A little Torticollis, a little Flat Head Syndrome

As new parents there are and will be many many things that you’ll do wrong.  Or that you’ll be totally unaware of.  Or that you’ll have no idea even exists as a potential problem, until you do that thing and it affects your child.

As new parents ourselves, we had no idea how hard surfaces and a tendency to turn his head one direction would cause not only a giant flat spot on the back side of J’s head but that it would also affect the muscles in his neck.  When he was really tiny I’d lay him on my desk at my office (which was the best place to keep an eye and a hand on him)…this is way before he started rolling, don’t worry.  Who knew that this hard surface would lead to such a flat area on the right-back side of J’s head?!  And  who knew that you had to pay close attention to the side of the head your little one likes to lay on?!  Well, these are all things that you learn ONLY if these things happen to your kid!

We’d only just noticed that J’s head was a little flat right before we headed to his 3 month appointment.  Of course the Doc noticed as soon as he walked in the door.  Dead giveaway is when the baby isn’t looking straight up at the ceiling…for further reference.  Apparently what happens is that when they tend to turn their head only to one side (J preferred the right)  that the neck muscles tighten on that side, and stretch on the other side.  So to resolve this you have to stretch the neck the other direction to loosen that side and even up the  lengths and strengths of the muscles. So began the many weeks of neck stretches.  BTW babies don’t particularly like this.  You have to hold them down and gently tilt their head the opposite direction of whichever way they normally tend to tilt it.  Then you also rotate their neck from side to side.  Yeah…so much fun to do this while they are screaming at you.  Makes you feel like you’re torturing them.

neck stretch
torticollis excersices

The flat spot on his head the Doc described to us as when you push on one corner of a cardboard box and the opposite corner also tilts out-of-place.  J had “plagiocephaly” as shown in the pic below.

flat head

To correct this and avoid needing a helmet, we had to very closely watch which side of his head he laid on at all times.  For the first few weeks we had to do everything in our power to keep him from laying on the right side of his head.  Not so easy, let me tell ya.  It involved tilting his body to one side when he was laying or sleeping, and using extra padding around the head support in his car seat.  We also used the Tortle – a hat or sorts that was created specifically to help with torticollis and Flat Head Syndrome in infants. It worked pretty well when J was still little enough not to squirm too much, but we had to stop using it once he could wiggle his head enough to get the “tail” of the hat moved around.  Another product I learned about much later was the Baby Elephant Ears – this product would really help towards prevention of torticollis and FHS, and is super cute too!

Luckily for us it only took a few weeks of doing the exercises and making sure to even out which side J laid on to get the flat spot to mostly go away and for the neck muscles to even out.  By his 6 month appointment he was as back to “normal” as we would be able to get him.

Such a silly little oversight, but something that I warn all my new parent friends about.  J will always have a slightly flat spot and misshapen head to go with it, but luckily we caught it early enough to correct it enough that you can’t tell unless you know what you’re looking for.  Even after years of childcare for infants, I’d never seen either Torticollis or FHS…but hopefully now you can share this information with your fellow first-time parents and avoid a little headache 🙂


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