A new study has shown that swaddling – wrapping infants in cloth so only their head is uncovered – could increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
SIDS - also known as cot death - happens when a baby dies of an unexplained reason, usually while sleeping.
The new research suggests that swaddling a baby may heighten the risk of cot death. Health organisations in Australia say that swaddling is dangerous too.
The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne hosts a webpage that provides information about how to ensure your baby is safe while sleeping, and they discourage the wrapping technique.
“Swaddling is no longer appropriate due to entrapment risk,” their website writes.
The new study published in Pediatrics contains data sourced from four observational studies about SIDS and swaddling. The research involves 760 cases of SIDS.
Researchers found that overall, swaddling increased the risk of SIDS by approximately one-third. The results show that the risk varies depending on the position the baby is sleeping in. A baby is at highest risk when sleeping on their stomach, followed by sleeping on their side. The least risk is associated with a baby sleeping on its back.
The study warns “to avoid front or side positions for sleep especially applies to infants who are swaddled.” It has little results to prove that risk increases depending on the infant’s age.
Australia's SIDS and KIDS CEO Associate Professor Leanne Raven says that the meta-analysis is great and that the overall findings are supportive of her organisation's message, which is to ensure babies sleep on their back from birth.
"At the moment, we're not feeling that it's going to impact on the advice that we give in wrapping babies, but it reinforces the need for parents to put babies to sleep on their back," she tells SBS.
"It does give us an opportunity to reinforce the principles of safe wrapping."
Associate Professor Raven says that SIDS and KIDS has an information sheet with images that clearly indicate safe wrapping techniques.
"Making sure they're not wrapped too tightly to cause hip displacement, and when older than three months [make sure their] hands [are] out," she says.
Associate Professor Raven says that the organisation advises at five months of age you don't wrap your baby because that's when something in the cot could cause a risk.
"Overall, the findings are in alignment with our message," she says of the Pediatrics study. "Most important is putting your baby on their back from birth. The findings reinforce that, whether the baby is wrapped or not."