Sleep-deprived parents of newborns are thankful for anything that will calm their fussy bundle of joy enough for a little bit of shut eye. Which brings us to swaddling – the art of wrapping your infant snugly in a blanket for warmth and security that your grandmother probably taught you.

“Swaddling has been credited with helping young infants get more quiet sleep, wake up less often during sleep, and help quell excessive crying for infants younger than 7 weeks old,” said Geisinger pediatrician Jamian Ryan, DO.  

For generations, parents of newborns have wrapped up their infants and silently jumped for joy when it helped coax their baby to sleep. However, the joy may have turned into panic and tears (from parents) when a recent study reported swaddling may increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – the leading cause of death among children age 1 month to 12 months.

However, it’s not as simple as if you swaddle, the risk of SIDS increases. There is a way to safely swaddle your infant.    

“One of the most important things you can do to lower your infant’s risk of SIDS, swaddled or not, is to place them to sleep on his or her back,” Dr. Ryan said.

The aforementioned study found that the risk of SIDS was nearly doubled when infants were swaddled and placed to sleep on their side or stomach.

The other part of safely swaddling is knowing when to stop.

“Just like your infant will grow out of their clothes and diapers in the weeks and months after their birth, they will also grow out of swaddling,” Dr. Ryan said. “Anywhere between 3 to 6 months old, your newborn’s startle reflex goes away and the benefits of swaddling diminish.”

At this stage, infants’ risk of flat head and plagiocephaly increase if they’re swaddled.

“If your infant starts to show signs of being able to roll over, you should stop swaddling them,” Dr. Ryan said, noting that their risk of SIDS increases if they’re swaddled and able to roll over onto their side or stomach.

In addition to always placing your baby to sleep on his or her back, you can also reduce the risk of SIDS by:

  • Placing your baby to sleep on a firm surface.
  • Not putting any soft objects or loose bedding in their crib, including pillows, stuffed animals, fluffy blankets and bumper pads.
  • Keep the room where your baby sleeps at a comfortable temperature to prevent them from getting too hot
  • Put your baby to sleep in the same room where you sleep, but not in the same bed as you.
  • Breastfeed as much and for as long as you can – recent studies show that this can help reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Keep your baby away from smokers and places where people smoke.
  • Offer a pacifier at nap and bedtimes.
  • Schedule and go to all well-child visits.