Hey Mommies! I wanted to share with you some ways to prevent torticollis and head flat spots in babies.
It is pretty common for newborns and infants to prefer positioning their head to one side or the other. A lot of times, their head and neck are turned some in utero, and babies continue to turn it that way after they are born.
If nothing is done to help babies turn and stretch their head and neck to both sides and in all directions, it is possible for them to develop torticollis and/or flat spots on their heads.
Torticollis is stiff or tight neck muscles that prevent your baby from fully moving their head and neck in all directions. Flat spots on your baby’s head can result from torticollis because pressure is not evenly distributed across your baby’s head. Flat spots can also occur from positioning in utero, laying or holding your baby in the same position, and lower muscle tone.
If torticollis becomes severe, therapy will be needed for your baby, and it can be quite uncomfortable. If severe flat spots occur, they can be fixed with a helmet. However, helmets are not typically covered by insurance because they are considered cosmetic.
So to help prevent either of these situations for your baby, here are 6 ways to prevent torticollis and head flat spots
1. Start tummy time with your newborn– You can position your newborn on their tummy with their head turned to one side for awhile. Then turn their head to the opposite side. Since newborns lack the strength to move their head on their own, just this positioning will provide a nice stretch to their neck muscles to help loosen any stiffness. This also takes pressure off the back of their head to reduce the risk of flat spots. (Be sure to supervise your baby in this position. Do not lay them on their tummy unattended)
2. Reposition your baby’s head while they’re napping- If you notice your baby always turning their head to one side, help reposition and turn it the other way while they are napping. They may turn it back, which is fine for a little while, but then help reposition it again. This will also help prevent flat spots by more equally distributing the pressure on the head while your baby sleeps.
3. Alternate how you hold and feed your baby– If you breastfeed, you will likely do this automatically when you change sides. However, if you bottle feed, you may always hold your baby with the same arm in the same position. Changing arms and the position your baby is in for feeding will help stretch and turn your baby’s head and neck and will change where pressure is applied to your babies head.
4. Position yourself and toys on the side your baby does not like to turn towards– Example: If your baby prefers to hold their head to the right side, then lay on the floor next to your baby on their left side. This way, they will have to turn their head to their non-preferred side in order to look at and interact with you. You can also shake and play with toys on your baby’s non-preferred side in order to get them interested in turning their head that direction.
5. Change the direction your baby sleeps in their crib/bassinet- Babies will sometimes sleep in the direction of the door or facing you if they are in your room. Rotating them 180 degrees and putting their head at the foot of their bed will sometimes get them to turn their head in the opposite direction.
6. Position your baby in side lying- Laying your baby on their side while playing on the floor or for napping (with supervision) will help provide a stretch to their neck. This position will also help redistribute pressure on the head to help with flat spots.
If you try all of these tips and still notice that your baby is having a hard time turning their head and neck a certain way or they are developing a flat spot, it may be time to discuss occupational or physical therapy treatment with your pediatrician.
It should also be noted that sometimes there’s nothing you can do to prevent torticollis. Some babies are born with more severe cases that will require treatment right away (like the little guy at the top of this post). However, these strategies can also be used throughout the treatment process.
By: Emily Bettis, MOT/L
Emily Bettis, MOT/L is a pediatric occupational therapist and mother. She has been working with children birth-5 since 2008 and has been a mother since 2013. Emily is the founder and author HeyMommies.com