Small but quantifiable

There’s been a few interesting headlines about the dangers of swaddling babies.

I always find these types of stories interesting…essentially you have a practice for children called in to question because someone did it in the wrong way/with the wrong age group*, and then the headlines act like the whole practice is questionable.  Sigh.

Here’s the thing:  swaddling (wrapping babies up snugly in a blanket) is safe if done right.  I did it, and stopped between 2 and 3 months old when the little lord got too wiggly.  For a newborn though, it calms them down.  This makes sense…they spent 9 months in a snug environment, and it makes them feel safe.  If you know anyone having a baby, get them these.  They do the work for you.  They’re awesome.

Anyway, there apparently are some people questioning whether this practice should stop being recommended because if you do it wrong or for too long, it’s bad.  I think this is a great example of letting a small but quantifiable risk (ie the risk of SIDS) trump a larger but less quantifiable risk.

Babies who aren’t swaddled don’t calm as easily or sleep as well…or at least mine didn’t (and I hear I’m not alone).  Parents who have screaming awake babies get tired and frustrated.  How many car accidents would be caused by sleepy parents?  Injury to the child due to inattention?  Cases of shaken baby syndrome because the child wouldn’t sleep?  This would be impossible to measure, but the risks of having a newborn who doesn’t sleep well are very very real.  After all, this (admittedly small) study found that 70% of mothers of colicky infants have fantasized explicitly about harming their child….at that point the risk of SIDS is far smaller than the risk of the mother not getting any sleep.

I get the seduction of prioritizing those things which are easily measured, but we should never lose sight of what’s less measurable….now I think I’m gonna go get some sleep!

*In this case they managed to swaddle a 7 month old and a 1 year old.  I can barely get a diaper on my 9 month old….I have no idea how they swaddled them.

One thought on “Small but quantifiable

  1. You probably could measure if you had a large enough cohort long enough and measured enough things, such as overall death rate from all causes, neurological damage, first years of school…

    One does get into the difficulty of measuring the practice itself versus “the type of people who do the practice.” (See also organic food, reading out loud, Montessori kindergarten)


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