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Improper swaddling may put baby at risk for hip problems

April 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Swaddling is the first thing nurses teach new moms to do. It's one of the best ways to soothe a fussy baby. But doing it the wrong way may put the baby at risk for a condition that could involve surgery.

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," Hord said.

So when Haley was diagnosed with a dislocated hip at 15 months, Hord 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," she said.

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 percent of them will develop a dislocated hip," said Dr. Charles T. Price of the 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," said Dr. Ellen Raney of American Academy of Pediatrics.

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," Raney said.

The good news is that if discovered within the first three months, hip dysplasia can often be corrected with a simple harness. If diagnosed later in life, like in Haley's case, surgery is often needed. If treatment is successful, the children can go on to 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," Price said.

Our experts say most commercial swaddling products are considered safe. Just make sure that your baby's knees and hips are free to move.


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