Swaddling babies can damage their hips, warns surgeon

Experts say the practice can damage healthy hip development because it restricts movement

Experts are warning against 'swaddling' infants after an orthopedic surgeon highlighted the potential risk to health following a resurgence in the practice.

The ancient method was once used by cultures globally but has since fallen out of favour as experts warned that it can cause developmental hip abnormalities.

The technique, which involves binding babies in blankets with their arms restrained and their legs stretched out, has been growing in popularity because of it's perceived calming effects. Professor Nicholas Clarke said this is evidenced by a 61 per cent increase in demand for swaddling clothes between 2010 and 2011.

Writing in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, Prof Clarke, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton University Hospital said babies' legs should not be wrapped tightly and pressed together.

“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," he said.

He concluded that "it is now essential that midwives, neonatologists and paediatricians provide the correct advice in relation to healthy swaddling practices."

Swaddling is thought to replicate the sensation of being in the womb by wrapping the child in a blanket.

Jane Munro, quality and audit development adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, said there are concerns surrounding the growing use of swaddling because the infant can become overheated and it's posture restricted.

She said: “Normally a baby will lie with the hips flexed, and swaddling may reduce the degree to which the baby can keep this natural position. 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.”

Andreas Roposch, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital, echoed these concerns and said swaddling should not be practiced in her view, as "there is no health benefit but a risk for adverse consequences of the growing and often immature hips."

Dr Alastair Sutcliffe, reader in General Paediatrics at the Institute of Child Health, University College London, said: “Swaddling has been known to be associated with an increased risk of congenital dislocation of the hip (CDH) for many years.

“I would advise that if a baby needs to be wrapped up to get off to sleep that parents do this in a sympathetic and loose manner, and not tight especially around the babies' hips.”

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