Swaddling Babies Myths and Facts


“Swaddling a baby is perfectly safe,” says Pamela Diamond, a Raleigh-based certified postpartum doula and baby sleep consultant.

Newborn care experts are saying that those who advocate arms-free swaddling and anti-swaddling are misleading parents.

“There are people out there who are spreading fear-laden messages that are patently false, lacking in evidence, data and clinical studies, and go directly against decades of clinical research*, says Diamond. “To advise parents to use an arms-free swaddle or no swaddle is downright absurd. Swaddling is a vital tool that is clinically proven to comfort a crying, screaming newborn and keep an infant safely asleep on its back.”

Pediatrician Harvey Karp concurs. An eminent expert on the subject of newborn sleep and whose work spans nearly four decades, Karp has long advocated swaddling as part of the Five S’s. On his website The Happiest Baby on the Block, Karp writes that swaddling is essential to public health because infant crying and the exhaustion it causes in parents are main triggers for postpartum depression, SIDS, child abuse such as Shaken Baby Syndrome, breastfeeding failure, maternal smoking, marital stress, car accidents, and over-diagnosis and treatment of babies for illness.

Though some published reports claim otherwise, the American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated swaddling many times and has written about the benefits of swaddling on numerous occasions.

As part of the implementation of the Infant Safe Sleep Campaign, the NC Healthy Start Foundation says the long-held tradition of swaddling could lead to suffocation due to loose bedding. While loose bedding is no doubt a serious problem, it is altogether a separate issue from swaddling safety.

As an example of the misinformation, the term “swaddling” is being exploited and illegitimately applied to various non-swaddling items to validate the use of clinical studies to promote sales. While most of these products do serve the purpose of eliminating loose bedding, they lack the very discernible scientifically-proven attributes that make swaddling safe and effective.

Arms-free swaddling or no swaddle at all, experts say the efficacy and the benefits are gone.  Therefore it’s crucial to separate the MYTHS from the FACTS.

MYTH: A wearable blanket or other zip-up sack is just as good as a swaddling blanket to help babies sleep.

FACT:  Medical research showing the incredible efficacy of proper swaddling has been done using a snugly-wrapped blanket with arms comfortably immobilized; usually at the sides. Wearable blankets are not snug to apply pressure and do not keep the arms snugly inside.

MYTH: Babies need their hands free to self-soothe, develop motor skills and to flail their arms if they are in distress.

FACT: Babies are not coordinated enough to practice motor skills and/or self-soothe reliably until 14 weeks. Swaddling is a substitute during this time to limit startle reflex, thus preventing unwanted arousal and facial scratches.

MYTH: Wearable blankets and other zip-up sacks help babies sleep better.

FACT: Only proper swaddling has been shown in clinical studies to calm a fussy, colicky baby while helping baby sleep safer, better, deeper and longer on their backs, while also eliminating loose bedding.

MYTH:  Wearable blankets and other zip-up sacks contribute to a decrease in the risk of SIDS.

FACT: Only proper swaddling has been shown in clinical studies* to reduce SIDS by as much as 30 percent, even over back-sleeping babies without swaddling.

MYTH: Tight swaddling can interfere with lung expansion, contributing to the risk of suffocation.

FACT: Research on proper swaddling has shown that a tight swaddle does not inhibit oxygen absorption or respiration. And, no incident of suffocation due to overly tight swaddling has ever been reported.

For more information about swaddling, go to www.swaddlingtruth.com.