There is no end to the supply of the latest and greatest baby products that parents want to get their hands on. One of the more recent trends are designer swaddles that promise to help babies sleep and give parents that (much) longed for restful night. Babies look ultra cute in these swaddles, snuggled up like a cocoon. By many parents’ accounts they work too; babies sleep better in them. So more of us hop on the wagon and get the latest and greatest swaddles for our babies, often forking out $40 or $50 a swaddle for the promise of a good night’s sleep or to keep up with the Jones.
Mostly, following fashion trends is innocuous – at its worst it fosters a culture of consumerism. But it may be that this latest fashion for babies is far from innocuous. It may be causing ‘hip’ babies in more than just style.
When my daughter was 3 months old she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. This is a condition that is routinely screened for at birth and at 6 weeks. At birth and at six weeks babies’ hips are manipulated to see if a ‘click’ can be heard, or if there is a limited range of motion in one or both hips, or to see if they show other signs like, for the chubbier baby, uneven fat rolls on their legs.
Hip dysplasia is thought to be painless for babies. However, if hip dysplasia goes undetected, or is not treated, it may result in pain or a limp later in life, the early onset of arthritis and early deterioration of the hip joint. Some adult sufferers of hip dysplasia have had to have hip replacements at a comparatively young age. In this sense paediatric treatment for hip dysplasia is all about prevention of problems further down the track.
Hip dysplasia is thought to be caused by one or more of the “4 F’s”:
- Family history
- “Feet first” (breech babies)
- First born (first born bubs have less room to move in the uterus)
- Female (it occurs far more often in girls)
However, none of these factors can account for the rise in occurrence (sometimes as much as 4 or 5 times the previous rate of occurrence) of hip dysplasia that is being seen by orthopedic surgeons around the globe. Many of these surgeons are attributing the rise in hip dysplasia to the latest trends in baby swaddles.
My daughter was not breech or first born and we didn’t know of any family history when we saw the orthopedic surgeon for the first time. Apart from being female why did she have it? What is more, she had passed her newborn and six week test. Why did she have it now? The surgeon asked us whether we had used one of these new trendy swaddles. We had been given one as a present and we thought it was great as she did sleep better in it.
I will never know if using this swaddle contributed to her needing to spend weeks in different braces and most recently undergoing an operation as the braces didn’t work. She is now in a hip spica (a cast that goes from just below her chest down to her ankles with a small gap in which to stuff a nappy) to try to ensure that her hips stay in the right position to grow correctly, and faces many more weeks in a brace again once the spica is removed.
As it turns out, my husband’s Aunt may have had undiagnosed hip dysplasia as a baby so it is possible our daughter may have been pre-disposed to it. But maybe the swaddling tipped her over the edge. We’ll never know precisely what caused it. But regardless, it is horrible to think that, however innocently, I may have contributed to my baby’s condition. Certainly, if I’d known about the risk of these swaddles, I would never have used one no matter how good a nights sleep it promised, the risk to my baby’s health is not worth it.
I want to let others expecting babies or with newborns know about the possible link between the increase in hip dysplasia and the latest swaddling trends so they don’t find themselves in the same position, regretting having used a product they actually thought was helping their child, when possibly it was actually harming them.
Many parents who are devotees of these new swaddles have said “we’ve been wrapping babies for centuries without problems” but cultures where babies wear tight swaddling is the norm (e.g. Native American cultures) have been found to have extremely high rates of hip dysplasia whereas cultures where babies are not swaddled (e.g. many African cultures) have very low rates. An education campaign in Japan in the 1980s about healthy swaddling for hips reduced the extreme rate of hip dysplasia that was found there. Yes many people have and will successfully use these products without incident, but there appears to be a growing number for whom they do cause problems. Personally, as a parent, I’d rather know about the risk. Maybe it’s about time for another round of education programs here. I certainly had never heard about healthy wrapping for hips in any of my three pregnancies. Have you heard of healthy swaddling for hips before?
For more information about hip friendly swaddling techniques check out the video on the International Hip Dysplasia Institute website, but in a nutshell, a baby’s legs must be free to flop out ‘froggy style’ and not be straightened. Babies’ legs need room to be able to do this which most of the trendy ‘cocoon’ style swaddles don’t provide.