When It’s More than Just a Head Tilt: Our Journey with Torticollis

Let me paint a picture for you of where we were about six years ago today. Our baby girl, Kate, is six weeks old with what appears to be the beginnings of colic. She refuses to be put down and is also projectile vomiting nearly all of her feeds like something out of The Exorcist. She won’t nap for longer than 38 minutes (yes, I timed it) at a stretch, so we basically spend our day moving from bouncy seat to swing to car seat. Oh, and I have a two-year-old running around the house somewhere, I think, for whom I’m also responsible.

Just when I think my life can’t get any more stressful, our pediatrician notices that our daughter cries when he tries to turn her head to the left. I noticed that she seemed to always tilt her head one direction, but in the mess of all the other problems, WHO HAS TIME TO WORRY ABOUT A LITTLE HEAD TILT?!

Well, I should have.

Our daughter was diagnosed with Torticollis (a fancy term for a tight neck) and Plagiocephaly (flat head) at her two-month well-check. Up until that day, I had exactly zero clue what those words meant or how many signs I had missed.

Over the next six months, we worked weekly with an amazing team of therapists at Baby Begin. They taught me so much, so today, I’m sharing the wealth. Here are five things I wish I’d known that could’ve possibly prevented my girl’s Torticollis from day one.

Start Early

I know. Those first few weeks are brutal. Your hormones are going wild, you’re struggling to feed, and exhaustion is at an all-time high. The last thing you want to hear is that you need to add one more thing to your list. But truly, early intervention is the number one suggestion I’m going to make here.

I wish I had seen the signs earlier, but I’m also so thankful our pediatrician noticed Kate’s neck tightness at one month and diagnosed Torticollis by two months. By starting therapy early, we were able to prevent her from needing a helmet and prevent any motor delays she may have experienced due to this condition.

Limit Time in Containers

I’ll never forget the day our therapist told us we had to ditch our beloved Rock ‘N’ Play sleeper. I’m pretty sure I cried. It was the only thing we could find that gave us anything longer than a two-hour nighttime stretch, but it was severely damaging our daughter’s head shape and neck muscles. So to the trash it went.

Here’s the thing about containers: bouncy seats, swings, and car seats were never made to be long-term sleeping environments. But as busy moms, we find ourselves constantly on the move, tossing baby in whatever we can find, and never giving it a second thought.

What’s best for baby those early months is to sleep on her back, swaddled, on a flat surface. Period. This allows her to move her neck freely from side to side, which loosens her muscles and prevents flat spots.

We were two months into sleeping all night in the Rock ‘N’ Play when I learned this. Don’t make my mistake!

Pay Attention to Your Photos

Have you ever looked at your baby in a photo and thought, “How is that comfortable?” I still remember a picture I took of my two-week old baby girl in her car seat one day where her head was almost 90 degrees to one side. Once I started really paying attention, I noticed that she turned her head to the right and tilted it slightly down in nearly every photo I had.

Mamas, that’s a RED FLAG. If you notice baby’s head is always turned toward one direction, especially if he or she is uncomfortable when you turn it the other way, talk to your pediatrician sooner rather than later.

Alternate Sides While Feeding

This seems like common sense, but one of the simplest adjustments to make is simply switching arms every feed. I’m right-handed, so I naturally held her in my left arm and held the bottle with my right hand. However, by doing this every feed, she was laying with her head turned one direction for 20 minutes or more at least six times a day. By simply switching arms and holding the bottle in my left hand, she had no choice but to turn the other direction to receive her food. Simple adjustments like this can really go a long way.

Get Creative With Tummy Time

Ahh, the dreaded tummy time. This was literally our nemesis. I’ll be honest – until we started working with a licensed Occupational Therapist, I had basically given up tummy time. My poor girl just face planted on that play mat and cried.

In therapy, we started incorporating eye contact, exciting toys, and even laid her across my chest or lap to get her off the floor. It wasn’t easy, but we found ways to tolerate it and improve her neck strength. Don’t skip this—just get more creative with it!

The truth is that Torticollis and Plagiocephaly are very common in newborns. If your baby ends up with either, it’s going to be okay. But, at the same time, if you can watch for signs early and treat it before it becomes severe, that’s a total win in my book!

 

Allison Ezell
Allison and her husband, Blake, grew up in Dallas and made the move to the 'burbs in 2010 when she began teaching middle school in Frisco. After attending Texas A&M University for her undergrad, Allison came back to Dallas in 2008 to pursue her Master's of Education from SMU. Over the last ten years, she has taught everything from preschool to eighth grade and has a huge passion for literacy. Today, McKinney is home for her family of five which includes Carter (7), Kate (5), and Brooks (3), who was adopted from China in 2016. When she's not chasing the kids around, she can be found drinking coffee, running, avoiding the laundry, traveling, or headed to a girls' night. Follow her self-proclaimed hot mess on Instagram!

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