I have recently had several friends or friends of friends ask about their child who doesn’t like to look in one direction and is developing a flat spot on the back or side of their head. This is generally a sign of torticollis. Torticollis is when your baby’s neck gets tight (similar to how you get tight hamstrings) and they prefer to look to one side more than the other. In addition they usually like to tilt their head to the opposite side of where they like to look. For instance if they prefer looking to the left they usually like to bend to the right. Generally the muscle that is tight is the sternocleidomastoid and can easily be stretched, especially if you catch it quickly and modify your and your baby’s habits to encourage movement in the opposite direction.
In the past torticollis was generally something a baby got as a result of how they were positioned in the womb. These days I am seeing older babies develop it and there could be a few reasons for that.
I think with the Back to Sleep program babies are spending more and more time on their backs and less time on their tummies. The back of babies heads are still soft and malleable so if they have a preference for sleeping (i.e. tend to keep their head turned to one side) it can encourage a flatter spot on the back of their head as well as encourage them to keep their head turned only to that side. On top of that babies are spending more time in car seats and carriers which continues to encourage pressure on the back of their head. Making sure your child is getting enough Tummy Time can help with this.
Also, as parents its easy to develop habits such as always carrying your child on the same side, or having a preferential feeding side. This can all encourage turning their head more to one side. I know it isn’t easy but break up your habits and carry your child on the opposite side or change where they normally sit when you interact with them. Maybe even move their crib to the other wall or put them in the crib with their head facing the other way.
If you catch torticollis early and get a referral to a pediatric PT they can show you some simple exercises to do with your child as well as ways to alter your routine to encourage them to actively move their head in the other direction!
You can download an informational handout on this topic here!