My Baby Has Bow Legs: Normal Or Not?

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
bow legged baby

Your baby is finally here, and you know what that means, right? Let the worrying begin! For real, though, it’s kind of what parents do. It’s our proverbial jam. And one of the things that routinely crosses parents’ list of concerns in that first year is bowed legs. Does your little one look like they spent a long day in the saddle? Well, sidle on up and take a deep breath. Your cute little cowboy or cowgirl is likely just fine, as bowed legs are a very common condition in young children. But if you are worried, know that you’re not alone in your frantic Googling. According to the most recent search data available, that topic is searched nearly 10,000 per month.

Even so, that may not be enough to calm your nerves, which is entirely understandable. After all, you’re dedicating your life to making sure this precious baby is taken care of, and you want to make sure you don’t overlook anything. And since knowledge is power, it’s high time we all do a collective deep dive into the topic to help put your mind at ease — at least when it comes to bow-legged matters. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look.

Check out more from our Baby & Toddler Development package to read more about thrush in babies, jaundice, baby hiccups, baby kneecaps, toddler flat feet, newborn eye color, and bone structure in babies.

What are bowed legs?

Also known by the Latin term “genu varum,” bowed legs is a condition characterized by a distinct space between the lower legs and knees. One or both of the legs may curve outward to cause this gap, which in turn gives a trademark “bowed” appearance when walking. It can present in infancy all the way through adulthood and is usually considered completely normal in young children.

This is also completely normal in babies, after all, babies are born with roughly 300 bones (adults have 206) that will fuse and ossify over time. If they weren’t bow-legged, can you imagine what labor and delivery would be like? The bent bow shape also allows for a comfortable fetal position when they’re extra snug in the uterus, especially those last few months.

Are all babies bow-legged?

There aren’t any concrete statistics on the matter, but yes, in general, most infants have at least some sort of bowing in their legs. It may be more pronounced in some babies over others, but on the whole, it’s a physical characteristic that almost all parents notice in their little one — and something they will most likely grow out of over time.

How do children’s legs and knees develop?

As you’ve probably noticed by now, your child is exceptionally flexible during infancy. But as your baby continues to grow, so do their corresponding limbs, which will go through various stages of development:

  • Infancy: This is when your baby will show signs of bow-leggedness from the time of birth up to 24 months of age.
  • Toddler: From there, your child’s legs will start to straighten out a bit and become more aligned with each other between the 24- and 36-month mark.
  • Young children: By the time your kid reaches three to five years old, they may start to develop what is known as knock knees, which is when the knees begin to tilt inward (basically the opposite of being bow-legged).
  • Teens: Starting as early as seven or eight and concluding around the time they are a teenager, your child’s legs will fully straighten out, resulting in a regular walking stride.

What makes a baby bow-legged?

Listen, your legs would be a little scrunched up too if you’d just spent nine months in the tight confines of a womb. In fact, your legs probably were when you were an infant! Because space is so limited when babies are in utero, some of their bones have to rotate slightly while they’re growing. Accordingly, bowed legs are usually just another aspect of baby’s development. Their bone structure helps in all that in utero maneuvering too. Babies are born with nearly 100 more bones than adults, but they’re mostly made up of soft cartilage tissue that allows them to bend and scrunch up into a fetal position. Not to mention make their way out of the narrow vaginal canal. Babies are also born without solid kneecaps, a growth process that is not complete until the child is about 10 or 12 years old.

In rare cases, bowed legs can be caused by a more serious underlying medical condition such as rickets (a bone growth issue due to a vitamin D or calcium deficiency), Blount disease (a growth disorder that affects leg bones), and other conditions that affect growth around the knees.

How do I know if my baby is bow-legged?

Are you wondering how to tell if your baby has bowed legs? You should always, first and foremost, consult your child’s pediatrician with any questions or concerns about their health. That’s ultimately how bow legs are diagnosed. But you can be on the lookout for the following symptoms leading up to that point:

  • Your child’s knees are starting to curve in an outward direction.
  • Their toes are pointing inward (often referred to as in-toeing).
  • Both legs have a symmetric curve to them.
  • You notice your child is walking awkwardly.
  • Your child always seems to be tripping over things and demonstrates clumsy behavior.

Can babies become bow-legged from standing too early?

In a word, no. Standing or walking doesn’t cause bowed legs. However, as your child begins to put more pressure on their legs through these activities, it might increase the bowing a bit. But don’t worry; although children who start walking earlier may have more noticeable bowing, the condition usually improves the more baby walks and bears weight.

Can baby carriers cause bow legs?

Not at all! Baby carriers play no part in whether or not your child is bow-legged or not. However, if not used correctly, carriers could contribute to hip dysplasia, so make sure you read the owner’s manual carefully to know that you’re using it correctly.

How do I know if my baby is bow-legged?

Are you wondering how to tell if your baby has bowed legs? You should always first and foremost consult your child’s pediatrician with any questions or concerns about their health. That’s ultimately how bow legs are diagnosed. But you can ask yourself the following questions before taking those concerns to the doctor:

  • Stand your child up as straight with their toes pointed forward. Are their ankles touching?
  • Do their knees have a wide gap?
  • Do their legs appear curved outward?

Fortunately, bowed legs in both babies and young children don’t typically cause any sort of pain or discomfort, and they don’t seem to affect a child’s ability to move around.

How long do babies stay bow-legged?

Normal, or physiologic, bowed legs usually improve dramatically by the age of two. The outward curving often corrects on its own by the time the child turns three or four (your child might even start to appear a little knock-kneed!). And, rest easy, because over 95 percent of children with physiologic bowed legs see the condition go away by adolescence without any treatment or surgery.

What other bow legs treatments are there (if any)?

It doesn’t happen that often, but there’s always a chance that bow-legged condition could become more severe, in which case additional steps must be taken to help fix the problem.

What are surgical treatment options?

If your child’s legs continue to curve after they reach the two-year mark, your doctor could recommend osteotomy surgery on the upper part of your child’s shinbone to help correct the misalignment. Keep in mind, though, that this is only done for very severe cases. Most bow-legged issues correct themselves over time.

What are nonsurgical treatment options?

It’s also possible your doctor could suggest having your kid wear leg braces, which would slowly help move the legs into a straighter position over time without needing surgery. But again, there’s a very strong chance that not even this approach will be necessary and your child’s legs will straighten out on their own.

Are there special shoes for babies and toddlers who are bowlegged?

Shoes should always be chosen for protection, not correction. Bowleggedness in most children will correct itself, so parents should not force babies to wear shoes too early thinking it will straighten their legs out. Also, allowing children to walk around barefoot in warm and dry climates will actually strengthen their toe gripping mechanism and muscular strength.

How do you prevent bow legs in babies?

So now that you know what bow-leggedness is and how to treat it, you may be wondering if there’s any way to avoid it altogether. The truth of the matter is that there really isn’t a way to stop it from happening unless it’s directly caused by certain conditions like rickets, which you can prevent by giving your child plenty of Vitamin D. Apart from that rare exception, it’s just one of the many stages that your kid will eventually grow out of.

When should I worry about my baby’s bowed legs?

Let’s say your little one hits the two-year milestone and they’re still your sweet bow-legged baby. At this age, their doctor will probably want to run some tests to rule out underlying conditions.

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