Come March, my daughter will be four years old. She is a bright and active child, always moving at one speed, wide open. Seeing her now it is hard to imagine the feelings of heartbreak we endured when we were told all those years ago that she had Hip Dysplasia and would need a brace.
Newborn Hip Dysplasia
She was my first child. I had never heard of Hip Dysplasia before her diagnosis, and I was scared. What would this mean for her future? Would she have issues with mobility? Would she need surgery? It felt like everything was crashing down around me. I was fearful and nervous, and I did not seem to get much information from the doctor who found the issue. All that we knew then was that Hip Dysplasia is a medical condition that can develop soon after birth which is characterized by a looseness or instability of the hip joint. With Willow, her hips did not remain in place and would constantly dislocate.
Willow was delivered via C-section due to being breech. When she arrived her tiny little feet were touching her ears. We were elated, and thought nothing of the odd positioning of her legs, that was until the Doctor entered the room and upon his examination discovered hip clicks. We were told to make a follow up appointment with the pediatric orthopedic doctor upon or release from the hospital. Two weeks had passed before we were able to get into see the ortho. He was able to do a full examination and an ultrasound of my baby girl’s hips. She did in fact have Hip Dysplasia and it would require her to be in a Pavlik Harness. She was to be in the harness 24hrs a day, which meant no “baths”, difficult diaper and outfit changes, and difficulty with nursing positioning. I knew it was going to be difficult, and I knew I needed to find more information so I could feel educated on this issue that my tiny daughter was having.
What Is Hip Dyplasia?
I started to Google (not always the best thing to do when it comes to a medical condition), and oddly enough the majority of information out there regarding Hip Dysplasia was pertaining to dogs. I was able to find an invaluable website though, The International Hip-Dysplasia Institute. Here is where I received a wealth of valuable information when it came to caring for my daughter while she was in her brace. They have an entire subsection of their site devoted to the Pavlik Harness which contains videos and other useful information about how to care for a child while they are in the harness.
According to Hipdysplasia.org, the condition is more prevalent in children who were positioned breech at the time of birth. The initial diagnosis can be found at birth by an examination of the hips, where if the Doctor notices hip clicks, like they did with Willow, you will receive a recommendation to see a specialist. At the time of your specialist appointment, your child will be given an ultrasound of their hips. An ultrasound is done because an X-ray is not able to be used until around the four month mark due to the development of the bones and cartilage in the hip area. With Willow, her Dysplasia was what they call bilateral, meaning it was present in both of her hips. She was fitted for her brace the same day as her appointment. We arrived with a squishy newborn and left with one who was difficult to cuddle in a hard and movement confining brace.
I must have cried the entire car ride home from the doctor. My poor baby girl had to suffer through this and I was powerless to help her. It was a harsh adjustment for me and a steep learning curve. Not only was I a first time mom, but my innocent child had a medical condition which I had to learn how to manage.
The harness would get so dirty over time. From spit up and blowouts, but I was not able to take it off to clean it so I had to use wet wash cloths to try to keep the brace itself clean. Willow was only permitted to have sponge baths, again because the brace could not be removed. I made sure to clean every little crease in all her little rolls. Once she became more mobile, I had to find a way to prevent chaffing as the brace would rub against her skin. I found that baby powder was wonderful for this! Just a little bit of it in the areas where the harness would come in contact with her skin would help tremendously. Diapering was difficult, but after a while I felt like a pro at it. Clothing remained difficult, and she mostly wore big dresses while she was in the harness and leg warmers. There eventually came a point when I was allowed to remove the brace for a few hours at a time. She was finally able to have a real bath, I could wash the brace, and I could put thin pants on her underneath the brace! It felt like we were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
At about five months old, we went back to the specialist and they decided to give her what was called a Rhino Brace. This was worse that the Pavlik! It was hard plastic that kept her legs stuck out to the point she could not fit properly in an infant car seat anymore! We had to put her rear facing in a new convertible seat before we could even leave the hospital after that visit.
Over the course of the next few months we had to return to the specialist multiple times for checkups, ultrasounds and brace adjustments. We finally were able to only wear the brace at nighttime and naps for a little while, and at around nine months old she was deemed free and clear! No more brace! I was elated, but nervous that she would have motor function delay, but to my surprise, not long after she was fully cleared she took her first steps and she hasn’t stopped moving since!
It is always frightening when there is something “wrong” with your child, but I learned that not everything is as terrible as it appears. Our journey with Hip Dysplasia made us more aware, made us stronger, and hopefully my journey can help someone else out there dealing with something similar.