Once your baby is just a couple of weeks old, she’ll begin to gain better control of her head and neck, although she’ll continue to make these muscles stronger over the next several months. As she uses her head and neck muscles more, you might notice her head tilting to one side more than the other.
This is a condition known as torticollis, which causes the neck muscles to twist in a way that makes your baby unable to hold her head straight. If your baby has torticollis, she could also have flat spots on her head, known as flat head syndrome or deformational plagiocephaly. Here’s what you need to know about both conditions and how to prevent them.
What are Flat Head Syndrome and Torticollis?
Torticollis can either be present at birth or happen several weeks or months after delivery. There are several causes for it, including injury, illness, or conditions affecting the health of a baby’s muscles. Torticollis is also caused by frequently sleeping or lying in the same position in a crib, baby swing, or carrier.
When torticollis occurs in a baby, flat head syndrome sometimes follows because of the consistent pressure put on the head. You might notice a flat spot on the back or side of your baby’s head. A consistent sleeping position can cause the soft bones of a baby’s skull to form this flat spot which, in some cases, could eventually lead to deforming of the face and vision, sinus, or hearing problems.
Your baby’s pediatrician will check for signs of flat head syndrome and torticollis at each well-visit. You can also check at home for symptoms, like a bald spot on the back of the head, uneven ears, or baby only looking one way or using one arm to reach. As with most conditions, the earlier you catch these problems, the better your baby can respond to treatment.
Most cases of torticollis and flat head syndrome can be prevented by giving your baby plenty of movement throughout the day. Try these tips:
- Practice tummy time as much as possible between naps. Start with just a few minutes at a time. Place toys in front of and around your baby to encourage her to look up and to the sides to reach for her toys. Get down on the floor with her, too, to keep her engaged!
- Place your baby on her back to sleep facing the opposite direction each night to encourage her to use both sides of her body as she moves and looks around in her crib. You can also move her mobile and fasten crib toys to different sides of the crib to help her build those muscles as she watches them.
- When she’s not sleeping or playing on her tummy, try to hold your baby as much as possible (rather than having her spend a lot of time in baby equipment), and vary the way you hold her so she can use all her head and neck muscles equally.
Some cases of torticollis may not be preventable or treatable without intervention. It may be necessary to work with a physical therapist to help your baby build muscle control and use both sides of her body. Your pediatrician will be able to help you set up the best plan of action for your baby’s development.
Infant exercise has incredible benefits for your baby, including supporting head control, building muscle tone, and aiding the digestive system. The BabySparks development program has several activities to help your infant learn to move her body, support her head, and gain strength.