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Tips for Helping a Baby with Torticollis

If your baby tilts her head to one side all the time, she likely has a condition called congenital muscular torticollis — present in one in 300 infants, according to the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists. Torticollis is often caused by abnormal positioning in the womb or by a difficult birth. Damage to the sternocleidomastoid muscle in the neck shortens the muscle and makes it difficult for your baby to turn her head in one direction. In most cases, you can help improve torticollis with simple measures.

Positioning Techniques

Because the shortened muscle tightens on the damaged side, your baby will keep his head tilted in that direction. To encourage him to turn his head to the opposite side, which helps stretch the muscle, arrange his room so that he has to turn his head in the direction opposite the affected muscle. Put him in his crib so that he has to turn his head to see the door, and place equipment such as his swing or infant seat so that he has to turn his head to see other people in the room. These techniques cure torticollis in most cases, the American Academy of Pediatrics states.

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Feeding Techniques

If you're breastfeeding, feeding your baby from both breasts might be difficult because of his tendency not to turn in his head in the direction away from the injury. While it's beneficial to get your baby to turn his head, trying to force him to swivel around should not come at the expense of interfering with his eating and gaining weight. Try different positions, such as a football hold or side hold to allow him to nurse from both breasts comfortably. Once the torticollis begins to resolve and breastfeeding is well established, you can try other positions.

Play Techniques

When you play with your baby, it's natural to offer her objects by placing them in her line of vision, which means placing them on the injured side. But if you put objects or hang toys on the side she avoids turning towards, she will turn her head in that direction more frequently. Tummy time — placing your baby on her stomach for periods of 10 to 15 minutes at a time — also helps improve torticollis. Tummy time also helps prevent a flat head, medically termed plagiocephaly, which occurs in as many as 90 percent of children with torticollis, the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists reports.

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Gentle range-of-motion exercises, moving your baby's head in the opposite direction of the tilt to stretch the muscle several times a day, can help loosen the muscle. Do this only after your doctor or physical therapist has shown you how far to stretch and how many times a day to perform this exercise. Stretching should never be painful and is best performed by parents and caregivers when possible.

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