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Surgeon warns popular swaddling technique could damage babies’ hips

It is supposed to stimulate a feeling of being back in the mother’s womb, and promote a sense of calm and well-being, but an orthopaedic surgeon warned yesterday that the technique of swaddling babies was damaging their health.

Professor Nicholas Clarke, of Southampton University Hospital, said that a rise in the popularity of swaddling babies could lead to potential damage in developing hips.

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Swaddling involves the tight wrapping of babies in blankets, where the arms and legs are bound, and is thought to calm a baby down and stop them crying. Swaddling is used in many different cultures across the globe, but experts believe that as the technique involves the legs being held out straight and restricts movement, this can alter the development of the hip joints.

Professor Clarke wrote about his concerns in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood: “There has been a recent resurgence of swaddling because of its perceived palliative effect on excessive crying, colic and promoting sleep. In order to allow for healthy hip development, legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints. The babies’ legs should not be tightly wrapped in extension and pressed together.”

And Andreas Roposch, consultant orthopaedic surgeon from Great Ormond Street Hospital agreed: “Swaddling should not be employed in my view as there is no health benefit but a risk for adverse consequences of the growing and often immature hips.” He further clarified: “Similar effects may be seen in all devices or manoeuvres that place the legs in a purely straight position for prolonged periods in this critical age of early infancy.”

Other experts were concerned about the increased risk of overheating and cot death. Jane Munro, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “We advise parents to avoid swaddling, but it is also crucial that we take into account each mother’s cultural background, and to provide individualised advice to ensure she knows how to keep her baby safe, able to move and not get overheated.”

However, a small study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that a light swaddling actually helped babies to sleep better and could even help to prevent some cot deaths, as it encouraged babies to remain sleeping on their backs, which is a position that cuts the risk of cot deaths. The study did advise that the swaddling should always be in a light cotton material where the hip movements are not restricted.

Rosemary Dodds, of parenting charity the NCT, agreed that tight swaddling could lead to problems, not only with developing hips but also could induce overheating. She said: “It is helpful to raise awareness of hip dysplasia in relation to swaddling. Some parents and babies seem to like swaddling, but it is important that babies do not overheat and their legs are not restricted,”

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