My Best Tips for Infant Hip Dysplasia

Back in the fall, when Ellis was around eight weeks old, he was diagnosed with infant hip dysplasia. I shared this on Instagram and was surprised by how many people messaged me, telling me that they had experienced the same with their kids, or even themselves, when they were babies! I know a post about infant hip dysplasia won’t help a majority of you, but I want this to be a resource, just in case you ever need to pass it along to a friend or need it with your own kids someday. And if not, then it will at least give you a little insight, if you ever see a baby in a hip harness.

Our Infant Hip Dysplasia Diagnosis

Our baby boy from my c-section birth

Because Ellis was born breech (remember how I tried all these crazy things to get him to flip?!), we had a hip ultrasound when he was six weeks old. This is the standard of care for all breech babies, so we didn’t think anything of it. Our pediatrician had always checked his hips at our visits and didn’t find anything alarming.

However, the ultrasound revealed that he had mild hip dysplasia in his left hip. The right was okay, but the left was concerning. She put us in touch with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and warned us that we might need a harness for Ellis.

Prepare Yourself

Ellis wearing a pavlik harness

I’m so thankful that our pediatrician warned us that hip dysplasia might mean that Ellis would need to wear a Pavlik harness for a few months. When we visited the orthopedic surgeon, he was very nonchalant about the treatment plan, and before I knew it, my tiny baby was being fitted into a contraption. If I didn’t know that it was a possibility, it probably would have made the experience even harder than it was.

When they put him in it for the first time, I cried right there in the doctor’s office. I was overwhelmed and I hated that my sweet little boy had to wear this crazy contraption. Our doctor gave us a handout with some tips and told us that Ellis would have to wear it for 23.5 hours a day, only taking it off for baths. Fifteen minutes earlier we were holding our little guy without a harness, and now he was stuck in it for the foreseeable future. It was hard.

What’s a Pavlik Harness?

Infant hip dysplasia, wearing a Pavlik harness

The harness keeps the legs in a frog-like position, with the knees wide open. This keeps the hip socket in the ideal position, so it can form correctly as he grows. My doctor said the Pavlik harness works 97% of the time, so it was likely that this would fix his infant hip dysplasia and he wouldn’t have any future hip problems.

Every protocol is different, based on the severity of the dysplasia, but for us, it meant that Ellis would have to wear the harness for 23.5 hours a day for at least four weeks, and then we would see if we could reduce the time week by week.

Grieve If You Need To

Getting back into work after having two kids

So, I want to add the tip that it’s okay to feel a little sorry for yourself and your baby. At least give yourself twenty minutes to grieve. The next few months of your child’s life may not be exactly what you envisioned. I couldn’t dress or hold my baby the way I wanted to and it sucked.

But, remember that babies are incredibly resilient! Ellis’ hip harness was much harder on me than it ever was on him! I had to adjust my expectations and make things as comfortable and happy for him as I could. So, I let myself feel sad for twenty minutes and then I leapt into action mode.

Figure Out Clothing

Once Ellis’ harness was on, we immediately went home and realized that he couldn’t wear most of his clothes. We donated a bunch and loaded up on items that could be worn with the harness. For us, that meant mostly long sleeve shirts underneath his harness. We couldn’t use sleepers or pants because we couldn’t remove the harness to get to his diaper for changes.

Infant hip dysplasia tips
Ellis rocking his deep-v collared shirts to protect his neck.

We also quickly realized that his neck was getting rubbed and irritated from the continuous harness wear. We ended up buying packs of these mock turtlenecks and these collared shirts to wear 24/7. These kept his neck protected from the rubbing of the harness. They weren’t the most fashionable or breathable pieces of clothing, but they worked well for that first month of continuous harness wear.

Because it’s winter in Chicago, we did have to figure out a pants situation when we went out and about. We ended up ordering special pants to wear with his harness. These worked well when we had to leave the house!

My best tips for infant hip dysplasia and the Pavlik harness

Once Ellis decreased his harness time to just naps/overnight sleep, he was able to wear more sleepers and onesies and it was a lot easier.

