Understanding Hip Dysplasia

Every several years it seems a new health threat presents itself causing a change in the way we care for our infants. Over the years we have changed the position a baby sleeps from on the tummy,  to a side-lying position, and now to placing the infant on their backs. Shoes have changed from hard-soled, high-top variety to a moccasin style sole which closely mimics the barefoot. Bedding has also changed over the years. Parents are now discouraged from using bumper pads in the cribs and also discouraged from purchasing crib mattresses coated in flame retardant chemicals.

In recent months we have been hearing a lot about hip dysplasia in infants particularly links to using certain types of baby carriers, slings, seats, and even swaddle blankets. As a registered nurse this piqued my interest. I decided to do a little more in depth research which I will share here. Ultimately, neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the International Hip Dysplasia Institute endorses or advises against a particular brand of carrier/seat/swaddle. At Over the Moon we strongly recommend that parents conduct their own research and talk with their pediatricians.

What Is Hip Dysplasia?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics hip dysplasia is a condition in which the baby’s upper thigh bone becomes disconnected from the hip socket. This condition can occur during the birthing process or during the baby’s first year of life. You may notice the pediatrican screening your baby for this during appointments the first year. During a screening they will be looking for signs of decreased range of motion, shortening of one leg, and/or  “thigh or buttock creases that appear to be uneven or lopsided in appearance”. In some cases this condition is not diagnosed until the child is a year old.

What Causes Hip Dysplaisa?

There does not appear to be one factor known to cause hip dysplasia. As with many other types of medical conditions there are a variety of things that may cause your baby to be at increased risk of developing this condition. Some cases of hip dysplasia have been linked to hormones produced by the mother that help with muscle relaxation, but could also cause relaxation of joints in the baby. Other factors that increase risk are sex: females have a greater risk than male babies; family history: a greater risk if another family member has experienced this condition; birth position: breech babies have a greater risk factor; and birth order: the oldest child has a greater risk of developing dysplasia. In recent months/years there has also been concern expressed by doctors and chiropractors warning against certain positioning of babies in carriers, car seats, slings, etc. The risk to the baby’s hip/pelvis (and also at times to the development of the spine) increases with the length of time the baby spends in these respective carriers etc. Again, please consult with your own pediatrician in regards to the safest choice for your baby.

Avoiding Improper Positioning

The best way to avoid external causes of hip dysplasia is to understand proper positioning of your infant in a carrier/car seat etc. The baby spends over nine months in a fetal position within the womb. This “frog-legged” position only straightens out after several months. Forcing the baby into a straighter position can cause spinal issues or hip dysplasia. The International Institute of Hip Dysplasia  has some great diagrams on their web page demonstrating the proper positioning of a young infant in car seat, sling, and carrier

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In regards to bumbo seats, jumparoos, exersaucers, and walkers the consensus seems to be the same. All of these things can be definitely convenient and even stimulating for the baby. When used before the baby has naturally started sitting or standing on their own these items can cause damage to the development of the baby’s spine or pelvis. I found a blog post written by a husband/wife chiropractic team in Texas who specialize in prenatal and postnatal care. More information on these types of seats can be found at their blog on their website for the Lifetime Family Wellness Center.  They maintain that each stage of a baby’s development from tummy time to walking is important in the development of the cerebellum as well as the ligaments and joints.

Swaddle blankets are the newest cause for concern. While a great way to soothe and comfort a newborn there is also a proper technique that should be used to make sure the baby is able to stay in the proper positioning. The important thing with any swaddling technique is to allow plenty of room for the legs to move and that the hips are not squeezed together. This great YouTube video from the International Hip Dysplasia website demonstrates several safe techniques to swaddle baby.

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