Okay, in case there’s already some head-scratching going on, let me take a second to clarify some terms:
Crotch Dangler: Any front-facing carrier (FFC) that allows a baby to, well, dangle, so that their legs aren’t angled up and out at the hips.
Hip Dysplasia: A misalignment of the bones of the hip.
So, what’s one got to do with the other?
Well, some people feel that toting your child around in one of these carriers will damage their hips and, because their legs are dangling down, the hip will eventually pop out of the socket. Comments with “danger”, “damage” and “How would you like to be carried around by your crotch?” are thrown around. Which I never understood because there are plenty of things that don’t bother a 18lb baby that I can’t stand – morning breath, swaddling and shitting up their back, just to name a few. Plus, I carried around both my kids in one and they loved it – and believe me, if they didn’t enjoy something, they let you know about it.
So does that mean we all need to buy the $180 baby carrier where your baby’s legs are positioned “correctly” instead of the $30 carrier that we can pop them into when we walk to the store to buy a can of beans?
Here’s what I know. After nine months all balled up the fetal position, it can take a while for a baby’s hip joints to stretch out. During that time (about six months), the ball at the top of the thighbone may not fit snugly in the hip socket – thanks to those wicked-awesome hormones that made the baby super-flexible and easier to pop out of the birth canal. If the baby then spends tons of time with his legs outstretched, the ball can mess with the soft edges of the socket.
Hip dysplasia is hard to detect and there is some concern that a very mild case could be made worse if a baby’s legs are held straight for long periods of time. This is where you start to lose me, because in a carrier they are just hanging as opposed to forced straight like incorrect swaddling (notice I said incorrect there) where the legs are bound tightly together which can be a serious oh-no-you-didn’t. But I couldn’t find a single medical study linking Front-Facing Carriers to an increased risk of hip dysplasia. Even the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (the site that everyone seems to link to when they scream “crotch dangler!!!” online) won’t kick them to the curb, saying: “The Medical Advisory Board of the IHDI does not endorse nor advise against any particular baby carrier…”
Of course companies that make the carriers that hold the baby in more of a sitting position are more than happy to perpetuate this concern because it’s smart marketing. After all, if parents think there’s a chance something will screw with their baby’s hip joints they are going to fork over the extra cash to be on the safe side. I don’t blame them at all.
I did come across this interesting article on Skeptoid, “Will the BabyBjorn endanger your infant’s health?” where a dad dug even deeper on the issue.
These front-facing carriers have their advantages – some are very inexpensive, easy to use, and the baby can face in or out depending on size. Now, if you plan on strapping that weeble to you for the long haul, it may be worth investing in wrap or carrier that can be worn on your chest and your back – less for hip concern and more for variation and comfort for both of you.
If you ask me, I say lug ‘em and hug ‘em however you can. We can start to worry when they come out with “ankle danglers” or “ear danglers” – those sound pretty bad.
[Follow up: I finally got a response from the people from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute. They said that “There are no studies attempting to cause dislocations with carriers” but went on to say that hips dangling is the same thing as hips tightly swaddled then listed the swaddling studies. Personally, I don’t feel that this is apples to apples but I’ll let you make that call.]