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pavlik harness tips

Many of you know Hazel was diagnosed with hip dysplasia when she was born, and I’ve had a lot of messages from moms whose babies have hip dysplasia and want tips/advice on how to deal with the diagnosis and pavlik harness. It’s an adjustment for both the parents and the baby. As a parent, you have to handle not only the hands on aspect that comes with it, but also the emotional toll it can take. Eventually, all parents accept it, get used to dealing with it, and realize that it’s not a big deal. But it definitely takes some time to adjust to it. If you are just wanting to read the tips, keep scrolling down, but if you’re curious about Hazel’s hip dysplasia journey, I’ve included that for you 🙂

When Hazel was one day old, she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia in both hips. She had a pretty severe case, and her hips would pop out of the socket during diaper changes (which the doctors said isn’t painful at such a young age, but left untreated, it would cause problems and be painful later in life). They told us we would need to see a specialist and most likely she would have to been in a harness, and there was a possibility that she’d have to have surgery if the harness didn’t work. Obviously, at just one day old when you’re still basking in the perfectness of the child you created, it’s tough to hear that something isn’t so perfect. But we had a lot of different medical news with Hazel (that I’m not quite ready to share yet), but it made her hip dysplasia diagnosis not seem like such a big deal for us. At least we had answers and a treatment plan and we were thankful for that. So when Hazel was 6 days old, we met with the pediatric orthopedic specialist. I cried on the way to the appointment because you’re emotions are crazy as it is after having a baby and then you add in the fear of what the doctor will say, plus all the worry….honestly, it makes my eyes tear up just having to type this out and relive the emotion of it all. I know other babies and families have it much worse and this really wasn’t even the worse thing we went through with Hazel, but no matter what, when your baby has to go through something out of the ordinary, it makes you emotional. Hazel’s orthopedic specialist is absolutely amazing and got her in the Pavlik Harness that very day. We had to keep Hazel in the harness for 23 hours and 59 minutes a day for the first month. Basically, we could only take her out of it for an outfit change, which we only did every other day. After a month, Hazel had to get an ultrasounds of her hips to check the progress. If the doctor saw improvement, we’d continue with the pavlik harness weaning process, and if he didn’t, we’d be looking at a more restrictive harness or surgery. Luckily, the ultrasound showed that her hips were seated in the sockets and just needed time to deepen the sockets. It’s truly amazing that a baby can be born with basically no hip sockets and that with the correct treatment, can grow hip sockets after birth. So from there we started the weaning process (all doctors do this differently, so most likely your child’s harness schedule will be different than Hazel’s). Reaching the end of each phase was so exciting and gave us something to look forward to and celebrate. Phase 1: 1 month of 15 minutes a day harness free for bath time. This is when Hazel and I started taking bathes together. We cherished those 15 minutes harness free and I wanted it to be more special than just sticking her in the sink. She loved bath time with mommy, but I think I loved it more because it was so special to see her smile and kick her legs. Phase 2: 1 hour twice a day harness free for two weeks, and Phase 3: 2 hours twice a day harness free for two weeks. When Hazel started getting 1 hour+ harness free time, all she wanted to do was be on the ground playing. She loved to kick her piano mat and do tummy time. It was like the harness made her appreciate her freedom more. Phase 3: Harness free days/only wearing the harness during naps and at night time for two months. This was such an exciting time for me because it meant I could actually put Hazel in outfits! Hazel was three months old by this time and I remember taking forever trying to pick out her first outfit for her first harness free day. Haha! At the end of the two months, we had to go back for an x-ray of Hazel’s hips to make sure they were completely healed. I was so excited to hear him declare her a healthy hipped baby! For 5 months I had been looking forward to getting Hazel out of the harness, but didn’t think about it being all she knows, so we definitely had an adjustment period when it came to sleeping without the harness. At times, I even wanted to put the harness back on her. Haha! But we made it through and all is good now.

Through our hip dysplasia and Pavlik Harness journey, I discovered some tips and tricks (some I learned on my own, some I learned from some of you other moms who had babies with hip dysplasia, and some are tips from my doctor), so here the are 🙂

-Have a spare harness. There are times when your baby will soil the diaper (whether it be spit up or poop), so having a spare harness is necessary so that you can wash the other.
-Wash the harness on the gentle cycle of your wash machine and air dry it in the drier or hang it up to dry. If you hand wash it like the instructions say to do, you can’t wring the water out enough and it will take forever to dry.
-Dye the harness a fun color to camouflage the dirty white color it becomes so quickly. I didn’t do this because you all know I love my whites and neutrals so much, but this is a tip from a reader and I think it’s such a great idea! She dyed her daughter’s harness hot pink because she was sick of looking at a dirty white harness all the time.
-Use a sharpie to mark the harness straps so you know what the proper placement is. Eventually you’ll be able to know the proper placement by looking at your baby, but the sharpie marks help in the beginning. Just remember that as your baby grows, you will have to readjust the harness straps and make new marks.
-Check the skin for pressure areas and rubbing. As your baby grows you will need to adjust the straps.
-Remember to adjust the back leg straps too. If lower part of your baby’s legs starts to pull backward, this is an indicator that either you need to adjust the back leg strap or that it’s time to get a bigger harness.

