Why are some babies bowlegged?

Baby’s first steps are a magical moment, but it can also be a worrying one, and not just because Baby probably isn’t too steady on his feet yet. When babies first start walking, it can be the first time many parents really notice that their babies are significantly and visibly bowlegged.

Luckily, not having noticed this bowleggedness isn’t generally a problem, because bowlegs (legs that are curved out, so that even when the ankles touch, the knees do not) in babies are totally normal and generally harmless. It happens because of the way their legs are all folded up to fit in the womb, which is why twins or multiples, who had to share a lot tighter of womb-space, tend to have more visibly bowed legs. When babies start walking, their legs begin to straighten on their own, and most babies look significantly less bowlegged by the age of 2. However, children who had bowed legs as babies often have knees that turn inward instead as slightly older children.

Is there ever a reason to worry about bowed legs?

Occasionally, there are rare cases where bowleggedness is a sign of a more serious problem. Doctors might order X-rays to see if there is a more serious problem in children who have only one bowed leg, or one leg bowed significantly more than the other; children whose legs become more bowed instead of less as time goes on; or children whose legs are still significantly bowed by the time they’re 18 months to 2 years old. Bowed legs that aren’t a normal response to positioning in the womb are usually either a problem of unusual bone growth or a symptom of rickets from not getting enough vitamin D.

One old belief says that letting babies “stand” or bear weight on their legs with their parents’ help before they’re ready to stand on their own can cause bowed legs, but this belief is a myth. Not only are most bowed legs in babies perfectly normal and a passing phase, but letting babies practice standing with help early on can help them build muscle tone to prepare them for healthy standing later.

Whether it seems normal or not, you can always ask Baby’s doctor about the bowing if you have any concerns.

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