How To Navigate Your Baby’s Pavlik Harness: Tips & Tricks

I’ll write about food again soon – for now, I want to share some tips and tricks that made life navigating our daughter’s pavlik harness easier.

Like I wrote in my last post, all babies born breech are screened for hip displasia. Regardless, you may notice the doctors bicycle kick your baby’s hips around – they are checking for “clicks” which indicates problems with the hip sockets.

If they hear a click (or if your baby is born breech) they will refer you to get a hip ultrasound between 4-6 weeks. Then, a pediatric orthopedist will interpret the ultrasound for you and make treatment recommendations, if necessary.

If your doctor is like ours, they will not give you any warning if they deem a pavlik harness necessary. They will simply send your baby home in one, leaving you to figure out the rest on your own.

In hindsight, I’m glad they started the treatment immediately, for the sooner it starts the sooner it can end. We received no fact sheet, no tips or tricks – simply a quick lesson in how to put on the harness and change a diaper.

Seven weeks later, our doctor approved harness wear for night time only for a month. I counted down the days to this appointment with hope bursting from my chest. He looked at me funny when I asked if I could remove the harness then and there.

Here’s some advice I have after two months in a harness. Of course, if you have any questions, please ask your provider care team.

Go where the specialists are.
We scheduled our appointments within the same hospital group as the birth hospital, thinking it would be easier. We later learned the orthopedist she sees is based out of Gillette Children’s Hospital where many Twin Cities pediatric specialists are based. He is the only pediatric orthopedist she can see at the location and only visits on Fridays – if he has a day off, that pushes the harness wear to another week.

If you have the option and it’s in-network for you, go where the specialist is based so you have appointment choices and providers – also, if something feels wrong or you need a check-up before your next appointment, you can see another doctor.

They will prescribe a very specific treatment plan for your baby, so don’t assume that what applies to one baby will apply to yours. Our case of hip displasia was mild – our doctor let us remove the harness every other day for a bath. He was also not concerned about taking the time to wash and dry it. Other treatment plans may be stricter – some are instructed to never remove the harness and sponge bath only. Others can remove the harness for an hour a day.

Ask your Orthopedic team lots of questions and do your own research.

  • I did a lot of my own internet research about what parents recommended via blogs and Reddit. Many providers publish helpful FAQ’s and fact sheets with suggestions for life in a pavlik harness.  For example, many doctors offices instruct you to never grab the baby’s legs when changing a diaper, but place your hand under their butt and lift. Some OK baby carriers such as the Baby Bjorn carrier because it’s structured and keeps your child’s legs apart (our doctor agreed). Of course, run questions past your care team, but also do some research if your provider doesn’t send you home with much information.
  • I also saw a lot of conflicting advice that I wouldn’t follow without checking – such as propping your baby’s legs up when sleeping or wearing socks underneath the harness. Ask your doctor.

A minimalist’s guide to clothing:

  • You will feel emotions looking at all of the clothes the baby can’t wear anymore. I gave away two drawers of clothes. Before, I used to find dressing her up an inconvenience, but now I find so much joy in picking out her outfits each day. What helped me get through this was having a minimalist approach to clothing. Others find comfort in finding clothes that work with a harness. You can find special pants and other clothes that fit the harnesses – or you could try sizing-up. For some reason, many are based in Australia. I felt better going basic.
  • Onesies: I bought plain onesies. Because they go under the harness, you don’t want them fitting too loose. I stuck with the plain white ones we already had, but you could always choose different colors. Onesies with collars can help prevent the shoulder straps from rubbing. Our harness was lined with felt and didn’t cause any irritation around her neck. Because the weather was warm, I cut the butt flap of the onesie off with scissors to make diaper changes easier and let the front one cover the top of her diaper. The harness straps partially cover her legs, so with the warm weather, a diaper was sufficient below. That’s it. A onsie and diapers.

