Are you swaddling your baby to comfort and help him/her sleep better? Warning: that practice could be deadly sometimes.

The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) appeared to rise when infants were swaddled while sleeping on their sides or stomachs, University of Bristol researchers recently found.

The team analyzed two-decade data from four different studies involving 2,519 infants, which included 760 deaths attributed to SIDS and covered the regions of England, Chicago in Illinois, and Tasmania in Australia. There were 323 total cases of swaddling, including 133 dying from SIDS.

"We only found four studies and they were quite different, and none gave a precise definition for swaddling making it difficult to pool the results,” explained study lead author Dr. Anna Pease. “We did find, however, that the risk of SIDS when placing infants on the side or front for sleep increased when infants were swaddled."

Swaddled infants positioned on their stomach or side had twice the risk of dying from the syndrome as were those in the same sleep positions but were not swaddled. The risk was more pronounced in babies at least 6 months old, who the team said had a heightened chance of rolling to a prone position.

SIDS risk was less for infants who slept on their backs but remained greater among swaddled ones.

Swaddling, a technique taught in hospitals to new mothers, keeps infants cozy and warm and mimics the child’s conditions in the womb. Precautions may be necessary, though, as problems like overheating and breathing problems may ensure when babies roll onto their stomach.

“[T]he current advice to avoid placing infants on their front or side to sleep may especially apply to infants who are swaddled,” the authors wrote.

According to Dr. Pease, they found evidence that as babies grow older, they tend to shift into unsafe positions while swaddled, suggesting that it’s critical to discourage swaddling at a certain age. Most babies begin to roll over around 4 to 6 months.

In the United States alone, SIDS is the top cause of death among babies 1 month to 1-year-old, with most cases occurring among between 2 and 4 months of age. The condition largely remains a mystery, but it is prominently believed that it is caused by the combination of genetic defects, the baby’s development phase and environmental factors like stomach sleeping and overheating.

Nadine Chawla, mother to a 2-month-old boy, practices swaddling the child every time he goes to sleep. The baby is used to being constricted, and that’s like a "position of comfort,” she told CBS.

Dr. Max Gomez of CBS2 advised always putting babies to sleep on their backs and not too tightly wrapped, especially once they reach the age when they roll over. He also urged parents to keep cribs as empty as possible.

Photo: Brian Smith | Flickr

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