Baby carriers, slings and hip dysplasia – what you need to know

We use expert evidence to investigate the truth behind claims of a link between certain baby carriers and hip dislocation

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There has recently been growing controversy surrounding baby carriers and a possible link to hip dysplasia.

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As a result some of the biggest brands in the parenting industry known for making baby carriers, such as Baby Bjorn, have come under fire and have even been called unsafe.

Given the fact that so many of our mums and dads are avid babywearers, it is something we’ve researched in detail, so that you can be confident in your choices.

We spoke to an independent expert, Dr Charles Price, the director of the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI), to find out if a carrier can indeed cause the disorder.

But first, what is hip dysplasia and how common is it?

Hip dysplasia is a condition where the bones of the hip joint are not aligned correctly.

It’s also known as:

  • developmental dysplasia of the hip
  • hip dislocation
  • congenital dislocation of the hip
  • loose hips

It prevents the hip joints from functioning properly and means your child may develop painful and stiff joints, a limp or hip pain, especially during teenage years. 

Hip dysplasia affects 2-3 in every 1000 babies (approximately 2000 babies in the UK each year) according to the IHDI.

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Can carriers cause hip dysplasia?

According to Dr Price there is no evidence that points directly to carriers as a cause of hip dysplasia.

However,the IHDI recommends healthy hip positioning for all babies to encourage normal hip development. 

“There are definitely mechanical forces that can help or hurt hip development when the sockets are soft and immature,” he explains.

“However, with carriers that carry babies in the Spread Squat position – also called the Froggy, Ergonomic-M or Jockey position (pictured above) – hip dysplasia is almost unknown.”

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What is the best position for a baby in a carrier?

The IHDI recommends carrying your baby so that your baby’s hips are in a natural position during the first 6 months. This means your baby’s hips should:

  • be positioned at just over a right angle (90+ degrees) with legs spread around your body
  • have a wide base of support under the thighs
  • sit at the same level or slightly lower than your babies knees

According to the IHDI, the most unhealthy position for your baby’s hips is when your baby’s legs are held straight out with hips and knees straight and legs brought together (the opposite of the your baby’s foetal position).

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Baby slings and hip dysplasia

Slings that keep your baby’s legs inside can also hinder healthy hip development. According to the IHDI, any carrier or sling that restrains a baby’s legs in an unhealthy position should be considered a potential risk. Like a carrier, your sling should enable your baby’s legs to be outside and bent at just over 90 degrees and wrapped around you. 

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So what causes hip dysplasia?

The exact causes are not known, but what is known is that hip dysplasia develops around the time of birth, after birth, and even during childhood. The most vulnerable time for a baby to develop hip dysplasia is from birth to 4-6 months.

The hip sockets are shallower at birth than at any time after birth and approximately one in 6 newborn infants has loose hip ligaments.

These babies are at greater risk for hip dysplasia if the hips are not allowed to stabilise with the ball in the centre of the hip socket.

There are a few factors known to increase the risk of hip dysplasia:

  • A breech birth
  • Girls are 4-5 times more likely to have hip dysplasia than boys
  • Wrapping a baby’s legs straight and together for long periods of time (for example, with tight, straight swaddling on a papoose board) is known to cause hip dislocations 
  • Genetics – hip dysplasia can run in families, making it around 12 times more likely, but other factors are involved too. Some genes have been identified that may increase the risk of hip dysplasia, but these do not predict a baby will have hip dysplasia. 
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Want more information on dysplasia?  We’ve got that covered…

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