Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Canterbury

Treating DDH using a harness

Pavlik harness, showing how it holds a baby's hips with their legs apartSome 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 joints. It means their thigh and pelvic bones are in contact and helps to strengthen their hip muscles and ligaments while they're developing. The harness weighs around 120 grams.

Wearing 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 your baby wears the harness depends on how bad your baby's DDH is. Usually they'll have to wear it full time for eight to 12 weeks.

Your baby can wear normal nappies under the harness. Their clothes should be loose-fitting and should go over the harness.

Potential problems

Femoral nerve palsy is a very rare problem that can happen with a harness. If your baby stops kicking, contact the DDH Coordinator in the Orthopaedic Outpatient Department by phoning 021-951-261 as soon as possible.

You can also contact the DDH Coordinator if you have any other issues such as the harness getting soiled or if the harness has got too tight.

Checking if the harness is working

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

If your 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 aren't developing in the normal way even with the harness, they'll 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'll 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 don't pull their knees together. The clothes should go over the harness.

Feeding

You can continue breastfeeding when your baby is in the harness. You'll 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. Last reviewed June 2019.

Image used with permission from The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne.

Sources

Page reference: 242730

Review key: HIBOW-85151