SIDS: Swaddling may increase risk

May 10, 2016 Providence Health Team

Swaddling is commonly believed to help infants sleep better by soothing and comforting them. But a new study suggests that swaddling, the practice of wrapping a baby in a blanket and restricting the child’s movement, may actually increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

Researchers at the University of Bristol in England reviewed four recent studies on the relationship between SIDS and swaddling. Their conclusion: Swaddling increases the risk of SIDS by about one-third. Breaking down the risk by sleeping position, swaddled babies with:

  • Greatest risk slept on their stomachs
  • Lesser risk slept on their sides
  • Lowest risk slept on their backs

The study said the risk of SIDS seems to grow as an infant learns to turn over, a developmental milestone that usually occurs at around 4 to 6 months of age. Because there are few studies on the subject, the researchers said more work needs to be done to draw any definitive conclusions.

Cause of SIDS

The cause of SIDS is unknown, but many doctors and researchers believe it may involve:

  • Problems with a baby's ability to wake up
  • The inability of an infant’s body to detect a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), SIDS is most likely to occur between 2 and 4 months of age. SIDS occurs in boys more often than in girls, and most cases occur in the winter. The NIH says things that may increase the risk of SIDS include:

  • Sleeping on the stomach
  • Soft bedding in the crib
  • Being a twin or a triplet
  • Premature birth
  • Having a sibling who had SIDS
  • Mothers who smoke or use illegal drugs during or after pregnancy
  • Being born to a teen mother
  • A short time between pregnancies
  • Late or no prenatal care
  • Living in poverty

SIDS prevention

To reduce the risk of SIDS, the American Academy of Pediatrics makes these recommendations:

  • Prepare your baby's nursery and crib for safety.
  • Always place your baby on his or her back for sleeping.
  • Always use a firm sleep surface. Car seats and other sitting devices are not recommended for routine sleep.
  • A baby should sleep in the same room as the parent, but not in the same bed.
  • Keep soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets and bumper pads.
  • Wedges and "positioners" should not be used.
  • Avoid covering your baby's head.

Other suggestions outside of sleep to help reduce the risk of SIDS include:

  • Getting prenatal care
  • Breastfeeding
  • No smoking during pregnancy or after birth
  • Getting an infant immunized

Do you have questions or need more information about SIDS? Talk to your child's pediatrician. You can find a Providence provider here.

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