London - It is the fashionable way of soothing fractious babies. But swaddling raises the risk of hip problems in years to come, a leading paediatric surgeon has warned.

Professor Nicholas Clarke has blamed the resurgence of swaddling for an increase in hip dysplasia, a potentially serious condition in which the hip is dislocated or the joint is the wrong shape.

If left untreated, one leg can grow longer than the other and arthritis can develop at an early age.

While some babies are born with the condition, others are developing it because their legs are wrapped too tightly in blankets, said the professor.

Swaddling used to be widespread but fell out of favour because of links with cot death and publicity about hip dysplasia. But today it is on the rise again.

Numerous websites advocate snuggly wrapping a baby in a blanket as a treatment for colic, saying that mimicking the conditions in the womb fosters feelings of calmness and security. Some give step-by-step instructions, others sell “swaddlers” - swaddling blankets.

But babies need to be able to hold their legs apart and tuck them up for the hip joint to develop properly, warned the professor, who spoke out as part of the STEPS charity’s baby hip week.

The Southampton General Hospital orthopaedic surgeon said: “The hip develops with the legs ‘frogged’, so if you swaddle them, you are restricting hip development.

“Even if you are not born with hip dysplasia, you are being made vulnerable to it and if there is a degree of it already, it won’t get better, it will get worse.”

Professor Clarke, who has previously warned about a resurgence of rickets, said some antenatal classes are also giving the wrong advice.

Sue Banton, founder of STEPS, which provides support for those with hip and foot conditions, said that if hip dysplasia is not caught straight after birth, it can be much harder to correct.

And she said that swaddling isn’t the only trendy practice that may be affecting the development of babies’ hips. Slings that don’t keep the legs apart, car seats that are too tight and baby sleeping bags that are narrow around the legs can also be problematic.

However, it is possible to swaddle safely. Mrs Banton said: “There is a way of wrapping the baby so it can feel secure in thin muslin and the hips are loose because you have left a pouch at the bottom.”

Sue Macdonald, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “We advise parents to avoid swaddling, but it is also crucial we take into account each mother’s cultural background, and to provide individualised advice to ensure she knows how to keep her baby safe, able to move and not get overheated.” - Daily Mail