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Swaddling comforts many babies and, by extension, their parents — but could the practice of wrapping your baby tightly lead to hip dysplasia?

Swaddling, or wrapping babies in blankets really tightly, has increased in popularity in recent years. Is it the perfect way to calm your cranky baby with colic down, or could the practice be dangerous? Many parents are enthusiastic about the benefits of swaddling, but not everyone gives it it positive reviews. 

What Is Swaddling?

Swaddling is the practice of wrapping newborns and older infants tightly in blankets or specially designed swaddling cloths that make it even easier to wrap babies snugly. Both the baby's arms and legs are usually bound. Swaddling has traditionally been practiced in many countries, and continues to be part of many people's cultural traditions today.

Swaddling has also become popular among some modern western parents in recent years — including Beyoncé, Sandra Bullock and Kate Middleton.

The practice is said to have numerous benefits. Do you have a newborn who is frequently woken up by her own waving arms, has colic, or just can't seem to fall asleep? You may have heard that swaddling can help with any of these problems and feel encouraged to wrap your baby tightly. 

You can choose to use muslin squares, blankets, or special swaddlers to wrap your baby. Swaddling does seem to soothe many babies and you may find that yours is sound asleep by the time you finish wrapping. 

Protect Your Baby's Hips

If you've seen swaddling in the news recently, it won't have been because celebrity who most recently gave birth decided to wrap her baby up snugly, however — rather, because a British expert warned against the practice.

What could possibly be wrong with something that seems to be comforting to so many babies?

British orthopedic surgeon Professor Nicholas Clarke might not be the expert on how to get your hysterically crying but exhausted baby to settle down, but he does know all about hips and that is why he has been in the news to tell you that swaddling might cause more problems than it solves

Writing in the journal Archives of Disease In Childhood, Clarke points out that swaddling restricts a baby's movement in a way that could really harm the hip joint: "In order to allow for healthy hip development, legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints."

He added that "the babies' legs should not be tightly wrapped in extension and pressed together." Clarke is not alone in his views. 

Andreas Roposch, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the famous Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, believes that babies should never be placed with the legs in a "purely straight position" for any length of time. 

He actually thinks that swaddling should be avoided altogether, since there are no health benefits but indeed "a risk for adverse consequences of the growing and often immature hips". While your baby's hips are not the only concern when it comes to swaddling — the British Royal College of Midwives also warns against overheating and crib death — they are certainly important enough to make sure your baby's legs aren't extended straight down for very long. 

Hip dysplasia is a condition in which the bones of the hip joint are aligned incorrectly. It can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired, and range in severity from mild to truly disabling.

Hip dysplasia is unlikely to cause your baby any significant problems, but it will lead to pain, arthritis, and severely worn out hips later in life if left untreated. 

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