Recent studies have questioned the safety of many popular baby “soothers,” such as infant noise machines and swaddling. But these methods can still be used without harming your baby, according to Dania Lindenberg, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Hillcrest.
“The key is moderation,” she says. Lindenberg has used these techniques for her own three children, all under the age of 7. “If parents use common sense, techniques such as infant sound machines and swaddling are safe for babies.”
Here is a roundup of the recent concerns regarding baby soothers along with expert advice to help calm your nerves and use these devices and techniques safely.
A recent study in the journal Pediatrics suggested that some infant noise machines might hurt newborn ears and damage hearing. For many parents, the devices help their infant sleep soundly by using constant sound, such as raindrops, bubbling brooks or a heartbeat. The research claims that 14 machines can produce sound levels that break the noise limit recommended for hospital nurseries. Sound levels from three of the machines produced decibel levels that exceed workplace limits for accumulated noise exposure in adults.
“There isn’t data that proves these machines cause hearing loss or harm infant development,” says Dr. Lindenberg. “If you use them cautiously, they can be an effective and safe way to calm your infant.”
Keeping the concerns in mind, Dr. Lindenberg recommends keeping the volume low, placing the machines away from the baby’s crib, and using them only when needed.
Some experts say that swaddling can cause hip problems or interfere with a baby’s motor development, but it’s all in the technique, says Dr. Lindenberg. Swaddle snugly enough so that the arms stay down, but make sure there is enough room for movement of the legs. The blanket should be loose enough so that your infant has no trouble breathing, but not so loose that baby can break free and risk suffocation. In addition, only swaddle when it is time for baby to sleep. Once your infant can roll over, usually around 4 months of age, stop swaddling.
Baby carriers such as cloth slings and wraps can be a convenient way to let baby snuggle while you are on the go. Also referred to as “babywearing,”carrying your infant in a sling is safe when you keep his or her nose and mouth uncovered and the airway clear. Make sure that your infant is not in a curled position, with the chin to the chest, which can obstruct breathing.
“I encourage parents to wear their babies,” says Dr. Lindenberg. “It’s a great way to have skin-to-skin contact and bond.”
If you have concerns over how to properly wear your baby, babywearing groups can help — ask your pediatrician to recommend one.
Pacifiers rank with many parents as a must-have to calm a fussy baby. Many babies are happiest when sucking on something. A pacifier can help settle a fussy baby and keep him or her content. Prolonged use may cause problems with proper alignment of the teeth, but this is usually reversible, says Dr. Lindenberg.
Try to wait until 3-4 weeks of age when breastfeeding is well-established to introduce a pacifier. Consider limiting use of the pacifier to defined times, such as when your child is sleeping or upset. Avoid the risk of choking or strangulation by never tying a pacifier around a child’s neck or hand, and keep it clean at all times.
“As parents, we all want to make sure we are keeping our baby happy and safe,” says Dr. Lindenberg. “My best advice is to stay calm and carefully analyze research and studies about methods of soothing your infant. In most cases, using restraint and caution will keep your baby happy and safe.”