By Melinda Wenner Moyer
NEW YORK — I don't remember much about the first few months of my son's life. It's a collection of tidbits — our doctor yelling "It's a boy!," the "dun-dun" of 4 a.m. "Law & Order" reruns, painful nipples. But I do remember five things that were, I think, largely responsible for the fact that I am now a parenting columnist and not a patient at the Kingsboro Psychiatric Center. These were pediatrician Harvey Karp's famous Five S's for calming fussy babies: swaddling, side/stomach position, swinging, shushing and sucking.
So I was surprised when I learned a few weeks ago (from Karp, actually) that swaddling — the act of wrapping babies snugly in cloths or blankets, which inhibits the startle-inducing Moro reflex and calms them — is now illegal in child care centers in Minnesota and strongly discouraged in centers in Pennsylvania and California. This has created a ripple effect that is scaring moms away from the practice nationwide. The bans stem from a 2011 decision by the National Resource Center on Child Health and Safety, a Colorado-based organization that provides health and safety guidelines for child care centers, to recommend against swaddling. The NRC cites "evidence that swaddling can increase the risk of serious health outcomes," including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and hip diseases. (The American Academy of Pediatrics has not taken an official stance on the safety of swaddling in child care settings but notes that swaddling "is an effective way to calm infants, especially in the newborn period, and is generally used in the first three months of life.")
Karp is, of course, furious. (He called the recommendations against swaddling "crazy and unintelligent and unscientific.") These moves make me mad, too, because they do seem scientifically unjustified. Worse, Karp fears that if parents around the country stop swaddling, rates of postpartum depression and child abuse could increase. For my part, I can't imagine parenting without swaddling, and I didn't have a colicky baby. What will parents of difficult infants do if they feel they no longer have effective strategies for calming them?