Let Market Forces Regulate – Baby Swaddling

Guest post from my former student John K. Ross:

A common complaint against government regulation is that regulators cannot possibly appreciate each individual’s differing preference for risk. For instance, in the last few years several states have prohibited day care centers from swaddling infants in blankets, an ancient practice that helps babies sleep. State regulators are concerned that day care workers may wrap blankets too loosely, which could suffocate a child or cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Absent government intervention, parents worried that a caretaker may not secure a blanket properly could select a center that doesn’t swaddle children or tell workers not to swaddle their child. The bans, which have been imposed in Pennsylvania, Texas, California, and Minnesota, take the decision out of parents’ hands.

Parents and some pediatricians are angry about the bans because regulators appear to have vastly exaggerated the risks. According to Abby Wisse Schachter, writing at Reason.com (“Pennsylvania Nannies Ban Swaddling in Day Care”), there are no known cases of improper swaddling resulting in the death of a child.

Moreover, a recent study shows that tight swaddling significantly reduces the likelihood SIDS. The bans may thus pose more of a hazard to child safety than swaddling.

In practice, babies in anti-swaddling states are not sleeping as well. Day care workers who no longer swaddle their charges report that babies who once napped for an hour at a time now only sleep for 20 minutes—or not at all.

Caretakers around the world have swaddled children for centuries. In a better world, regulators would have to conduct a thorough review of the risk associated with the practice before outlawing it. In an ideal world, if convincing evidence of risk did emerge, parents would be free to weigh the pros and cons for themselves.

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