The trend for tightly swaddling babies to prevent colic has sparked the return of a hip problem that disappeared 25 years ago, a surgeon has warned.
The practice of wrapping babies tightly in swaddling clothes fell out of fashion in the 80s but has had a recent resurgence in the UK, with an increasing number of baby retailers selling muslin cloths for swaddling.
Professor Nicholas Clarke, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, said the revived practice is leading to a rise in cases of hip dysplasia.
Hip dysplacia occurs when the baby’s hips loosen around the time of birth as a result of hormones released to relax the ligaments, making childbirth easier. By then wrapping the baby tightly, their legs are forcibly straightened within the first three to four months of life.
Babies who would otherwise recover naturally are unable to flex freely and strengthen the weakened joints, making surgery essential.
"This form of swaddling used to be very commonly used across the world but, with the help of major educational programmes such as the one used to eliminate the problem in Japan in the 1980s, it was all but eradicated and cases reduced drastically," said Professor Clarke, who spoke out as part of the STEPS charity's Baby Hip Health Week 2012.
"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.
"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."
Treatment involves fitting a harness to keep the legs bent up day and night for six weeks. Although it is 85% successful, some babies will suffer permanent damage.
Professor Clarke is not against swaddling as a practice but warns that mothers need to ensure they are doing it correctly and safely.
"I advocate swaddling in the right and safe way, which means ensuring babies are not rigidly wrapped but have enough room to bend their legs - they don't need to have their legs straightened as there is plenty of time to stretch before they start to walk," he explained.
"But, and this is worrying the orthopaedic community, it seems to be increasingly fashionable among parents to follow the re-emerging trend of tight swaddling."
He is calling for the relaunch of an awareness campaign to address the problems.
"We need to focus on ensuring the years of hard work and effort made by thousands of clinicians across the world to drive out tight swaddling is not unravelled in a matter of months and that means stepping in immediately," he added.
It is believed that swaddling can be used as an effective treatment for colic. Here are some alternative ways to combat the condition.
Colic is where an otherwise healthy baby experiences repeated bouts of excessive crying. Colic usually starts when the baby is around six weeks old and can continue to the age of three or four months. In severe cases the crying may go on for many hours throughout the day and night causing great distress to the baby and parents. There is no magic cure for colic as the cause of the condition is still unknown. However, there are a number of things you can do to help alleviate the problem and cope with the stress it brings with it.
Persistent crying (at least three hours a day, at least three days a week, for at least three weeks) Red and flushed face Clenching fists Drawing up knees Arching back
One theory is that colic is caused when a baby swallows too much air while feeding without being burped properly. Burp your baby after every feed by sitting them upright or holding them against your shoulder and gently rubbing their back and tummy until they burp. They may bring up a small amount of milk, which is completely normal.
Check frequently that your baby is warm enough but not too warm, fed when they are hungry and their nappy is clean. If they do not respond well to being held, rocked or having toys held in front of them, they could be over-stimulated. If so, try putting them down in their cot and dimming the lights.
Babies are able to sense anxiety so it's important you look after your own stress levels as well as those of your baby. If you feel like you're about to have a meltdown, call a supportive friend or family member. Breast-feeding can be physically and emotionally draining, causing further anxiety. One option is to share the burden with your partner by expressing milk so he can do the bedtime feed with a bottle. If your anxiety is persistent, speak to your GP about treatment.
Your breast milk is directly affected by your diet so avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol as well as spicy foods, which are also believed to exacerbate colic.
One theory is that some babies with colic may be intolerant to the lactose in cows' milk. To eliminate this as the cause of the issue, try switching to soy or rice milk to see if you notice any improvements in your baby's behavior.
It's a long-held belief that many babies are pacified by the sound of white noise, such as the sound of hairdryers or car engines, as this reminds them of the sounds of the womb. As a more bearable alternative to having your hairdryer blasting out all day, invest in a 'white noise CD' especially created for calming babies.
Many parents will testify that their baby immediately calms down when they are taken out in the car or the pram. It is thought this is due to a combination of the white noise of the car engine or the rumbling pram wheels on the pavement and the calming motion.
Remember that colic is a common condition and is not your fault. In most cases, it will subside by the time your baby is three or four months old. If you feel like you are unable to cope, this is perfectly natural and does not make you a bad parent. Remember you are not alone. Cry-sis is a support group and helpline for families with crying, sleepless and demanding babies. Visit the Cry-sis website or call their helpline on 08451 228 669 (9am - 10pm, 365 days a year).
Colic relief drops can be used to alleviate colic. Choose a reputable brand such as Infacol. This has been specially formulated to relieve wind, colic and griping pain - and is sugar, alcohol and colourant-free.