested that we continue to follow the recommended guidelines – that is, to put babies to sleep on their backs. While swaddling did increase the risk of SIDS, the biggest increase was found not simply with swaddling and being laid on their backs, but being placed in positions no longer recommended (side and belly), as well as swaddling older infants.
We also need to remember that an increased risk doesn’t necessarily mean a high risk. Any death is a tragic event, and if there are ways to reduce the risk it’s important to do everything possible. However, it’s also important not to live in fear. According to National Centers for Health Statistics (NCHS), around 0.05% of babies born in the US pass away due to SIDS.
Dr. Anna S. Pease, the lead author, and research associate at the University of Bristol in England, says: “We suggest that parents think about what age they should stop swaddling. Babies start to roll over between four and six months, and that point may be the best time to stop.”
Ways To Reduce The Risk Of SIDS
As mentioned, we aren’t certain what causes SIDS, nor the exact way it leads to death. We have ideas and theories, but without knowing the exact cause, unfortunately we’re unable to prevent every case. We do, however, know of several risk factors, so there are some things we can do to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Based solely on this study, researchers are not recommending that we never swaddle, to reduce SIDS. However, they do seem to recommend not placing a swaddled baby on her stomach or side, and not swaddling an older baby who might roll over.
Other ways to reduce the risk of SIDS:
- Not exposing baby to cigarettes in utero or after birth
- Placing baby to sleep on her back
- Putting baby to sleep in the same room as the caregiver for the first 6 months
- If you bed share, following all bed sharing safety guidelines – including never sleeping with baby on a couch or chair
- No puffy blankets, pillows, stuffed animals or crib bumpers in baby’s sleep space
- Keeping baby’s face and head uncovered
Following infant sleep and safety guidelines is the best way to reduce the risk of SIDS, as well as the risk of death due to entrapment or an airway being blocked. While this recent study provides us with more information to make informed decisions, it seems there are still ways to utilize swaddling in a safe manner (e.g. if baby is on her back, and too young to roll over).