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Swaddling baby may increase risk for hip problems

Swaddling an infant may increase their chance for hip problems later in life, a new study reports.

The article, which was published on Oct. 28 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, warns that swaddling -- which is when the baby is bundled tightly in a blanket with their arms next to their body and their legs stretched out -- may harm hip development.

Study author Dr. Nicholas Clarke, an orthopedic surgeon at Southampton University Hospital in England, reported that the global practice of swaddling had dipped, but now seems to be increasing again. About nine out of 10 infants in North America are swaddled within the first six months of their lives, and swaddling clothes increased in popularity 61 percent in the U.K. between 2010 and 2011.

Many parents find that wrapping the child snugly can help with sleep and soothe excessive crying and colic.

But because the constrictive bundling forces the child's hips to straighten and shift forward, it increases the chance that their hips will be misaligned. This could mean a heightened risk for developmental hip abnormalities.

About one in five children are born with a hip abnormality, typically caused by issues like family history or a breech birth. These birth issues tend to resolve themselves, but swaddling may prevent the body from fixing itself naturally.

A Japanese educational program that encouraged grandmothers not to swaddle their children was linked a 50 percent reduction in hip dislocation, the author pointed out.

Clarke said swaddling can be safe if the child's legs are allowed to bend up and out at the hips, and the legs are not wrapped tightly and held together. If parents are purchasing swaddling materials, they should include a loose pouch or sack for the babies' legs and feet and allow for hip movement.

He also asked healthcare professionals to advise parents about how to swaddle their child properly.

Jane Munro, the Royal College of Midwives' quality and audit development adviser, told the BBC that swaddling may seem safe, but it could cause "significant problems" for the child in the future. She added swaddling may increase the risk of the child overheating and the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

"We advise parents to avoid swaddling, but it is also crucial that we take into account each mother's cultural background, and to provide individualized advice to ensure she knows how to keep her baby safe, able to move and not get overheated," she said.