Are Bowlegs Bad?

Hi Mamas,

My son is 17 months old and has bowlegs. We have discussed the condition with our pediatrician and he has suggested increasing his calcium intake and exposure to sun, but doesn’t seem very concerned. Still, we are worried about his legs. Can you offer some advice?

Nervous Nell

Dear Nell,

This is a very common condition, as well as a very common question, so we’re glad you asked. We’ve talked about this in a past post (My 2-YO Walks like a Cowboy), and common questions need to be repeated commonly.

Bowlegs are characterized by knees that stay wide apart when the feet and ankles are touching — in simpler terms, the cowboy stance.

Actually, bowlegs are considered normal in children younger than three, and are caused by the folded position of the baby’s legs while in the mother’s womb. Once a child starts to walk, and the legs begin to bear weight, they will gradually straighten out.

No treatment is needed unless the condition is extreme, or, rarely, caused by an illness or vitamin deficiency.

A doctor can often diagnose bowlegs by simply looking at the child. Blood tests may be used to rule out rickets (a vitamin D deficiency), and x-rays may be needed if:

  • The child is 4 years old or older
  • The bowing is getting worse
  • Bowing is not the same on both sides
  • Other test results suggest disease

It sounds like your doctor suggested increasing calcium and vitamin D from sunlight as insurance, but isn’t too worried that this is a contributing factor. There’s a common pediatric practice called ‘watchful waiting’, which means keeping an eye on the problem with the expectation that it will resolve in the course of normal development, and that’s what’s called for here.

Odds are good that as your little guy grows his legs will straighten. If the condition seems to be worsening, or doesn’t improve by preschool age, you can have him rechecked.

~ The Mamas



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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.