Do Baby Carriers Cause Hip Dysplasia?

Ever since the early 1990s, “babywearing” has become increasingly popular. Parents carry their babies around as they go about their normal daily activities, keeping them close and providing for a more secure parent-infant attachment.

Baby carriers come in many varieties, including slings, wraps, soft-buckle carriers, and backpacks, but it has become clear recently that not all carriers are properly designed. In a recent statement, the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI) warned parents that some types of baby carriers could be “considered a potential risk for abnormal hip development.”

Babies Need Time for the Hips to Properly Develop

When babies are born, their bones and joints are still pliable and will continue to develop and mature for the first several months of life. During this critical time, it’s important to allow the proper movement and positioning so that the hip joints develop as they should.

Should the hips be kept in an unhealthy position, they may be stretched prematurely, which can increase the risk for developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH), a condition in which the ball and socket joint of the hip don’t develop properly. Instead of the ball part of the joint fitting firmly into the socket as it should, it doesn’t fit tightly in place, increasing the risk of hip dislocation.

Without treatment, DDH can cause pain with walking, a limp with walking, and hip arthritis at a young age. A variety of factors can increase the risk of DDH in infants, including a family history of the disorder and breech birth. But recently, it’s become clear that tight swaddling and carrying baby for long periods in carriers that don’t provide the proper support can also increase the risk.

Baby Carriers May Increase Risk of Hip Dysplasia

“Some types of baby carriers and other equipment may interfere with healthy hip positioning,” the IHDI  warns. “Such devices include but are not limited to baby carriers, slings, and wraps. These devices could inadvertently place hips in an unhealthy position, especially when used for extended periods of time.”

Slings, for example, often keep baby’s legs inside where they are extended and trapped together in an unhealthy position. Wraps can do the same, while other baby carriers fail to provide the proper support under the bottom, so the legs are left dangling and straight, increasing pressure on the hip joint.

Many parents use these devices for babywearing several hours at a time and were completely unaware of the risks because product manufacturers failed to provide any information on proper positioning.

“Parents are advised to research the general safety and risks of any device they wish to use,” the IHDI states.

Tips for Parents Concerned About Hip Dysplasia

To make sure you’re using a device that will not put baby’s hips at risk, follow these recommendations:

  • Always choose carriers that allow the baby’s legs to remain in a wide-leg position.
  • The carrier should provide proper support to the hips, and should come up under the thighs to support the bent-kneed position and prevent dangling.
  • Look for those that allow the baby’s lower legs to move freely.
  • When checking for proper position, think of a frog—your baby should resemble one when in the carrier, with knees bent and higher than the bottom.