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Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Panic Over That Swaddling Study

There's no need to panic, but there are a few things you should definitely know.

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If you're a parent on the internet, you've probably seen some of these headlines recently.

Which are obviously terrifying to read since swaddling is such a common practice.
Caroline Kee / Via BuzzFeed / Fotor

Which are obviously terrifying to read since swaddling is such a common practice.

But as Amy Corbett Storch of Alpha Mom recently reported, those scary headlines don't tell the whole story of the recent study that looked at possible links between swaddling and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The study, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, was the first one to look at multiple other studies to quantify the risk of SIDS associated with swaddling your baby for sleep.Important: They weren't attempting to find a cause-and-effect link, but to identify potential behaviors that may be associated with an increased or decreased risk of SIDS. Both SIDS and swaddling have been studied separately, but this study attempted to put all that data together and find new patterns or risky behaviors. Researchers looked at babies who died of SIDS and those who didn't and examined differences in care practices recorded from interviews with parents in each group to see if there were any patterns. They focused on four factors: whether or not the baby died of SIDS, how old the baby was, which position it was put to sleep in, and whether it was swaddled.
Kim Ruoff / Getty Images / Via thinkstockphotos.com

The study, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, was the first one to look at multiple other studies to quantify the risk of SIDS associated with swaddling your baby for sleep.

Important: They weren't attempting to find a cause-and-effect link, but to identify potential behaviors that may be associated with an increased or decreased risk of SIDS. Both SIDS and swaddling have been studied separately, but this study attempted to put all that data together and find new patterns or risky behaviors.

Researchers looked at babies who died of SIDS and those who didn't and examined differences in care practices recorded from interviews with parents in each group to see if there were any patterns. They focused on four factors: whether or not the baby died of SIDS, how old the baby was, which position it was put to sleep in, and whether it was swaddled.

We reached out to the study's author, Dr. Anna Pease of the University of Bristol, about what they actually found and why parents shouldn't panic.

"The best way to gauge if something is risky is to do a systematic review of literature that has measured swaddling and measured SIDS and combine those studies to find new data," Pease says. SIDS is a highly contentious issue, and the unfortunate reality is that it is not always understood and there is a degree of randomness when it happens. But there are many behaviors which are known to reduce the risk of SIDS. Researchers wanted to know whether swaddling was a protective behavior or a risky one.
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"The best way to gauge if something is risky is to do a systematic review of literature that has measured swaddling and measured SIDS and combine those studies to find new data," Pease says.

SIDS is a highly contentious issue, and the unfortunate reality is that it is not always understood and there is a degree of randomness when it happens. But there are many behaviors which are known to reduce the risk of SIDS. Researchers wanted to know whether swaddling was a protective behavior or a risky one.

First things first, there wasn't enough data for the study to suggest parents should avoid swaddling completely.

"We cannot conclude that swaddling increases the risk of SIDS based on our data alone," says Pease. First, there were a bunch of limitations, including sample size and the strength of the association between swaddling and SIDS.

Another huge limitation is the fact that swaddling varies among different cultures and countries, says Pease. This study only examined babies in traditionally Western countries. "In the future, studies should try to find out more about swaddling such as what was used, how tightly the baby was wrapped, how many layers were used, which kind of bed it went to sleep in, etc.," Pease says.

So the study didn't confirm any cause-and-effect relationship between swaddling and SIDS, but it did uncover some important takeaways for safer sleeping.

But the study did show that babies who are swaddled should always be put to sleep on their backs.

"When parents choose to swaddle, they should always keep the baby on its back to reduce the risk of SIDS," Pease says. Parents should also know how to swaddle their baby correctly. Here's one great YouTube tutorial but there's a million more which show you how to wrap up your baby comfortably and safely.
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"When parents choose to swaddle, they should always keep the baby on its back to reduce the risk of SIDS," Pease says.

Parents should also know how to swaddle their baby correctly. Here's one great YouTube tutorial but there's a million more which show you how to wrap up your baby comfortably and safely.

Also, parents should consider stopping swaddling once their baby becomes mobile and starts to roll over during sleep.

"As the baby gets older, usually around 4-6 months, it will become more mobile and start to roll over onto its stomach," Pease says. At this point, the baby might also move enough to free itself from the swaddled blanket so everything is loose. If this happens, there's a greater risk of a blanket getting wrapped around the baby's head and potentially causing SIDS. "Parents should monitor their baby's sleeping behavior closely and decide when it is time to stop swaddling the baby because it is moving too much and rolling over," Pease says. This may happen earlier or later than 4-6 months, and every baby develops differently, which is why it's important to know your own baby's sleeping habits. And just to clarify, you only need to stop swaddling during sleep, but it can still be used during other situations like cuddling or breastfeeding.
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"As the baby gets older, usually around 4-6 months, it will become more mobile and start to roll over onto its stomach," Pease says. At this point, the baby might also move enough to free itself from the swaddled blanket so everything is loose. If this happens, there's a greater risk of a blanket getting wrapped around the baby's head and potentially causing SIDS.

"Parents should monitor their baby's sleeping behavior closely and decide when it is time to stop swaddling the baby because it is moving too much and rolling over," Pease says. This may happen earlier or later than 4-6 months, and every baby develops differently, which is why it's important to know your own baby's sleeping habits. And just to clarify, you only need to stop swaddling during sleep, but it can still be used during other situations like cuddling or breastfeeding.

We already know a lot about SIDS and some things that can reduce the risk.

According to Pease, here are the most important things you should know about reducing your baby's risk of SIDS: * Keep your baby face-up while sleeping* Know how to swaddle your baby correctly* Keep the face clear of any fabrics, collars, hats, etc. * Maintain a smoke-free house with smoke-free people* Do not put the baby to sleep on a couch where it can fall off or get stuck in cushions* Parents should stay in close proximity or in the same room as the baby's crib* Maintain these same standards when you're traveling with your babyClick here to find out more about safer sleep practices.
Rayes / Getty Images / Via thinkstockphotos.com

According to Pease, here are the most important things you should know about reducing your baby's risk of SIDS:

* Keep your baby face-up while sleeping

* Know how to swaddle your baby correctly

* Keep the face clear of any fabrics, collars, hats, etc.

* Maintain a smoke-free house with smoke-free people

* Do not put the baby to sleep on a couch where it can fall off or get stuck in cushions

* Parents should stay in close proximity or in the same room as the baby's crib

* Maintain these same standards when you're traveling with your baby

Click here to find out more about safer sleep practices.

The study's findings may seem like common sense, but it's still super important to know about SIDS and how to reduce your baby's risk.

"Parents might feel that they already know this or do this, but if everyone had this common sense, we wouldn't have been able to do this study or write the paper," says Pease.

It's always good to emphasize everything parents can do, big or small, to help reduce the risk of SIDS happening, as it is a truly devastating and terrible incident. "We published this study because we want to make sure parent's not only know the message about SIDS but they fully understand the message, too," says Pease.

In the meantime, there's no need to panic as long as you're educated about the risks of SIDS.

"The headlines aren't completely incorrect but they don't explain that with the limitations we describe in the study, it was impossible for us to advise against swaddling," Pease says. In addition to this, the study only looked at swaddling during sleep, but Pease says there are also many known benefits of swaddling during breastfeeding and cuddling that parents can talk to their doctors about.
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"The headlines aren't completely incorrect but they don't explain that with the limitations we describe in the study, it was impossible for us to advise against swaddling," Pease says.

In addition to this, the study only looked at swaddling during sleep, but Pease says there are also many known benefits of swaddling during breastfeeding and cuddling that parents can talk to their doctors about.

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