Have you noticed that your baby always turns his or her head in one direction or the other? Does your baby have a flattened head? Does your baby have an easier time latching to one breast while struggling with the other side?
If you answered yes, your baby may have torticollis. This relatively common condition usually occurs when one of the muscles in your baby’s neck is damaged in utero, making it hard to turn the head or pulling the head to one side. If left untreated, torticollis can cause the slight flattening on one side of the head you might have noticed, a condition known as positional plagiocephaly, in addition to a tilted or cocked head.
While the condition is easily treated, it’s also common for moms to wonder if torticollis will affect breastfeeding. In fact, babies use many muscles while nursing, and torticollis can make breastfeeding complicated. To get a sense of why it might affect breastfeeding, try placing your hands on your neck and then opening and closing your mouth. You’ll be able to feel that your jaw muscles are connected to your neck muscles. These are the same muscles that are affected by torticollis.
During breastfeeding, your baby will have to turn his or her head both ways as you switch breasts. This can be difficult if the muscles on one side of the neck are damaged. As a result, he or she might consistently refuse one breast. Or you might notice that one breast is in pain while the other breast feels normal. Your baby might also cry in pain when turning to the affected side, or only manage to nurse or lay on that side for short periods.
Torticollis is easily treated by a Pediatric Physical Therapist when identified early. Steps at home you can take include tummy time, which helps your baby to lift his or her head and work the muscles. You can also position your baby with a rolled up blanket to keep her on the side she does not favor, but never put your baby to sleep in the crib with the blanket, as this increases the risk of suffocation or SIDS.
When nursing, offer to feed your baby on the challenging side in a football position—this lets baby nurse comfortably. If your baby is taking a bottle, try mixing up positions to help unfold the muscles.
Your pediatrician will recommend physical therapy performed by a pediatric physical therapist. The gentle therapy can gently stretch the muscles and allow the baby to regain full range of motion. Be sure to find a professional who specializes in pediatric care.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
- If your baby has torticollis or positional plagiocephaly, it may be difficult to nurse.
- Torticollis is easily treated when identified early.
- Your pediatrician may recommend different levels of therapy to get your baby to regain full range of motion.