Hip-healthy swaddling

Wrapping infants the wrong way can lead to serious hip issues

Published On: Jun 21 2012 10:04:45 PM EDT

If you swaddle your infant wrong, it could lead to serious hip problems.. So just recently, pediatric orthopedic surgeons joined other physicians to recommend "hip- healthy swaddling."

like many loving parents, Melissa Hord swaddled her daughter Haley from day one.

"My doctors advised me to swaddle her to make her feel comfortable, like she's in the womb," she said.

So when Haley was diagnosed with a dislocated hip at 15 months, the Leesburg, Florida mom was shocked to learn the swaddling may be to blame.

"They said to swaddle her tightly, and never instructed me on a proper way to swaddle her, so I just swaddled her in the straight leg position," she said.

There's no dispute that swaddling has a variety of benefits.   It's been shown to reduce colic and help infants sleep more soundly.  But experts say the wrong kind of wrapping may lead to hip dysplasia, a term used to describe a loose or dislocated hip joint.

"If babies are wrapped too tightly with their legs extended, then about 30% of them will develop a dislocated hip," says Dr. Charles T. Price with the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.

Now, four renowned medical organizations, including the International Hip Dysplasia Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are working together to promote "hip-healthy swaddling."

"We're trying to emphasize you can go ahead and swaddle the chest and the arms, but let the legs be so that the knees and hips can bend," says  Dr. Ellen Raney with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This position allows an infant's hips to develop naturally, something a pediatrician checks for during routine well-visits.

"A big part of the problem is that there's basically no symptoms in babies. It doesn't hurt the baby. It's not going to be painful. But the hip is not going to grow normally," says Raney.

The good news?  If discovered within the first three months, hip dysplasia can often be corrected with a simple harness.  If diagnosed later in life, like in Haley's case, surgery is often needed.

If treatment is successful, Price says, "Those children go on and enjoy normal athletic activities.  It tends to wear and tear as they get older and into the 40 and 50 year age groups, so it’s more of a premature arthritis.”

After three surgeries, Haley is running and jumping like any normal 6-year-old.

"It won't stop her from living a carefree lifestyle," says Haley's mom.

Experts say that most commercial swaddling products are considered safe. just make sure that your baby's knees and hips are free to move.

Step-by-step instructions, including a video on how to do hip-healthy swaddling from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.