This site is intended for health professionals only

Worrying trend of baby 'swadding' on the rise

The return of 'tight swaddling' is causing a rise in baby hip problems, it is suggested.

Professor Nicholas Clarke, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, claims tightly wrapping babies in blankets to keep them warm and help them sleep is a practice that is increasingly becoming adopted by mothers. 

He warned the trend is leading to more cases of hip dysplasia - where the hips are loosened by mothers' hormones which relax ligaments during birth - as forcibly straightening the legs within the first three to four months of life means babies who would otherwise recover naturally are unable to freely flex and strengthen weakened joints, making surgery essential.

“This form of swaddling used to be very commonly used across the world but, with the help of major educational programmes it was all but eradicated and cases reduced drastically,” said Prof Clarke.

“Now, I and my colleagues across the UK and in America are witnessing its revival, with swaddlers being advertised on the internet that tightly wrap babies. For the hips, that is exactly what you don't want to happen.”

Although treatment, which involves fitting a harness to keep the legs bent up day and night for six weeks, is successful in 85% of babies, it is claimed some will suffer permanent damage.  

“I advocate swaddling in the right and safe way, which means ensuring babies are not rigidly wrapped but have enough room to bend their legs - they don't need to have their legs straightened as there is plenty of time to stretch before they start to walk,” he said

Sue Macdonald, Education and research manager at the Royal College of Midwives, advised parents to avoid swaddling but said it is “crucial” to take each mother's cultural background into account to ensure personalised care.

Prof Clarke is now calling for the relaunch of an awareness campaign to address the problems.

Question: Are you experiencing a rise in mothers 'tightly swaddling' babies?