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HealthInfo Canterbury

Treating DDH using a harness

Pavlik harness, showing how it holds a baby's hips with their legs apart

Some babies may need to be treated for developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) using a harness. The harness may be called a Pavlik harness.

The harness is a brace used to help babies' hips develop in the most normal way. It has straps that are fastened around your baby's legs and held up by shoulder and chest straps.

The harness holds your baby's hips and knees up with their legs apart, which is the best position for their hip joint. It means their thigh and pelvic bones are in contact and helps to strengthen their hip muscles and ligaments while they are developing. The harness weighs around 120 grams.

When does my baby wear the harness?

Your surgeon may say your baby should wear the harness 24 hours a day, without removing it at all. The medical team will talk to you about how to care for your baby in the harness.

How long will my baby have to wear the harness?

This depends on how bad your baby's DDH is. Usually they will have to wear it full time for eight to 12 weeks.

Potential problems

Femoral nerve palsy is a very rare problem that can happen with a harness. If you notice your baby stops kicking, contact the Orthopaedic Outpatient Department as soon as possible by phoning (03) 364‑0800 ext. 88692.

How will I know if the harness is working?

You will have regular appointments with the consultant and the orthopaedics outpatient team. They will check the harness to make sure it is fitting correctly. How many appointments you have, and how often they are, depends on how severe your baby's DDH is. At first you will have appointments for hip ultrasound scans every two weeks, so doctors can check how your baby's hips are developing.

What happens if my baby's hips don't get better?

At each appointment the consultant will discuss your baby's progress with you. If they feel your baby's hips are not developing in the normal way, even with the harness, they will discuss other treatment options.

Care at home

When your baby wears the harness:

It takes some babies a couple of days to get used to the harness. Some babies may cry a little more or seem unsettled for the first couple of nights. This should settle down after a few days.

Hygiene and skin care

If your doctor says your baby must wear the harness 24 hours a day, you can't take it off to bathe them. You will need to clean you baby with a sponge bath. Nurses will show you how to do this. Always try to keep the harness dry.

Check your baby's skin every day. Take care to clean your baby's skin creases and take note of any redness or irritation.

Nappies and clothing

Your baby can wear normal nappies under the harness. When changing their nappy, don't hold their feet together, as this will move their hips from the correct position.

Your baby should wear loose-fitting clothes, which do not pull their knees together, over the harness.

Feeding

You can continue breastfeeding when your baby is in the harness. You will need to find a comfortable position for you and your baby.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director of orthopaedics, Canterbury DHB. February 2016.

Sources

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Review key: HIBOW-85151