Is Swaddling Bad for Babies?

NO – More than freedom to explore newborns need security. They need tight boundaries, like they enjoyed in the uterus, to keep from flailing and getting upset.

25 Responses to “Is Swaddling Bad for Babies?”

  1. New Mom Says:

    My in-laws make me feel bad that I swaddle my son for naps. They say he looks uncomfortable or he’s in there too tight. He’s 12 weeks and his arms flail about like crazy if he’s not swaddled for naps. He hits himself in the face and wakes himself up and gets irritated. As soon as I swaddle him he’s out like a light and naps for 2 hours w/o waking up. Sorry, I will continue to swaddle until I can’t anymore!

  2. Tara Says:

    I think this makes sense, but my daughter, from the time she was born, cries and won’t sleep until her arms are free.. but I swaddle her with her arms out. She definitely sleeps better swaddled… she’s just happy with her arms above her head or folded together:)

  3. Greg Says:

    What about some books and Dr’s saying that swaddling is bad for babies because it cuases developmental problems like retarded motor skills and problems in hip development?

  4. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the question. Swaddling is recommended by many groups, like the American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Pediatric Society. In the past, some studies have shown a higher risk of slow gross motor skills in babies who are swaddled most of the day and night and hip dysplasia with tight swaddling. However:
    1) Swaddling and white noise are for sleep and fussing…not times babies are really practicing motor skills very effectively! That leaves oodles of time each day for them to practice their muscle skills. Several studies have shown that even young babies (like in Mongolia) with mild motor delay from snug wrapping almost 24 hours/day quickly develop normal development once the swaddling is stopped (usually closer to 1 year of age!).
    2) The studies showing hip dysplasia are associated with a tribal, antiquated way of swaddling where the legs are bound together and hips are often rigidly straightened…so the hips cant flex or open up a little. There have been no studies showing an association between modern swaddling (snug arms but room for the legs to bend and move) and hip dysplasia. In fact, the International Hip Dysplasia Institute teaches how to do “hip-healthy” swaddling.

    I hope that helps clear up the confusion!

  5. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Michelle, You’re right in the toughest period of crying/colic (usually 4-10 weeks). I’m glad you went back to swaddling. It will definitely help your baby sleep better…and to stay only on the back (the side sleeping worries me and is not recommend by the Academy of Pediatrics). But, you will find that she sleeps much better – and you will have an easier time weaning the swaddle at 4-5 months, if you use our CD of womb sounds for naps/nights/fussy periods, or some other white noise source all night as I’ve described in earlier notes to parents on this page. I recommend that for at least the first year…it will really help her sleep better…and you too!
    I hope you get some rest and drive carefully!

    Dr. Karp

  6. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi April, if you are wrapping him so his hands get free in minutes, you may as well stop wrapping him. Swaddling must be done snuggly to be effective.
    Also, use white noise (as mentioned below) to help his sleep for naps/nights…at least until he is 12 months old.

    All best, Dr. Karp

  7. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Stacy, Many babies fight the swaddle…but it is what they need (of course in the womb they had NO room to move). I strongly suggest you use swaddling for at least 4 months…but to make it easier, you play our CD or other deep, rumbling sounds 30 minutes before bed and all naps/all nights. If she still fights, add a lot of jiggling on teh edge of the bed or an exercise ball to calm her..or take a look at the Happiest Baby DVD to see the best way to use a swing (always get your doctor’s permission before using a swing…and it should be fully reclined). That will work!! Dr. Karp

  8. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Erika,

    i don’t know how old your baby is, but grunts and groans …even short cries…are normal during sleep. So, I would not stop the swaddling just yet, but i would add a good, rough white noise, if you are not currently using that.
    Happy New Year!
    Dr. Karp

  9. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Jessica,
    Actually, the AAP report did NOT say that swaddling was a problem…they didn’t mention it at all!
    In fact, two of the authors of the report just released a booklet on safe sleep recommending swaddling for babies who are fussy sleepers. The evidence shows that proper swaddling (without overheating, not on the stomach) probably reduces SIDS and accidental suffocation! I know it’s confusing, but those are actually the facts.

    Happy New Year, Dr. Karp

    Dr. Karp

  10. Dr_Karp Says:

    No…in fact, babies who don’t sleep well tend to gain weight from more feeding!

  11. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Bahareh,

    Please don’t worry! Swaddling a baby 24 hours a day can temporarily delay his motor skills…but they always catch up. HOWEVER, just swaddling for sleep periods has no effect on motor skills (after all they are not really exercising while they sleep). You should use a large blanket so he doesn’t escape the wrap…and use sound (like our white noise download on itunes) all naps/nights…it acts like a teddy bear of sound…keeping babies calm and promoting sleep (even through teething, growth spurts and other distractions)…for at least the first year. And, it makes weaning the swaddling so much easier.

