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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 10:42 GMT
Swaddling 'reduces cot death risk'
Baby in cot
Parents are advised to place babies on their backs
The age-old tradition of swaddling babies could help babies sleep better - and may even reduce the risk of cot death, research suggests.

A small study carried out by US researchers indicated that swaddling helps babies remain on their backs, a position which cuts cot death risk.

Parents are advised to put their babies to sleep in this position.

But 20% of US parents say that when their child is around two months old, they begin to put them on their stomachs to sleep because they appear to be more comfortable and sleep better.


We have scientific evidence to support the age-old belief that swaddled infants sleep better than unswaddled infants

Dr Claudia Gerard, Washington University School of Medicine
Swaddling is practised in countries such as Turkey, Afghanistan and Albania.

It is thought to make a baby feel more secure, limiting the potential for it to be startled and move in its sleep.

Sleep assessment

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggest swaddling helps babies sleep better, so parents would be less likely to put small babies into the more risky stomach-sleeping position.

They studied 26 healthy babies aged three to six months.

They were either wrapped in a specially designed cotton spandex swaddle or not swaddled during daytime naps and monitored in a sleep laboratory.

The swaddling was designed not to restrict the baby's hip movement or breathing, but it did limit their breaking free of the swaddle.

Researchers evaluated rapid eye movement (REM) and quiet sleep (QS) by checking breathing patterns, eye movements and brain waves.

The number of sighs, startles and full arousals were also recorded.

Infants who awoke were lulled back to sleep.

Babies were found to be startled, and to awaken fully less when swaddled, and were therefore helped to stay on their backs.

The length of REM sleep almost doubled when babies were swaddled.

Overheating

Dr Claudia Gerard, who led the research, said: "Now we have scientific evidence to support the age-old belief that swaddled infants sleep better than unswaddled infants.

"It helps babies stay asleep and so may help parents keep their babies sleeping in the safer back position."

A spokeswoman for the UK Foundation for the Study of Infant Death told BBC News Online if parents did swaddle their babies, they should follow some basic rules.

"We know its very important to use a very lightweight material, probably not more than a cotton sheet, to swaddle.

"And parents should not wrap up the baby's head, because we know overheating poses a risk of cot death."

The research is published in the journal Pediatrics.

See also:

01 Nov 02 | Health
24 Oct 01 | Health
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