Swaddling Could Lead to Serious Leg Damage

George Severson

Swaddling Could Lead to Serious Leg Damage

CREATED Apr. 27, 2012

PALM DESERT - Swaddling can be a "dream" for parents trying to soothe a fussy baby. But as with most things, there's a right way and a wrong way to wrap. And experts say the wrong way may be putting your baby at risk for developing serious hip problems.

Like many loving mothers, Melissa Hord swaddled her daughter Haley from day one. "My doctors advised me to swaddle her to make her feel comfortable, like she's in the womb," says Hord.

So when Haley was diagnosed with a dislocated hip at 15 months, Melissa was shocked to learn that this ancient practice may be to blame.

"They said to swaddle her tightly, and never instructed me on a proper way to swaddle her, so I just swaddled her in the straight leg position," Hord admits.

There's no dispute that swaddling has a variety of benefits. It's been shown to reduce colic and help infants sleep more soundly. But experts say the wrong kind of wrapping may lead to hip dysplasia, a term used to describe a loose or dislocated hip joint.

"If babies are wrapped too tightly with their legs extended, then about 30% of them will develop a dislocated hip," says Dr. Charles T. Price, International Hip Dysplasia Institute.

Now, four renowned medical organizations, including the International Hip Dysplasia Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are working together to promote "hip-healthy swaddling."

"We're trying to emphasize you can go ahead and swaddle the chest and the arms, but let the legs be so that the knees and hips can bend," says Dr. Ellen Raney, AAP.

This position allows an infant's hips to develop naturally, something a pediatrician checks for during routine well-visits.

"A big part of the problem is that there's basically no symptoms in babies. It doesn't hurt the baby. It's not going to be painful. But the hip is not going to grow normally," says Dr. Raney.

The good news? If discovered within the first three months, hip dysplasia can often be corrected with a simple harness.

"It involves suspenders and basically straps that go over the knees and feet, and hold the feet and hips in a comfortable position," says Dr. Raney.

If diagnosed later in life, like in Haley's case, surgery is often needed. And if treatment is successful...

"Those children go on and enjoy normal athletic activities. It tends to wear and tear as they get older and into the 40 and 50 year age groups, so it's more of a premature arthritis," says Dr. Price.

After three surgeries, Haley is running and jumping like any normal 6- year-old.

"It won't stop her from living a carefree lifestyle," says Hord of her active daughter.

Our experts say that most commercial swaddling products are considered safe.