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HealthInfo Canterbury

Developmental hip dysplasia

If your baby has developmental dysplasia of the hip, or DDH, it means their hips are unstable or haven't developed fully. This can be because the socket of their hip joint (called the acetabulum) isn't deep enough, or the ball part of their thigh bone (the femoral head) is in the wrong position in the socket. If the ball isn't sitting in the socket at all, it's called a dislocation.

The problem is usually there at birth, but it can also develop during infancy or childhood.

Causes of DDH

The exact cause isn't known, but some things can make children more likely to develop DDH. These include:

Girls are affected six times more often than boys.

It's important to diagnose and treat DDH as early as possible. If it isn't treated, it can lead to painful hips, limping and reduced strength. Your child could also develop arthritis early in life.

Diagnosing DDH

Your midwife, doctor and Plunket nurse will examine your baby for hip problems at birth and several times during their first months of life. If a doctor suspects your baby has a hip problem, they'll have an ultrasound scan of their hips. If your baby is 6 months or older, they'll have an X-ray.

Babies with a higher risk of DDH (due to family history, breech birth or other womb factors) will usually be offered an ultrasound scan at about 6 to 8 weeks of age.

Preventing DDH

How your baby's legs are positioned during the first few months of their life may affect their risk of developing DDH. It's important to consider hip-healthy equipment, clothing and leg positions. See the links below for more information.

Treating DDH

If your baby has DDH, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon will assess their hips and look at the ultrasound scan or X-ray. The surgeon will decide how best to treat the DDH. This will depend on your baby's age and the severity of the condition.

Some babies may need to be treated using a harness or brace. Surgery may be needed in more severe cases or if the bracing is unsuccessful.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Treating DDH using a harness

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director of orthopaedics, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed June 2019.


Page reference: 52939

Review key: HIBOW-85151