Choose The Right Sleepwear

Okay, now onto the hardest part to figure out – the sleeping items. Before Ellis got his harness, we were swaddling him with the Ollie swaddle and he loved it. But because the harness kept his legs open so wide and they couldn’t be pushed together, our swaddle wasn’t going to work. I talked to my pediatrician about dropping the swaddle at eight weeks and she encouraged us to figure out a way to still swaddle his arms, at least for another month or so.

Figuring out the best solution for swaddling with hip dysplasia

We tried sooooo many options and we even bought this swaddle made specifically for the Pavlik harness, but we found he didn’t sleep well with his arms in that position. For that first month, we ended up using the Ollie swaddle for his arms only and we kept his legs open and wide. Then, we placed him in a large sleep sack, and we were lucky because we had lots of leftovers from Rory. This set-up worked great.

Once it was time to drop the swaddle, we wanted to move to the Magic Merlin. (Rory absolutely loved her Merlin and slept like a dream in it.) We tried him in a large Merlin for a few nights but it didn’t allow his legs to spread wide enough. So, we ended up making the jump to a Nested Bean sleep sack. He has been rocking that for the last month or so and it’s going great.

All this to say, figuring out the right sleep environment is tough. Get creative, try out different items, and try to keep your baby as comfortable as possible.

Keeping the Harness Clean

Ellis started in a small harness and wore that same one all the time for over a month. Needless to say, it got filthy. We washed it once or twice (in the washing machine and then dried it with a hair dryer), but we didn’t want to keep it off his body for too long and it takes forever to try.

If you can, buy another harness (they sell them on Amazon) or ask your doctor for one. We also ordered some harness covers off of Etsy. These ended up arriving when we were decreasing the time he was wearing the harness, so we didn’t use them often. But, if you’re just starting off, these covers might be a worthwhile purchase.

My mom helping out with the kids

To keep his feet clean, we always put large toddler socks over the foot braces. That way, if a little foot accidentally got dirty from a diaper, we just had to wash the socks and not the brace itself. Gamechanger.

Don’t Be Afraid of Tummy Time

Ellis our sweet boy

At first, holding Ellis felt awkward and it was tough for me to get him into tummy time or to hold him to feed him. But eventually, it all felt natural. Whenever a family member went to hold him, they were so cautious with the harness. I always emphasized that they couldn’t hurt him and to just treat him as they normally would.

We also made a point to do as much tummy time as possible, even in the harness, which was what the doctor recommended. The last thing I wanted was for Ellis to get behind on his milestones, so we kept the floor and tummy time up. Once we were able to ditch the harness during play time, he was thrilled and loved kicking all around.

I also did a lot of baby-wearing (and I still do) for one of his daily naps. We use this Baby Bjorn carrier and it keeps the hips in a good splayed out position.

Know When to Size Up

Our doctor marked the harness so we could put it back on correctly whenever we took it off for bathtime. But Ellis was growing like a weed and those marks were quickly outdated. We learned how to properly fit the harness ourselves and we did our best to get in to see the doc every few weeks to check his progress.

Over the holidays, we couldn’t get in to see our doctor and we knew our harness was quickly becoming too small on our big boy. We ordered a larger harness size, online, and sent a picture to our doctor. He told us it fit much better and we were happy we trusted our gut to size up.

It Will Go By Fast

Ellis 4 months old

Ellis wore his harness for 10 weeks and he was officially finished last week! At first, that time felt like an eternity. But now it’s over and thankfully he has been deemed “hip-healthy”, with no more infant hip dysplasia! We’ll have periodic x-rays and ultrasounds to make sure everything stays looking good, but we are grateful we made it through. And I’m excited to chuck that nasty harness in the trash…

My best tips for infant hip dysplasia

If you’re just starting out on your harness-wearing journey, know that it will go by fast, and eventually you’ll look back and barely remember this time. Just give your baby lots of love and snuggles and know that you’re doing the right thing for your child!

Casey