“Trust your instincts” – Mum’s plea to others to look for hip dysplasia early

Milla Atkinson family

Laura’s daughter Milla wasn’t diagnosed with hip dysplasia until she was 15 months old. Two painful surgeries later and another still to come, it all could have been avoided if it had been detected earlier. The brave mum is now sharing her story to create awareness for the condition and prevent other kids from also being diagnosed too late.

A mother’s intuition

Milla Atkinson was a perfectly healthy and happy toddler but her mother Laura had a feeling that something was not quite right. Her daughter walked with a bit of a limp and her left foot turned outwards a little, so she took her to the doctor. It was discovered that she had hip dysplasia in her left hip, a condition Laura and her partner Rhys knew nothing about but was soon to become a large fixture in their family.

What is hip dysplasia?

Also known as developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH), hip dysplasia is when there is a misalignment in the hip joint (ball and socket). If left untreated there’s a risk of children developing early arthritis in the hip, experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort, and an early hip replacement may also be required. As many as one in 50 babies in Australia are currently being treated with the condition, with one in six full-term newborns experiencing some hip instability. Unfortunately late diagnosis (anything after six months) is on the rise, which can create even more problems, as the Toowoomba family soon found out.

Milla Atkinson 2
Little Milla after her first operation wearing the spica cast

Multiple surgeries

“Milla was too old to have a harness or anything when she was diagnosed, so the only option was surgery for her,” says Laura who naturally felt very scared and anxious for her daughter. Her first operation took place in November last year, a procedure where they reshaped her pelvis.

“Seeing your child going under general anaesthetic is quite daunting, and it’s really quite a painful operation. They have a lot of muscle spasms too which is probably the worst thing following the operation,” she added.

Unfortunately it was a failure, with Milla’s hip dislocating following the surgery. A second operation then took place in February this year to reshape the top of the femur (ball), unbelievably this too was unsuccessful.

Currently Milla (who turned two in July) still has a dislocated left hip and will require additional surgery down the track.

“You wouldn’t know to look at her, she can walk around, she’s got a little bit of a limp but it doesn’t stop her from doing anything that’s for sure,” says Laura. “Basically they’re just waiting for her pelvis to grow a little bit more and then they’re going to do another pelvis osteotomy (reshaping of the pelvis).”

Milla Atkinson 1
Milla with her dad Rhys after her second operation earlier this year

A challenging time

Not only were the operations upsetting and painful for Milla, but each time she was required to wear a spica cast for six weeks following the surgeries. A large body cast that immobilises the hips and thighs so bones and tendons can heal properly, a spica cast can be incredibly challenging for little ones (and their parents).

Weighing a couple of kilos, when wearing the cast children can’t bend in the middle or sit up (including sitting in a highchair), and they require special seat fittings for both the car and pram (sometimes you even need to buy a new pram).

They also can’t get the cast wet so no baths or swimming for six weeks, and nappy changes are particularly difficult.

“They need to wear two nappies, one tucked inside the cast and another over the top and you have to have strict two hourly nappy changes so they don’t soil the cast either,” explains Laura. Despite the challenges, Laura says that Milla handled the situation quite well considering the circumstances.

“Obviously the operations have been quite painful and staying in hospital and having the cast on for six weeks at a time was really hard for her. She’s a really active girl and they can’t really move as much in the cast but she’s handled it really well.”

Of course in addition to everything else, things like Milla’s sleep were affected too and Laura herself was also pregnant with their second daughter during the surgeries and recovery periods, making things just that extra bit harder.

Milla Atkinson 3
Milla, now 2, has to wait for her next surgery

It’s more common in girls

Apparently babies are more at risk of developing hip dysplasia if they were in a breech position in the womb or have an immediate family member with the condition, however neither were relevant in Milla’s case so for her the cause is largely unknown.

Other known risk factors of hip dysplasia however do include being female, first born or being swaddled too tightly or incorrectly (legs should be free to move).

Signs and symptoms

Milla’s hips were checked during her first 12 months however unfortunately her condition wasn’t picked up which apparently isn’t that uncommon – hip dysplasia isn’t always present at birth and can be quite hard to detect. This is why Laura feels it’s so important that parents are aware of the symptoms.

Signs that a child may have hip dysplasia include:

  • Hips make an audible ‘click’ noise when moved
  • Different leg lengths
  • Uneven thigh creases
  • Limping when walking
  • Weight off to one side when sitting
  • Legs are difficult to spread apart
Laura Hunter family
Milla with her mum Laura, dad Rhys and baby sister Layla

You can never be too careful

Given what they’ve been through with Milla and now know about hip dysplasia, Laura is not taking any chances with their second daughter, Layla, who was born in April. She’s already had an ultrasound at six weeks and although isn’t displaying any symptoms yet, she’ll have another one at six months and again at 12 months just to make sure, given the chances of her developing the condition are higher because her sister has it.

Although Laura’s really hoping that after the next operation Milla’s hip dysplasia will finally be resolved, in the meantime she’s intent on warning other mums about it so that more children can be diagnosed and treated earlier for faster and easier recovery.

Listening to your gut as a mother (or father) is also key, according to Laura, so don’t just rely on the experts.

“I didn’t know anything about hip dysplasia, I didn’t know the symptoms, but perhaps if I did I could have picked it up myself a bit earlier,” says Laura.

“I now just want other parents to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors, to look out for it and also know that health professionals can miss things so you should always trust your instincts.”

Have you heard of hip dysplasia before or know what to look out for?







Subscribe to Babyology

Our email newsletters keep you up to date with what’s happening on Babyology.

We also have special newsletter-only offers and competitions that are exclusive to Babyology subscribers.

Sign up below:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Send this to a friend