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Home > Research Articles > Swaddling Infants May Bring Them Better Sleep

Reuters Health

Sunday, December 8, 2002

Swaddling Infants May Bring Them Better Sleep

Thu December 5, 2002 11:26 AM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Adopting the ancient practice of swaddling, or tightly wrapping babies in cloth before putting them to sleep, may help them sleep better, new research suggests.

Dr. Claudia M. Gerard and her colleagues from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, found that, when swaddled, infants were less likely to sigh or startle during napping, and were less likely to wake up during periods of deep sleep.

Although swaddling was used almost universally before the 18th century out of the belief that it, in fact, improves infants' rest, recent studies suggested the practice might lead to breathing problems and even death because of the pressure of the swaddling cloths against the infant's chest wall. There has also been concern that the practice can cause problems in hip joint development, or lead to overheating.

However, along with improving sleep, Gerard and her team note that swaddling can also help keep babies on their backs while sleeping, which experts advise for reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

Therefore, Gerard and her team write in the December online issue of Pediatrics, "a safe form of swaddling, that does not restrict hip movement or chest wall excursion and limits breaking free" may help prevent SIDS by promoting back-sleeping.

The investigators obtained their findings by observing 26 infants around 3 months old during their normal naps. Each infant was observed while sleeping free and when zipped into an adjustable, cotton spandex sac, with the head uncovered.

Gerard and colleagues found that when infants were swaddled, they were less likely to open their eyes or cry while in quiet sleep, a deep stage of sleep. Swaddling did not change how often babies would stir while in the active stage of sleep, during which they exhibit rapid eye movement, but babies were better able to return to sleep on their own during active sleep when swaddled than when sleeping free.

Although swaddling has been used for centuries, the researchers note that no one is sure how it helps babies rest during sleep.

"It is unclear what effect swaddling exerts on infants," they write, "but it does seem that swaddling an infant results in 'better sleep' than leaving the infant unswaddled, as this study suggests."

SOURCE: Pediatrics 2002;110:e70.