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22nd October 2015

When your baby’s hip is out of socket

I thought my daughter’s two-month medical checkup would be pretty straightforward. After all, she was healthy, growing, and already rolling! Then I found out she had hip dysplasia.

My daughter is so strong. And yes, everyone thinks their baby is remarkable,  but she really is a force.

The first time I burped Shaela in the hospital, she picked her head up and turned around to look at me. During tummy time at 4 weeks old, she rolled herself over in a fit of rage. I thought that was obviously a freak accident… until she did it again a week later, and twice more before she was six weeks old! I had a feeling she would be crawling early. The doctor told me I’d better start baby-proofing the house.

That’s why it came as such a big surprise when, at Shaela’s 2-monthcheck up the nurse practitioner looked at me with an expression of concern. What could be wrong with my big, strong baby? The nurse explained that while rotating Shaela’s hips, she felt a “click,” and she thought we should have a doctor come and take a look. The doctor felt the same click, and we were quickly scheduled to get an ultrasound to check for hip dysplasia.

During Shaela’s ultrasound, I had no idea what we were looking at, or even what to silently hope for. The ultrasound technician explained the head of Shaela’s left femur wasn’t completely in the hip socket. Left untreated, she would probably need hip surgery by age 30.

He did have some good news: if we could keep the head of the bone in place, the problem could correct itself without surgery. Okay, that sounded manageable. How could we do that?

Shaela was fitted in a Pavlik Harness. The harness is a wild contraption of Velcro that holds Shaela’s legs out to the sides, like a little frog, or a turtle on its back. So much for rolling! She would need to wear it 24 hours a day, and could only come out of it for diaper changes and baths. We asked how long it would take for her hip to heal, and the specialist replied simply, “as long as it takes.”

As with many medical situations, this was a numbers game. We needed an angle within Shaela’s hip socket to measure 60 degrees or higher, and she was somewhere south of 50 degrees. The connection of the head of the femur against the hip socket would encourage the joint to grow in the direction we needed – we just had to keep her in the harness.

A few weeks after Shaela was fitted in her harness, we returned to get another ultrasound. Her hip joint measured 59 degrees – we were so excited! She was obviously a great hip-healer in addition to being a strong baby. A few weeks later, the ultrasound technician was measuring again  the image on his screen. 59

degrees. Still? He double-checked. Yes, it’s still 59 degrees.After another couple of weeks with no progress, we were all getting pretty sick of the harness at this point. Shaela had gone through a few growth spurts, and we needed to have the harness readjusted to fit better. She was getting older, and catching on about the existence of life outside the harness. When we let her legs out for diaper changes, she would stretch them out and lock her knees so we couldn’t get them back in.

A couple weeks went by, and I took Shaela for another ultrasound. I was feeling a bit defeated and had the expectation that we would just get her harness refitted. The ultrasound technician measured her hip three times. I hardly looked at the screen. He fiddled with measurements, and gave me a big smile. He got 60 degrees all three times. We were free!!

Well, not exactly. Shaela got the go-ahead to be out of her harness for 8 hours a day. The first day we let her out of the harness, I wondered if she would remember how to roll. After all, she had been in the harness nearly 24 hours a day for over 3 months! She stretched her legs long, her face lit up in a huge smile, and she rolled herself over and over, until she was off the blanket and under a chair.

Overall, I think the hip dysplasia has been harder on me (and my patience) than it seems to be on Shaela. Throughout this process, I have felt confused, frustrated, excited, hopeless, and dozens of other emotions.

As for Shaela? She is just happy to roll!