Trend For Swaddling Babies Has 'Sparked Resurgence In Hip Problem'

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.