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Are Baby Slings Good For My Baby's Hips?

Jillyan Graham
Jillyan Graham
Are Baby Slings Good For My Baby's Hips?

Are slings good or bad for your baby’s hips? What type of baby carrier is best for your baby’s hips? Are baby slings ergonomic? Can a baby carrier cause hip dysplasia? 

These questions are asked by many parents and there’s lots of confusing information on this topic. Here’s everything you need to know about what makes a baby sling hip healthy and how ergonomic baby slings can actually help your baby’s hip development.

Your Baby’s Natural Position

Babies naturally adopt a squat position with their knees higher than their bottom. If you hold a newborn on your chest you’ll notice that they curl up with their knees tucked up towards their tummy. Pick up an older baby and carry them on your hip and they will usually adopt a similar position - their legs will open wider into a spread squat, but their knees will still be pulled up higher than their bottom. You will often find yourself helping to support them in this position because this is the most comfortable position for you to carry them. 

Puffins Arisaig Baby Wrap worn by model with her newborn
Model Rachel with her newborn wearing Puffins Arisaig Baby Wrap

This position; a squat with knees above bottom creating an M-shape, is what we want to recreate when using a sling as it helps support the development of healthy hips.

Why Is It Important To Support Your Baby’s Hips?

When babies are born their hip joints are a soft cartilage. Over the course of the first year this becomes bone and, as the hip develops, a deep ball and socket joint forms. If a child develops hip problems it’s often due to this joint being too shallow. This issue is usually picked up by midwives and doctors during post-natal checks and is called hip dysplasia.

The treatment for hip dysplasia is to encourage the baby into a spread squat position using a cast or harness. This encourages optimal development and the formation of a deep socket joint.

This squat position is also how babies are supported in well fitted, wide-based carriers, and in slings when supported from one knee pit to the other knee pit. There is lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest that minor hip issues have been helped by carrying in a sling. Studies also show that cultures in which babies are primarily carried from birth in a spread squat position have very low rates of hip dysplasia.*

Hip-healthy Oscha Baby Slings and Carriers

An ergonomic baby carrier is one that supports babies in this hip healthy position. If you’re not sure which slings are best for your baby’s hip development the The International Hip Dysplasia Institute provides a list of products which encourage healthy hips.

The IHDI acknowledges Oscha Woven Wraps, Ring Slings, Baby Cairis, Nook Encompass and Bairn as “hip-healthy” baby carriers (when used as directed). This means that Oscha slings provide the correct support to your child’s hips, encouraging the normal hip joint development that is especially important during the child’s first 6 months.

By six months of age, most babies have nearly doubled in size, the hips are more developed and the ligaments are stronger, so are less susceptible to developing hip dysplasia.

IHDI supports babywearing with the hips in the M-position as a method to encourage healthy hip development. Our Nook Evolve and Toddler Cairis also hold the hips in this position as recommended by the IHDI but as these products are for use with older babies, they are not eligible to be tested for ‘hip-healthy’ positioning.

Positioning Your Baby in The Sling

Whether your sling is a woven wrap, ring sling or baby carrier, you want to position your baby in the same way. Once you’ve settled them in the sling and secured it, gently tilt your baby’s pelvis towards you to create a curve at the base of their spine. You can achieve this by sliding your hands into the sling, supporting them under their bottom and then gently tilting them so their weight is sitting on their tailbone. It can also help to scoop their knees upwards, creating the M-position. 

A young baby may be quite tucked up, with their knees remaining fairly close together, this is perfectly normal. You can scoop up their knees without forcing them into a wider position. As your baby develops they will naturally adopt a wider squat. Check your sling reaches your baby’s knee pits to help support this position.

A Little More Information About Healthy Hip Positioning

If you would like to read more about Hip Dysplasia and baby carriers, you may want to read Dr Rosie Knowles blog post about 'Busting some Hip-Healthy Myths'. Rosie is a qualified GP and an experienced Sling Consultant.  she explores Hip Dysplasia in detail and recommends different styles of carriers for healthy hips.

You can explore the International Hip Dysplasia website to read more about hip-healthy positioning and the research around preventing hip dysplasia.

*Graham SM et al. Back-carrying infants to prevent developmental hip dysplasia and its sequelae;is a new public health initiative needed? Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics. 2015;Jan; 35(1):57-61.