Swaddling and SIDS - unraveling the data

Recently there have been some news articles regarding a study published in the journal Pediatrics about swaddling babies and the risk for SIDS.  Unfortunately, many of them have been titled with sensational, simplified headlines declaring "Swaddling Causes SIDS!"  Well, it's not that simple.  There's a few things that make the study, and definitely the sensational conclusions in the press, not-so-airtight:

  • It's a "meta-analysis", which means it wasn't a study, rather it was a "study of studies", a look-back at four other studies, attempting to put all the data together and come to a conclusion.  This can be very inconsistent despite their best efforts.
  • The four studies are not recent - they are all from 10-20 years ago, and that makes it difficult to go back and clarify irregularities or holes in the data.
  • The vast majority of the risk arose from babies who were swaddled and placed on their stomachs or sides and were over 6 months old.  This is much different than swaddling a 2 week old (who has no strength to kick out of the blankets and roll) and placing them on their backs.

Most physicians will tell you after reading this study that the main take home point is not that swaddling is dangerous, but that a child shouldn't be swaddled at all past 2-3 months of age, when they are developing the strength to roll.  And of course, that babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep.

For further reading, there is a great article at the Seattle Children's Hospital website that discusses the study and gives some solid guidelines on safe swaddling.  Hope this helps dispel the hype!