Cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) rise when infants are swaddled during sleep, particularly if the babies are placed on their stomachs, according to new research.
Kathleen Doheny writes for Health that swaddling is done in various ways, but is usually described as wrapping a child in a cloth or blanket snugly. The baby's arms are inside the wrap and their heads are exposed. Swaddling is thought to have a calming effect on infants that can help them fall asleep.
But now a study has found that swaddling can be dangerous.
"Babies who were swaddled were 50 to 60 percent more likely to die of SIDS," said lead researcher Dr. Rachel Moon, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Analysis of four prior studies contributed the data for the research. The studies were produced over two decades in England, Australia, Tasmania, and Chicago. The information showed that infants who were swaddled and placed on their stomachs had roughly 13 times the risk of dying from SIDS, said Moon.
Another finding was that as newborns approached the age of six months, the risk increased. At six months, babies can roll over on their own. Most babies have the ability to roll over at four months.
Moon could not explain the connection, and the research could not prove a cause-and-effect link between SIDS risk and swaddling.
The study was published in the May 9 online journal Pediatrics.
Since there are few studies on this subject and sound evidence is limited, lead author Anna S. Pease, a research associate at the University of Bristol in England, said the study's results should be cautiously interpreted, says The New York Times' Nicholas Bakalar.
But Pease added:
"We already know that side and prone sleeping are unsafe for young babies, so the advice to place children on their backs for sleep is even more important when parents choose to swaddle them."
"We suggest that parents think about what age they should stop swaddling," Dr. Pease said. "Babies start to roll over between four and six months, and that point may be the best time to stop."
The risk of death by SIDS was moderately less for babies who slept on their backs, but it was still higher among babies who were swaddled when compared to those infants who were not, writes Linda Searing for The Washington Post.
The researchers included two caveats. The newborns in the study may have had other risk factors that were not entered into the data used in the research. Also, one study from which information was used had not yet been published.
Katherine Lam of WPIX-TV New York reports that issue of newborns rolling over to their sides or backs and suffocating has been a fear for many years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study in 2014 that said objects in an infant's sleeping space was a risk because the baby could roll or crawl to an object that was left in the crib and suffocate.
Suffocation can also occur when a child is sleeping in soft bedding or is sleeping with another person, according to the CDC.