One of the more frightening risks faced by new parents—other than, you know, everything—is the prospect of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which results in some 2,000 unexplained deaths every year in the United States. So it’s understandable that a new meta-analysis that links swaddling to a higher risk of SIDS is getting a flurry of attention.
The study, published this month in the journal Pediatrics, analyzes a total of 760 global SIDS cases compared with 1,759 control babies. Its findings, which come from analyzing four studies of SIDS deaths in the 1980s and 1990s, reinforce the guidance that babies should be put to sleep on their backs. But they also raise a question about the safety of swaddling infants—even those placed on their backs when they’re put to sleep. (SIDS rates have declined sharply in recent years, a reversal health officials attribute to the success of the “back to sleep” campaign that instructs caregivers to put infants to sleep on their backs.)
The researchers identified a “small but significant risk” associated with infants swaddled and put to sleep on their backs—a risk that’s evident in the discrepancy between the percentage of babies who died after having been swaddled and put to sleep on their tummies (under 2 percent) and the percentage of swaddled babies who were ultimately found in that position (7.9 percent).