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How Infant Torticollis Can Affect Breastfeeding

How Infant Torticollis Can Affect Breastfeeding

I’ve had quite a few babies into the clinic with torticollis lately.  Many parents aren’t aware of what torticollis is and how it can affect their baby’s head shape and ability to breastfeed, hence this article to help you make sense of it all.

For babies, the scientific term is infantile congenital muscular torticollis, which most of us call torticollis or wry neck.  Congenital torticollis is a condition where one of your baby’s neck muscles pulls tight and won’t let go.  Your baby’s head tilts and he will only look in one direction.  Your baby will steadfastly look in only one direction because he refuses to turn towards the direction of pain. He might have difficulties with breastfeeding, especially from one breast.  His head shape might be pulling out of alignment.

Source: fprmed.com

Source: fprmed.com

The cause of torticollis is a very tight muscle in the neck.  This muscle is called the SternoCleidoMastoid muscle (SCM for simplicity’s sake).  The SCM attaches from the back of the ear at the top to the inner collar bone at the bottom.  When it becomes tight and fixed, it pulls the head to one direction and it won’t let go. 

Many people are told that torticollis will go away on its own, but it usually doesn’t. Congenital torticollis needs to be dealt with as soon as possible by a practitioner who know how to treat it.  The reasons for early intervention are many:

  • Babies with torticollis can have difficulties with latch, or with breastfeeding on one side.  They try to breastfeed and pull back from the breast, seemingly in pain.  They are in pain!  It hurts babies with torticollis to feed from one breast because they can’t turn their head in that direction.
  • Babies with torticollis can develop a distorted head shape.  The SCM attaches from the side of the skull to the inner collar bone and, over time, constant tension in that muscle will pull the head bones out of alignment.
  • Babies with torticollis can develop chin tilt, which causes them to process their world on an angle, and distorts the development of the visual fields in the brain.
  • Babies with torticollis only see one portion of their world, not the full panoramic view, which again limits the input to the visual fields of the brain.  It decreases the baby’s ability to learn to move his neck in a full range of motion. 
  • Babies with torticollis don’t tend to move much because of pain, which limits proprioception (the baby’s ability to know where he and his body parts are in space).
  • Babies with torticollis are usually fussy and have difficulties with bonding with their families.  If you are in pain, you don’t typically relax and have fun with your loved ones.  These babies fuss during the day, especially when being put down to sleep because their necks are sore in all positions.

The bottom line, and the reason for this article is: If your baby has torticollis – he only looks in one direction, or has chin tilt, seek help immediately.  Don’t wait to see if it will go away.  Waiting usually makes the condition worse.

The sooner a practitioner can help a baby with congenital torticollis, the easier it is to fix.  It is more difficult to help an 8 month old baby who has torticollis and head shape irregularities, than a one month old baby.  At 8 months, the baby’s SCM is extremely tight and takes many, many treatments to let go of tension.  A one month old usually doesn’t have as much tension stored in the SCM and responds more easily to treatment.

There are professionals in your community that can help infant torticollis.  Look for:

  • Pediatric focused chiropractors (check out the ICPA’s website www.icpa4kids.org and search for chiropractors listed in your area).  If there are none, ask people in your community which chiropractors treat children on a regular basis.
  • Pediatric focused physiotherapists

As practitioners, we are in your communities and ready to help.  All babies deserve the best start to life. If we can reduce the negative effects of torticollis, the result is a happy baby that breastfeeds longer and more contentedly.  He bonds with his mother and his family members more easily.  He looks at his whole world and participates in it.  He pays attention.  He enjoys himself more.  Family life is easier and that, in my opinion, is the whole reason why practitioners like me do what we do.

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