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Head Preference and Torticollis in babies

Is your baby looking one way more than the other? Does your new bundle of joy like to nurse on one breast more than the other, or always seems to prefer sleeping on one side of their head? If so, this could mean your baby may have a head preference.


Baby looking to one side with head preference

You may be wondering what a head preference is, and all it means is that the baby wants to look to one side, right or left, a majority of their time. Typically seen mostly in rotation, but babies can also have a head tilt with rotation. If the tilt is present with the rotation then this is torticollis.


Babies develop these head preferences in utero while they are still growing. Due to restrictions or constraints of the uterus baby can have limited range of motion, or they seem to always be hanging out in the same place. Baby's body gets used to being in that position, so when they are born they continue to have that same posture.


These preferences can also be influenced by birth. Birth is naturally a very stressful event and depending on how it goes, can also create these head preferences. When there are more interventions used the greater the risk may be.


Head preferences and torticollis can limit some functions of the growing baby. We typically see difficulties with nursing and flat spots (plagiocephaly) develop first. Flat spots, or plagiocephaly, mostly occur after a few weeks of the head preference not being corrected. So, if baby has a head preference to the right side and no one catches this for a few weeks the cranium starts to shift, because their bones are so soft and still developing, due to the pressure placed upon that same spot constantly. We will start to see a flattening of the right back of the head, or the right occiput.


Nursing difficulties can be seen because baby doesn't like nursing on both sides equally. They tend to prefer nursing on only one side, or they get really fussy at one of the breasts and not the other. This is a very common symptom parents will share with Dr. Elise on their first visit. The limited head rotation can also impact the way baby is able to use their mouth to nurse. They may be recruiting other muscles to help them feed and making it more challenging for themselves because of the limited range of motion.


When babies come in for their first chiropractic visit during the early days of being born, Dr. Elise is able to assess for limited range of motion of the head and plagiocephaly. Catching this early can avoid severe plagiocephaly and possibly a helmet. Through her thorough exam, Dr. Elise will assess what may be the cause and explain with the parents how this is affecting their baby.


Chiropractic care can be so helpful in addressing head preference and torticollis. It focuses in the joint movement and when there is limited range of motion causing a head preference or torticollis it is because there is some joint or muscle that is not moving correctly. When we can adjust the joint to help it move better there is improved range of motion and a decrease in head preference or torticollis.


Babies are very intuitive and if something doesn't feel good they wont do it. When there is limited range of motion in a baby its simply because looking the other way is not comfortable or causes pain when they do it, so they avoid it by looking to one side only. When we create more mobility within the joint that isn't moving well the pain goes away and they are willing to look side to side again.


Sometimes the need for other interventions is needed and Dr. Elise co-manages these causes along with physical therapists, pediatricians, and cranial helmet specialists.


Early intervention is very important, which is why getting your baby checked by a pediatric chiropractor as early as the first week can greatly improve the success and limit the time spent working on correcting it. Chiropractic is safe and gentle for infants, even hours old. If you'd like more information on pediatric chiropractic or head preferences/torticollis please reach out to us. Dr. Elise is happy to answer all your questions or help you find a chiropractor in your area to help you.



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