-If your baby is kicking their foot through the little sock thing, try sewing the toe of it closed so they can’t kick through it. This was only an issue on the size x-small harness. The other sizes were already sewed.
-A good rule of thumb for knowing when it’s time for the next size up, is if you can fit two fingers between the chest straps, you might need to get a bigger size.

-Get used to hearing people comment on how much easier diaper changes must be because the harness spreads their legs for you…and resist the urge to punch them in the face because they are so wrong and you’re sick of hearing people say that. Haha! (maybe that was just my issue?) You do get used to the new diaper changing challenges pretty quickly though.
-Make sure you always diaper underneath the straps. Otherwise the pee and poop (especially pee) will wick up the strap and onto your baby’s skin which will make the harness dirty and can also irritate your baby’s skin.
-Don’t put the diaper on too tight because it can pinch a nerve and make your baby unable to move his/her leg. After I put Hazel’s diaper on, I would watch her to make sure she could move both her knees up. If she couldn’t, I knew I needed to loosen the diaper.
-Switch to a larger diaper if you’re having difficulties putting a diaper on.
-Teach your baby’s caregivers/family members how to do diaper changes with the harness. Not many other people changed Hazel’s diaper because it was just easier for Cody or I to do it instead of having to walk others through it.

-Buy thin t-shirts or onesies for your baby to wear under the harness to protect their skin from the harness.
-Baby leg warmers are a great way to keep your baby’s legs warm and make for really easy diaper changes too!
-When removing the harness to change clothes, just undo the shoulder straps and chest strap but leave the leg straps in place. Less adjusting you have to do when you put your baby back in it.
-You can put bigger outfits on top of the harness to hide it. We never did this but it helps if you don’t want to have to explain the harness to strangers when you’re out in public. It’s also great for pictures.

-Breastfeeding with the harness requires some changes and it’s almost like you and your baby are learning to breastfeed all over again. Some holds don’t work as well with the harness, so don’t be afraid to try new positions or meet with a lactation specialist for help. Hazel liked the football hold on one side but after the harness, we couldn’t do it because of where her “frog legs” hit my side. If your baby is older and longer, that probably won’t be a problem though.
-Always have a burp cloth near by to try to limit the amount of spit up that gets on the harness.

-Until your doctor gives you the ok for longer periods of harness free time, sponge baths are the only option.
-Be sure to clean the folds of your baby’s skin (like behind the knees). If you notice the fold getting red and irritated, apply a small amount of baby lotion to protect the skin.
-When you do need to remove the harness completely, take advantage of that time and give your baby a quick bath and wash your baby’s feet. Have the new harness all set up so it limits the amount of time your baby is out of the harness.

-Instead of pajamas, put your baby in a long sleeve onesie. It makes for easier diaper changes at night. For added warmth, wrap a swaddle blanket around your baby (can keep arms swaddled or free depending on what you baby likes), and place your baby in a sleep sack.
-Invest in wide sleep sacks/sleeping bags like the ones from Aden and Anais or Halo. As your baby grows and gets longer, he/she will become wider when in the harness and you will need a sleepsack to fit the width of your harnessed baby.
-My favorite swaddle blankets are by SwaddleDesigns because they don’t stick to the velcro as easily as others do.
-These swaddles from embé are also perfect because they keep their arms tight but the legs are free/loose which gives room for the harness. They’re also great if your baby doesn’t have hip dysplasia because swaddling your baby’s legs too tight can actually cause hip dysplasia. This ensures a safe swaddle for your baby/
-Be prepared for an adjustment period when you baby gets the harness off completely. I thought Hazel would be as excited to be out of the harness as I was for her to be out of it, and I thought she’d sleep amazingly, but I was wrong. Being harness free brought to light some sleep mistakes I was making with Hazel, which I will be sharing in an upcoming “sleep mistakes to avoid” blog post 🙂

I hope these tips are helpful. Most importantly, listen to your doctor and have your baby wear the harness as directed. If you have an other questions, feel free to comment below or email me.

XO, Kacie


  • Grandmama says:

    So proud of you for sharing. You are a wonderful mother

  • Kim says:

    Thank you for sharing this! Our baby girl just got a harness put on a week ago. We are all still adjusting a bit, but you are right… after some time it’s not as bad as you imagine at first. We can’t take our baby’s harness off at all for 8 weeks 🙁 so I am so looking forward to when we can. Bath time with Mommy is a wonderful idea!

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