Physiologic studies on swaddling: An ancient child care practice, which may promote the supine position for infant sleep


Objective: The calming effects of swaddling may help infants accept back sleeping and so reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. We hypothesized that swaddling, with minimal leg restraint, would be accepted by postneonatal infants with minimal respiratory effects.

Study design: Postneonatal infants (n = 37) were studied for the introduction of swaddling. Four infants were studied by using traditional swaddling techniques. Swaddle tightness was increased in 13 infants, simulating traditional swaddles. Respiratory variable respiratory rate, tidal volume, oxygen saturation, heart rate, sigh rate, and grunting were measured.

Results: Hips were flexed and abducted in the swaddle. The majority of infants accepted swaddling while supine, including 78% of infants who slept prone at home. Acceptance decreased with increasing age. With increased swaddle pressure, respiratory rate increased during quiet sleep (P < .05). In rapid eye movement sleep, a slight effect on heart rate was observed (P < .05). Other variables did not change.

Conclusions: Older infants including usual prone sleepers generally accept a form of swaddling that has minimal respiratory effects. The reintroduction of swaddling, without restricting hip movement or chest wall excursion, combined with supine sleeping, may promote further sudden infant death syndrome reduction.

Claudia Gerard, MD; Kathleen Harris; Bradley Thach, MD
(J Pediatr 2002;141:398-404)

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