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Infant Torticollis: An Almost Invisible Enemy

August 23, 2020


August is National Breastfeeding month, and you probably don’t need to hear another recitation of the many reasons that breastfeeding is an ideal way to feed your baby. What may not be discussed enough, however, is some of the obstacles that can arise. Anything that hinders your ability to get off to a strong start with breastfeeding can have an impact on how long and how successful your nursing relationship might be.

What can go wrong?

One relatively common but poorly-recognized phenomenon is of particular interest to pediatric chiropractors: infant torticollis. This is a condition wherein one of the larger muscles in your baby’s neck--the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle--locks up tight and refuses to relax. Because the SCM muscles run from behind the ear all the way down to the collar bone, a prolonged spasm in one of these muscles will pull the head constantly to one side.

Babies with torticollis may:

  • Show a pronounced head or chin tilt and only look to one side
  • Refuse to turn in the opposite direction, even when stimulated by an interesting sight or sound
  • Have difficulty with breastfeeding, have trouble latching, or prefer one breast over the other
  • Act fussy in general, and/or pull away from the breast as though they’re in pain

Will my baby outgrow it?

Torticollis isn’t just a quality of life issue, or a problem solely for breastfeeding moms. It can cause some serious long-term issues when it's not treated quickly or properly. 

Mother trying to soothe fussy baby
  • If the SCM remains locked for a prolonged period of time, the constant tension on the affected side can cause the bones of the head and neck to become severely misaligned. This can result in asymmetry of the skull and even the facial features.
  • The characteristic chin tilt associated with chronic torticollis can force an unnatural angle on a baby’s visual field, which can cause the areas of the brain that control visual processing to develop improperly.
  • Because babies with torticollis often refuse to turn their heads to one side, they don’t obtain a panoramic view of the world. This can further limit the brain’s visual processing ability and affect long-term development of numerous skills related to visual processing.
  • Torticollis doesn’t allow a baby’s neck to experience a full range of motion, and can prevent babies from moving as much in general. This restriction doesn’t allow the brain’s proprioceptive areas to mature, which means that babies with untreated torticollis may not be able to develop the appropriate awareness of where their body and limbs are relative to their surroundings. 
  • The pain and discomfort of torticollis can make babies fussy and difficult to soothe, which can affect not only the bonding associated with a successful breastfeeding relationship, but family bonding, cohesion, and contentment in general.

Help for infant torticollis

Happy nursing mom and baby

If you’re a new mother and notice any of the above warning signs of torticollis--or even if something just doesn’t seem right with your baby--seek help from a qualified practitioner immediately. Properly-certified pediatric chiropractors, such as our very own Dr. Denise Rollette, are certified by the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association and often have a great deal of experience and training pertinent to managing infant torticollis. Fortunately, torticollis is a condition that can be resolved with the right intervention, but it’s much easier to correct when it’s addressed as early as possible.

For a comprehensive list of ICPA-endorsed pediatric chiropractors in your area, visit icpa4kids.org.












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