There’s nothing sweeter than a fresh newborn baby. New parents are both excited and terrified for them as their baby looks around and tries to take in everything. New parents want to make sure they do everything they can to protect their babies. They stay inside during flu season, they bolt shelves to walls, and they take their babies to the doctor for check-ups. Though check-ups are considered routine, it is vital that parents expect more than routine service from their providers.
Recently, a Scottish mother urges new parents to advocate for their babies and have practitioners thoroughly check for hip dysplasia. Hip Dysplasia or Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) is when the ball of the hip isn't placed properly in the socket joint of the pelvis, causing a hip dislocation.
The mother said her baby was not diagnosed with DDH until she was four months old, and only after she and her husband sought another opinion from a specialist. Their daughter then was put into a cast that covered both of her legs and kept them spread out in a frog-like position. The mother stated it was difficult to breastfeed and comfort her baby during that time.
DDH is best detected within the first 72 hours of birth. All pediatricians are required to perform a physical exam on a baby after birth and recommend another exam at six weeks. If undetected or untreated at those times, DDH can discourage babies from learning to walk, cause pain and/or discomfort later in life, and even require surgery.
Although doctors have been to medical school, completed residencies, and even have years of experience, if they're not looking directly for the signs of DDH, it's possible it could be overlooked. An orthopedic surgeon who helped perform a study about hip dysplasia in babies has stated, "Untreated hip dysplasia [is] 'a significant public health issue' and the current approach [has] 'failed to impact' on late diagnoses in children. The signs are easily missed. They can be subtle. Doctors, midwives, and nurses may be doing the checks and if they are not used to seeing hip dysplasia, it is hard to pick up."
The best way to avoid DDH is prevention and detection. Parents can help their babies by properly swaddling them and using carriers that help babies legs naturally form the “frog” position. Most babies loved to be swaddled because it mimics the womb. However, swaddling a baby too tightly can cause the legs to come out of alignment, leading to hip dysplasia. Many baby carrier manufacturers are aware of the risk of DDH, so they design their carriers to put babies in an “M” position while being worn. They also have videos online on how to safely wear your baby.
Signs of DDH that parents should look for include one leg laying off to the side facing outward; one leg appearing shorter than the other; or the space between the legs appearing to be larger than normal. In the early days of parenthood, these signs could be unseen due to exhaustion and stress. However, parents need to be their babies’ advocates. If they suspect something's wrong, they need to aggressively push for a more thorough exam or a referral to a specialist.
Parents are their babies' first line of defense in the world. Even new parents have instincts for a reason to protect their babies. It is better to be safe and seek further medical attention than to let something go untreated.