Breastfeeding

  • I relied on the My Brest Friend Pillow – terrible name, I know. But it creates a soft shelf around your waist. What worked for us was laying the baby on it and gently tilting her to each side – she would then tilt her head towards me. Other positions work well for other people – if you have access to a lactation consultant familiar with harnesses, seek their advice. Lisa from Southdale Pediatrics has been amazing.

Diaper Changes

  • It’s not until you change a diaper without a harness that you realize how annoying it is – however it’s really not that bad. You will get used to it quickly. Thread the diaper straps under the harness straps.
  • I recommend Pampers Swadlers – the straps are longer making diapers easier to thread and fasten. We also never had any blowouts.
  • Consider sizing-up.
  • Lift the baby’s butt up with your hand, don’t pull on the legs.
  • Tip for changing poopy diapers: As you wipe, slowly fold/roll up the diaper as you go so their butt is always resting on a clean surface of the diaper.
  • At night time, place a clean diaper ready-to-go under the dirty one before you unfasten and remove it. You do not want the baby to pee on themself or the changing pad and soil the harness and onesie. You’ll only let this happen once.

Washing the Harness

  • Our doctor advised to wash and dry the harness on the gentlest cycles. I washed in cold water on the quick 15-minute cycle and then used the delicate dryer cycle. If it was warm and still sunny out, I’d hang the harness from the grill where it would dry in the sun very quickly.
  • On days where I didn’t wash the harness, I would scrub the top shoulder straps (and any other parts that needed cleaning) with soapy water and a toothbrush. Then I’d wipe off any dampness and finish with a hair dryer. Other days, I’d wipe it down with a washcloth. I didn’t fuss too much since I was hopeful there was an end in sight.

Sleeping

  • We did not experience any additional issues with sleeping. Do not dress the baby in anything that presses their legs together. Depending on how big your baby is, a Halo swaddle might work as long as you leave the legs open. Halo makes wider swaddles and sleep sacks. You can also buy arms-only swaddles.
  • Since you can’t swaddle a baby once it can roll, consider getting them used to a sleep sack, early. Ours got used to sleep sacks right away and had little difficulty adjusting to sleeping arms out.
  • Sleep sack DIY: You could size-up a sleep sack to make sure it’s not too narrow, but I found sizing up made it creep up around her face. I bought a couple Halo sleep sacks/swaddles and cut long slips down the sides so her feet and knees could poke out.

Tummy Time

  • Still do regular tummy time. It will be more difficult and your baby will hate it more than when they’re not in the harness, but they can still practice lifting their head, turning it from side to side, and pushing up.

What to put the baby in?
You will not be able to use many swings, chairs, etc. since the seats will be too narrow. Here’s what worked for us:

  • Boppy Loungers – these pillows are wide enough to let their legs relax open – try propping the top part of the Boppy up with a wedge pillow or rolled up towel so the baby can sit up. Sometimes I would place a folded towel or small blanket in the center divot to support her back. We placed these in the bathrooms, kitchen, and on the corner of the couch (supervised of course).
  • Baby Carrier – carriers like the Ergobaby 360 let you carry the baby and keep their legs spread open around you. This was approved by our doctor.
  • Swings – Someone on Reddit recommended the Graco Duoglider – this has a widest base of a swinging of contraption I’ve seen. It has a few recline settings, relaxing sounds, and swing settings.

Final Words

  • Do continue to take photos of life with your baby! It’s all part of your story.
  • The kindest thing another parent passed along to me was that if they could have told themself anything, it would be that everything would be ok. The days and weeks in the scratchy harness crawled, but collectively the weeks flew. In the moment I felt so much longing and heartbreak as I tried to make putting the harness back on her after baths a positive experience. And I, too, wish I could have reassured myself that things would also be ok.

1 Comment

  1. Katey Kline

    I would say your nighttime harness/diaper trick of laying the clean one under the dirty one has more use than just nighttime, with a harness.

    In other words, that’s still how I change diapers today!

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