Torticollis: Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Baby’s Movement and Development
It’s something that many parents overlook at first – you may notice it for the first time when checking on your sleeping baby at night or when looking through photos of your little one: baby’s head always seems to turn to one side.
While it can be easy to think that your baby favors one side over the other due to comfort reasons, the cause of this persistent head turn is often the result of a muscular condition called congenital muscular torticollis.
What is torticollis?
Torticollis is a common muscular condition caused by the tightening of one of the muscles on the side of the neck. It is often the result of crowding in the womb.
Torticollis is often very concerning to new parents; however, when identified early, it can be easily treated and resolved with no long-term effects.
What does torticollis look like?
Torticollis most often presents as a baby consistently turning his or her head to one side.
Other symptoms of torticollis can include a limited neck range of motion to one side, a preference to sleep with the head to one side, and a preference to breastfeed on one side.
Additionally, torticollis may also present with a small lump in your baby’s neck.
Torticollis and plagiocephaly
Plagiocephaly, which is flattening on one side of the head, can also be a sign of torticollis.
In the early months of a baby’s life, the skull bones are not yet fused; as a result, consistent pressure on a particular part of the head can cause its shape to change.
How can you help a baby with torticollis?
Because torticollis is often caused by issues with a muscle, you can help address torticollis in your baby through stretching, carrying your baby properly, and correctly positioning your baby for play and feeding.
Here are five simple things you can try at home to help improve your baby’s movement and development:
- Position your baby in the crib or changing table so that activities in the room encourage baby to look away from the preferred side.
- Hold toys or talk to your baby in a way that causes baby to look in the direction that neck mobility is limited.
- Limit the amount of time your baby spends in places where the head is likely to rest in the same spot, like a swing, bouncy seat, or car seat. Additionally, using a head support may help with aligning your baby’s head while in the car seat.
- Hold your baby at your shoulder or chest to encourage lifting and turning away from the preferred side.
- Tummy time! Tummy time will help develop your baby’s neck and upper body strength, along with developing adequate tone needed for rolling, reaching, sitting, and crawling.
Tummy time tips for babies
When your baby is awake and supervised, start by placing your baby on his or her belly — you can do short periods at the beginning to help your baby get used to tummy time.
You can also use a nursing pillow or infant lounger if your baby needs additional support.
Use brightly colored toys, mirrors, or even siblings to get baby’s attention and encourage him or her to look up and away from the preferred side.
Your baby doesn't need to lay on the floor or a blanket! Using your chest to prop your baby on his or her belly also counts as tummy time.
When does torticollis require professional treatment?
If you notice flattening of your baby’s head, it’s important to bring it to the attention of your pediatrician.
After talking with your pediatrician, he or she may suggest a referral for physical therapy for further evaluation and treatment.
If your baby requires physical therapy for torticollis, a licensed Pediatric Physical Therapist will evaluate your baby’s level of impairment and tolerance for neck stretches.
After that evaluation, the pediatric physical therapist will provide instruction on stretches and exercises specific to your baby’s needs.