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No swaddling allowed

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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Baby Isaiah swaddled and sleeping happily

I had my fourth child recently and, like his older sisters, have been swaddling him for every nap and at bedtime. Also like his sisters, the baby is going to a wonderful local day care.

But I was shocked when the day care administrator politely informed me that our son could not be swaddled for naps. In the three years since my third child began day care, Pennsylvania, along with several other states, has changed its regulations to include a ban on swaddling.

The prohibition stems from “Caring for our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs,” a guidebook produced by the HHS-funded National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education (NRC) in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association. “In child care settings,” the manual states, “swaddling is not necessary or recommended.”

The NRC says that they are “worried about monitoring children in a group care environment … for blankets becoming loosened.”

So, these unelected busybodies are convinced that swaddling isn't safe because the day care workers might incorrectly wrap the baby, the blanket could come loose, the baby might roll over into the loose material and then the baby could possibly die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

There are no known cases of a baby dying at day care from suffocation by a swaddling blanket, however. In fact, there has been a 50 percent decrease in SIDS since 1994. Additionally, one New Zealand study concluded that tight swaddling significantly decreases the risk of death.

Pennsylvania adopted the NRC rules, which state that a baby may not be swaddled in day care without authorization from a physician. But if your pediatrician won't sign such a waiver — and not everyone would want to ask — then, in effect, there's a ban. There are similar bans in Minnesota and California.

Dr. Harvey Karp, author of the “Happiest Baby” series on swaddling and sleep, is furious. “Evidence shows that swaddling may well reduce infant sleep deaths,” Karp argues. But never mind, because reality shouldn't intrude on hypothetical risk. And by the way, after the ban was enacted in Texas, babies stopped sleeping for as long as when they were wrapped.

As a parent, I'm frustrated. Why should the decision to wrap or not wrap my baby be made by an unaccountable stranger? It would make more sense and be more efficient if the day care workers and I had a conversation and decided how best to care for my son.

The NRC even claims that it is not anti-swaddling. When I asked why it had enacted the regulations, the answer was positively Orwellian: NRC standards, the employee explained, are based on the recommendations of Dr. Rachel Moon at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Moon isn't anti-swaddling; she's just against any blankets in cribs in day care. But you have to have a blanket to swaddle the baby, I sputtered.

“We aren't anti-swaddling,” the woman replied. “We're just against blankets in cribs.”

So there you have it — no blankets in cribs and another unreasonable, unnecessary standard becomes law.

Abby W. Schachter lives in Regent Square and blogs about the intersection of government policy and parenting at captainmommy.com. A longer version of this commentary first appeared at Reason.com.

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