A good swaddle keeps baby safe and snug – right? Maybe not. At least, when it comes to the ‘safe’ part. A recent report by 7 News Adelaide chronicled the story of the Paglia family and their daughter’s struggles with hip dysplasia.

What does this have to do with swaddling? Experts believe that two tight a wrap may cause growth problems, and possibly dysplasia.

According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, a baby’s legs are bent up and across each other while in the womb. The sudden straightening that swaddling (tightly) causes puts baby’s legs into what looks like a standing position. What’s wrong with this? It may loosen baby’s joints and cause damage to the soft cartilage of the hip sockets. This may, in turn, lead to dysplasia.

What’s hip dysplasia?

Healthy Hips Australia says that dysplasia happens when the hip joint is displaced. When the ligaments around the hip joint loosen, misalignment can happen. This results in a variety of symptoms, such as a ‘clunking’ or ‘clicking’ when moving the hip. Different leg length, difficulty spreading the legs apart, an uneven thigh or buttock crease, limping or weight moving off to one side when in a sitting position. Children with dysplasia may avoid bearing weight or walk on their tippy toes (on one side) or limp. This condition is sometimes present at birth. One out of every 20 newborns have some degree of instability in the hips, according to Healthy Hips Australia.

The type of hip issues that tightly swaddled babies are at risk for is considered developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH).

It’s well-known among mums that swaddling can comfort a fussy baby, keep her calm and stop crying jags (both of your crying jags — your baby won’t cry because she feels secure and you won’t cry because she’s finally quiet). That said, recent evidence points to the idea that you may need to ditch the super-tight burrito-style wrap.

Before you toss all of those adorable little swaddling blankets out with the trash, take a moment to learn about the ‘right’ was to wrap up your baby. You can still help your baby feel comfortable and cozy, without running the risk of developing a physical problem. Swaddling itself isn’t the culprit behind hip dysplasia. It’s the tightness of the technique that causes problems. The International Hip Dysplasia Institute suggests wrapping up your baby loosely enough so that her legs can move and bend up. Doing so provides your baby with the ability to move her legs at will. This allows for proper leg and hip development. Healthy Hips Australia also recommends positioning baby in a frog position – with the hips bent and the knees apart.

If you’ve already got your swaddle method down (i.e., the wrap and tuck technique), continue on – just make sure to loosen the bottom part of the blanket enough so that your baby has plenty of room. Watch your baby after swaddling to make sure that she can actually move her legs. This may help you to tell if her hips have enough room. If she’s keeping her legs stick straight, loosen the wrap a bit more.

You’ve got the whole blanket swaddle down. But, what about sleepsacks and other similar products? Avoid anything that closes your baby’s hips and legs in, and look for a loose pouch. If your baby can’t bring her legs up towards her chest or bend them, the sleepsack is too tight and poses a risk.

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