Professor Nicholas Clarke, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital
, claims unsafe swaddling is being increasingly adopted.
He warns the trend is leading to more cases of hip dysplasia, as forcibly straightening the legs within the first three to four months of life means babies are unable to freely flex and strengthen weakened joints.
Professor Clarke said: ‘This form of swaddling used to be very commonly used across the world but, with the help of major educational programmes, it was all but eradicated and cases reduced drastically.
‘Now, I and my colleagues across the UK and the US are witnessing its revival.
‘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.’
He added that he ‘advocates swaddling in the right and safe way’ – ensuring babies are not rigidly wrapped but have enough room to bend their legs.
Up to 100 babies are screened at Southampton General Hospital’s hip clinic every week – around one in every 20 full-term babies has some level of instability.
Although treatment, which involves fitting a harness to keep the legs bent up day and night for six weeks, is successful in 85% of babies, some will suffer permanent damage.
Sue Macdonald, RCM Education and research manager, said: ‘It is an issue that such a seemingly innocuous thing can lead to significant problems for the baby.
‘There are concerns about the growing use of swaddling because of the possibility of overheating the baby, and the increased risk of cot death.
‘Also, as this research suggests, swaddling, and especially tight swaddling, may also affect the baby’s natural posture.
‘Normally a baby will lie with the hips flexed, and swaddling may reduce the degree to which the baby can keep this natural position.
‘We advise parents to avoid swaddling, but it is also crucial that we take into account each mother’s cultural background, and to provide individualised advice to ensure she knows how to keep her baby safe, able to move and not get overheated.’