    Salaam alekum, Dr. Karp

  12. Kelli Says:

    I finally found out about Dr Karp’s 5 s’s for my 4th child. The others I had a terrible time with for the first 3 months and some beyond. My 4th was swaddled tightly and swayed with the head wobble and he learned to sleep so much earlier.
    He is THE most physically capable 18month old I’ve ever seen (my job is in early childhood care) and I believe the swaddling actually helped him. More sleep when younger meant his wakeful times were more productive and calm. He has been climbing steps since about 9 months and walking up slides since 12 months – I think. I really think that swaddling helps rather than hinders motor development!!

  13. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Christine,
    Good Qs. As I have discusses on this site in the past…it is super important to use the right kind of white noise all night and naps (rough and rumbly, not hissy – that’s why we made a specially engineered CD/itunes tracks). That will help you wean the swaddling (4-5 months)…to improve his holding the paci – look at the demonstration of “reverse psychology” on the baby DVD (or in my baby book).
    Good luck!
    Dr. Karp

  14. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Taddie,

    Take a look at some of the earlier answers I wrote on this site…they will answer your Q (the key is the right type of white noise as loud as a shower dor all sleep).
    Take care, Dr. Karp

  15. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Pei,

    THe American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend cushioned devices like that one…and it will not reduce a child’s need for swaddling. So I would use the swaddling (in a regular thin blanket) and strong white noise to help promote sleep.

    I hope that helps. Dr. Karp

  16. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Kelli, Thanks for that input! Many native american tribes use/d swaddling till 6 months and longer…and their kids grew up very agile and strong.

  17. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Pauline,
    Thanks so much for writing. As I mention in my new sleep book, swaddling is perfect for all sleep and fussy periods…if he is calm…that is the time to unwrap and practice tummy time. There are NO concerns of delaying his development with correct swaddling…are you also using our white noise? THat should be continued for all naps and nights for at least the first year. All best, Dr. Karp (sorry for the short response….)

  18. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Amanda,
    You don’t want him swaddled on his stomach. But there are several ways to keep swaddling and keep him safe. Please take a peak at my sleep book at the book store…there is a section giving specific instruction. All best, Dr. Karp (sorry for the short response….)

  19. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi S,

    Weaning swaddling is MUCH easier if you are using a strong white noise…like our rain on roof or hair dryer sound…all naps and nights. (If you want, there is a more discussion about that in my new sleep book)
    All best, Dr. K

  20. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Heather, Unfortunately the nurses are totally misinformed. In fact there is evidence that swaddling reduces SIDS and a new study showing babies sleep much better swaddled…and this reduces unsafe sleep practices (like stomach sleeping). There is NO benefit to swaddling with arms out…and it makes it easier for a baby to roll over into the riskier stomach position.

    I hope that helps, Dr. K

  21. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Joanne,
    Are you using a strong white noise!!? Make sure the swing is flattened (fully reclined…speak to your pediatrician about this). Some babies LOVE motion…that is the key to keeping them asleep (see info on “motion babies” in my new sleep book). But, they never get addicted to it…it will be easy to wean in the months to come (especially if you use white noise for all sleep periods).

    All best, Dr. Karp (sorry for the short response….)

  22. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Sherry, Yes, you can definitely switch to the rain once she is asleep. Dr. K

  23. Mj Says:

    Hello Dr.Karp,

    I have seen you in utube regarding swaddling the baby and saying sounds shuuuuuu….
    When I was on my night shift duty I look after a baby who is unsettled,can’t sleep irritable and I remember your techniques…
    Wow amazing a matter of minutes baby fall to asleep…
    Thank you so much..I am sharing this to all the mommy’s and to my co staff…
    God bless the work of your hands..

    Best regards,
    Mj
    Paediatric Nurse UK

  24. Dr_Karp Says:

    It’s OK…but I would advise you to use the right type of white noise for all sleep times…that will make weaning the swaddling much easier.

  25. Elizabeth Says:

    Hey Dr Karp! I don’t have a question; just wanted to thank you for answering questions personally on your site. I saw your responses to some Amazon.com reviewers who were having challenges and I was so impressed with how you helped them diagnose their respective problems. I wish more authors / experts took the time…. it’s clear that you truly care. I just brought my newborn home yesterday and both my hubby and I are super-grateful to have your wisdom at our side!

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