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Hip dysplasia in babies

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Hip dysplasia occurs when your baby’s hip doesn’t develop normally.
  • Hip dysplasia may not have any symptoms, and may first be noticed during routine early childhood health checks.
  • If your doctor, midwife or early childhood nurse thinks your baby may have hip dysplasia, they will arrange a hip ultrasound or refer your baby to a paediatrician.
  • Treatment options vary depending on your baby’s age and the severity of the condition.

What is baby hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia (developmental dysplasia of the hip or DDH) occurs when your baby’s hip doesn’t develop normally.

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 femoral head 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.

Diagram showing hip dysplasia.
Illustration showing hip dysplasia.

What are the symptoms of hip dysplasia?

Often, hip dysplasia is not obvious. Doctors and early childhood nurses will do regular checks to look for hip dysplasia in all babies.

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

In an older child, they may check to see if they:

  • sit or walk late
  • lean to one side when standing or walking
  • waddle when they walk

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What are the causes of hip dysplasia?

Doctors don’t really know what causes hip dysplasia. Risk factors that increase your child’s chance of developing hip dysplasia include:

  • being a first born child
  • being in a breech position before birth
  • female sex
  • a family history of hip dysplasia
  • low fluid around the baby in the womb (oligohydramnios)
  • a high birth weight (over 4kg)
  • clubfoot or neck stiffness (torticollis)

Hip dysplasia can also be caused by wrapping swaddling your baby tightly. If you swaddle your baby, make sure they can bend their hips and knees freely.

When should I see my doctor?

Hip dysplasia is often first noticed on at a routine health check.

Your doctor, midwife or early childhood nurse can check your baby’s hips at any time, but will commonly check your baby’s hips:

  • at birth
  • one week after birth
  • 6 weeks after birth
  • 6 months after birth
  • when they begin to walk

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How is hip dysplasia diagnosed?

If your doctor, midwife or early childhood nurse thinks your child may have hip dysplasia, they will refer you for an ultrasound of your child’s hips or refer you to a paediatrician.

What treatment will my child need?

Treatment will depend on your baby’s age and how severe the condition is.


If hip dysplasia is diagnosed at birth, your baby may be recommended a soft brace called a Pavlik harness.

Other braces include the Denis Browne Bar and the Hippo/Rhino Brace. These braces help to keep the hips flexed (with the knees up) and abducted (with the legs apart). This is the best position for the hip joint to develop. Your doctor will discuss with you the recommended brace for your child.

Diagram showing braces to treat hip dysplasia.
Illustration showing the different types of braces to treat hip dysplasia.

Your orthopaedic specialist will teach you how to care for your child while they are wearing the brace, including:

  • how many hours a day your child needs to wear brace
  • how to change their nappy and clothes
  • how to wash your child
  • how to care for their skin

Babies with braces usually have regular hip ultrasounds to check their progress.

Closed reduction procedure

If treatment with a brace isn’t effective, you child may need a procedure known as a ‘closed reduction’, where your child’s hip is moved into the correct position while they are under anaesthetic.

Open reduction surgery

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 more surgery may also be needed.

Hip spicas

After surgery and sometimes after a closed reduction your child will need a hip spica cast This is a plaster cast that covers your child’s body from the knees to the waist. They may need to be in a hip spica cast for several months.

Your baby’s hips should develop normally after treatment. Your doctor will monitor your child for rare problems such as arthritis.

Complications of hip dysplasia

If left untreated, hip dysplasia can lead to a limp, that can progress over time to painful arthritis. Your child may need surgery to address these issues.

Resources and support

If you think your baby might have hip dysplasia, speak to your doctor.

A Pregnancy, Birth and Baby maternal child health nurse can teach you how to:

  • breastfeed your baby in a brace
  • wrap your baby so that their legs are able to bend at the hips
  • position your baby in the brace
  • change your baby’s nappy
  • bath your baby while in the brace

Read more about hip dysplasia on the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network.

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2023

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Need more information?

Hip Dysplasia - Miracle Babies

Dysplasia of the hip if adolescent patients successfully treated for developmental dysplasia of the hip The successful treatment of DDH in infancy does not ensure normal hip development; therefore, follow up into maturity may be recommended

Read more on Miracle Babies Foundation website

Breastfeeding a baby with hip dysplasia | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Tips for feeding your baby in a case, harness or brace

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Hip dysplasia or DDH: babies & children | Raising Children Network

Developmental dysplasia of the hip affects the hip joint in babies and young children. Health professionals check for DDH at birth and for the first year.

Read more on website

Developmental dysplasia of the hip factsheet | SCHN Site

Developmental dysplasia of the hip is a condition where a baby’s hip joint does not grow normally. It can be treated using a brace called a Pavlik harness.

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Perthes' disease - Better Health Channel

Most children with Perthes' disease eventually recover, but it can take anywhere from two to five years.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Baby carrier, sling & backpack safety | Raising Children Network

When choosing a baby carrier, sling or backpack, look for healthy hip positioning. Use the T.I.C.K.S. rule to position babies safely in slings or carriers.

Read more on website

Clubfoot in babies & children | Raising Children Network

Clubfoot is when a baby’s foot points downwards and inwards. It’s a structural problem and needs early treatment. Clubfoot is also called talipes equinovarus

Read more on website

Orthotist/prosthetist: for parents & kids | Raising Children Network

Your child might see an orthotist/prosthetist if parts of their body need extra support or protection, or they need an artificial limb. Read more.

Read more on website

Swaddling your baby

Swaddling or wrapping your newborn baby can help settle them to sleep and reduce awakenings.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Wrapping or Swaddling Babies | Red Nose Australia

Read more on Red Nose website

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