Hip Dysplasia in babies: What you need to know

Posted in All, Babies, Health + Safety.

Baby with Hip Dysplasia

When you think about dealing with dodgy hips, you’re probably more likely to have images of your grandparents pop into your mind. Unfortunately for some little ones, this is a problem that they have to deal with from birth. Don’t bust out the walking frame just yet though, this condition is common and generally very treatable. Read on to learn what you need to know about hip dysplasia.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in babies is referred to medically as developmental dysplasia of the hip or DDH. What it means is that a baby’s hip socket is a little bit too shallow to properly cover the head, or ball of the femur (thigh bone). As scary as that sounds it’s actually super common; eight infants a day are diagnosed in Australia alone.

It can range from a very mild case, where the joint is just a little bit loose, all the way through to a full dislocation. Luckily because it is so common, testing is routine in Australia, and we’re also fortunate to have a wide range of treatment options at our disposal.

What causes it?

Like many childhood conditions, doctors still aren’t 100% certain why some babies are more susceptible to hip dysplasia.

According to Raising Children, risk factors may include:

  • A family history of hip dysplasia
  • Having a breech pregnancy
  • Twin or multiple pregnancies
  • Lower than normal levels of amniotic fluid
  • Female babies are four times more likely than boys to have hip dysplasia. The occurrence is also more common in first pregnancies than for subsequent pregnancies
  • Very large birth weight babies
  • Over swaddling after birth – correct swaddling allows a baby to move and bend their legs

How will I know if my baby has hip dysplasia?

If you’ve just found out that your baby has hip dysplasia but had no idea until they were diagnosed, don’t feel bad! It’s really easy to miss. Luckily your doctor or midwife should be routinely checking your little one’s hips from birth, right the way up to their first birthday. They’ll be looking for signs of hip dysplasia like:

  • Stiff hip joints
  • A leg that turns out on one side
  • Uneven skin folds (those cute rolls) either in the groin or on the thigh
  • A visible difference in leg length
  • Leaning to one side when standing
  • If your little one has started walking, they may appear to waddle, limp or toe walk

If your doctor suspects hip dysplasia, they’ll get you to take your baby for an ultrasound or x-ray of the joint to confirm their diagnosis. Rest assured that at this stage of their life your baby is very unlikely to be in any kind of discomfort from their hip dysplasia.

Is hip dysplasia treatable for babies?

The good news is yes, particularly if diagnosed early, most babies will fully recover from their hip dysplasia. Treatment will depend on the severity of the dysplasia.

The most common and usual first treatment option is a splint or brace. You may have seen some little ones wearing these, but don’t worry, they definitely look a lot scarier than they actually are. The first kind of splint is called a Pavlik Harness, and the second is known as the Denis Browne Bar. These are specially fitted by your baby’s paediatrician or orthopedic specialist. They make life a bit tricky for you in terms of clothing, bathing and car seats, but most babies adjust to them quickly – and remember, this is only temporary.

If your baby doesn’t respond to treatment with a brace, their dysplasia is particularly severe, or their condition was discovered in later infancy, the doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery on any child is always very distressing for parents, particularly when they’re so little. Often this surgery can be performed via a very small keyhole procedure, and then followed up with more splinting. Once again, this is probably going to all be a lot more upsetting for you than it is for your baby. Because they’re so young and not yet mobile, they’re not likely to be overly distressed by any of this and will usually find their feet pretty quickly once the dysplasia is treated.

Are there any long-term health problems I need to worry about?

Generally speaking, as long as hip dysplasia is correctly treated and resolved, your baby should have no long-term health issues because of the condition. Very rarely, and in more severe cases, some individuals may develop arthritis in the affected joint as they age.

If your child started their treatment a little later, it may delay some of their developmental milestones like learning to crawl and walk. It’s comforting to know that any child who has a diagnosis of hip dysplasia will be monitored closely through childhood, and into adolescence, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to discuss any concerns with their doctor.

Once again, it’s important to try to remember that this is a small temporary speed bump for your little one. With an amazing mum like you, they’ll be running around in no time!

Talk to other mums …

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