Tight swaddling linked to rise in baby hip problems

Published on 15 March 2012
Tight swaddling linked to rise in baby hip problems

The growing practice of wrapping babies tightly in blankets, known as 'swaddling', is causing an increase in the number of infants with hip problems, an expert has claimed.

Professor Nicholas Clarke, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital has witnessed an increase in cases of hip dysplasia, which he believes is linked to tight swaddling.

Usually, a baby's hips - which are loosened during birth - strengthen and recover naturally during the first three to four months of life.

But Professor Clarke revealed that by swaddling infants too tightly, some mothers are preventing their babies from flexing and strengthening these joints.

He said that swaddling is becoming increasingly common, after the practice fell out of favour in the 1980s.

"Now, I and my colleagues across the UK and in America are witnessing its revival, with swaddlers being advertised on the internet that tightly wrap babies. For the hips, that is exactly what you don't want to happen," he revealed.

"While many cases of hip dysplasia are down to genetics or other conditions, swaddling is becoming an increasingly prevalent cause once again and that is extremely frustrating because it is something parents can control, yet only last week a mother brought her baby to my clinic tightly wrapped."

Professor Clarke revealed that around one in every 20 full-term babies has some degree of instability in their hips and that treatment is only successful in around 85 per cent of cases.

He noted that swaddling can be done safely as long as the baby is not rigidly wrapped and has enough room to bend its legs.

Sue Macdonald, education and research manager at the Royal College of Midwives, agreed that the "seemingly innocuous" practice of swaddling can cause "significant" problems for babies.

"Normally a baby will lie with the hips flexed, and swaddling may reduce the degree to which the baby can keep this natural position," she explained.

Dr Andreas Roposch, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who is leading an Arthritis Research UK funded study into the causes of hip dysplasia, said: "Hip dysplasia is the most common musculoskeletal disorder in infancy, and occurs when a baby is born with a shallow or deformed hip socket, enabling the ball of the hip to slip out. We know that there are a number of factors that can make babies more at risk of hip dysplasia including family history, breach delivery and joint instability.

"To stop babies developing severe hip dysplasia, which will require treatment, it is important that a baby's hips are able to move freely and are not tightly bound together or permanently forced in to straight positions, which often occurs with swaddling."