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Swaddling your newborn may help her wake less at night, sleep longer and calm her crying, but improper technique could have an unintended side effect: hip dysplasia, or problems with the hip joint, according to some pediatric orthopedists. Seventeen percent of newborns have some degree of “immaturity” of their hips, studies show, which usually resolves on its own in the first few months of life. While this happens to coincide with prime swaddling time, it’s safe to wrap your baby as long as the hips can move and bend, experts agree. “The arms should be snug, but not the legs,” says pediatrician Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD. Follow these four tips to swaddle your baby safely:
Avoid straightening the legs
Do not stretch your baby’s legs straight or press them together when swaddling, says pediatric orthopedist Charles Price, M.D., director of the International Hip Dysplasia Institute in Orlando, Fla.
Keep the top tight
Your baby’s movements will loosen the blanket a little, so make sure her arms are straight and the final corner is tucked in securely. A loose blanket around a baby’s face is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Watch for overheating
If your baby’s neck and ears are red or hot or she’s sweating, unwrap her, remove a layer of clothing and try again; or turn on a fan.
Don’t give up
Practice swaddling your baby when she’s in a good mood, and give yourself several tries. Dads are especially good swaddlers, says Karp. Many babies are ready to sleep unswaddled at 3 months to 4 months. To “wean” your baby, try swaddling her with one of her arms out. If she gets fussier this way, try again in a few weeks, suggests Karp.