Hip dysplasia (developmental dysplasia of the hip — DDH) occurs when your baby’s hip doesn’t develop normally.
What is baby hip dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia is sometimes noticed in babies, and sometimes in children around the time they’re learning to walk.
Usually, the ball at the top of your baby’s thighbone (the femoral head) is held in a cup-shaped socket in the pelvis. The ball is held in the socket by ligaments and muscles.
In hip dysplasia, the femoral head is not in the right place and your baby’s hip will not develop correctly.
Nobody really knows what causes hip dysplasia. It is more common in babies who were in a breech position before birth. It is more common in girls than boys and can run in families.
It can also be caused by wrapping your baby tight or swaddling them, if you swaddle your baby, make sure they can bend their legs.
How would I know if my baby has hip dysplasia?
Sometimes hip dysplasia is not obvious. Doctors and early childhood nurses do regular checks to look for hip dysplasia.
They look for a baby who:
- has uneven skin creases near the buttocks or at the front of the upper leg in the groin
- has legs that are a different length
- doesn’t move their legs normally
- has a turned-out foot
And they look for an older child who:
- sits or walks late
- leans to one side when standing or walking
- waddles when they walk
- at birth
- one week after birth
- 6 weeks after birth
- 6 months after birth
- when they begin to walk
Your doctor, midwife or early childhood nurse might also arrange an ultrasound or refer you to a paediatrician (children’s doctor).
What treatment will my child need?
Treatment varies depending on your baby’s age and how severe the condition is.
If hip dysplasia is picked up at birth, your baby could wear a soft brace (a Pavlik harness) or a plaster cast for up to several months. This helps the hip develop normally. Babies with braces usually have regular ultrasounds to check their progress.
Some babies will need an operation to put the femoral head back into the socket. This is more common if babies are diagnosed after 6 months of age. Sometimes further surgery may be needed.
Your baby’s hips should develop normally after treatment. Your doctor will monitor your child for rare problems such as arthritis.
Where to get help
If you think your baby might have hip dysplasia, speak to your doctor. For help and support with caring for your baby if they need a harness, you can speak to a maternal child health nurse at Pregnancy, Birth and Baby using video call or the telephone on 1800 882 436.
You can also learn how to:
- breastfeed your baby in a harness
- wrap your baby so that their legs are able to bend at the hips
- position your baby in the harness
- change your baby’s nappy
- bath your baby while in the harness
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: May 2022