Your baby may have developed torticollis if they tilt their head down to one side or avoid turning their head in one direction.
Take your baby to see your public health nurse or GP as soon as possible if you notice they have these symptoms.
Torticollis is a common, easily treated condition in babies. Boys and girls can both develop it. Your baby may have been born with it or have developed it in the first few months of their life.
Most babies with torticollis get better through position changes and stretching exercises. Depending on the age of your baby, it may take weeks or months to fully correct.
Check if it’s torticollis
Your baby might:
- tilt their head in one direction
- prefer to look in one direction
- have trouble breastfeeding on one side (if they are breastfed)
- be reluctant to look the other direction or be unable to turn their head one direction
- be uncomfortable lying on one side of their body
Some babies with torticollis develop a flat head (positional plagiocephaly) on one side from lying with their head turned in one direction all the time.
There may be a small benign lump on the muscle of your baby’s neck. This lump often disappears by itself over time.
If you notice any of these signs in your baby, contact your GP or public health nurse for advice. They may refer you to a paediatric physiotherapist.
Treatment for torticollis
Your paediatric physiotherapist will show you some neck stretching and strengthening exercises to do at home.
These exercises will help loosen the tight muscles and strengthen the weaker ones on the opposite side. This side may be weaker due to underuse. Your baby will continue to see the physiotherapist until their torticollis has gone.
Helping your baby at home
Encourage your baby to turn their head in both directions.
Tips to help your baby's torticollis:
- When your baby wants to eat, offer the bottle or your breast in a way that encourages them to turn away from their preferred side.
- Use toys to encourage your baby to look in both directions.
- Reposition your baby when they’re sleeping so that their head is turned away from their preferred side. Always put your baby down to sleep on their back to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome.
- Put your baby on their tummy to help strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles using 'tummy time.'
- Lie your baby on their side - this position provides a gentle stretch to their neck muscles. Use a rolled-up towel behind their back if needed to support them.
Cause of torticollis
Torticollis may be caused by tightness in a muscle (called the sternocleidomastoid) on one side of your baby’s neck. This will cause your baby’s head to tilt down and turn towards one side.
Your baby may have torticollis because:
- they did not have enough space for their head in the uterus
- of how they were positioned (for example breech) in the womb
- a forceps or a vacuum device was used during their birth
- they preferred turning their head in one direction after they were born
Talk to your public health nurse, GP, or physiotherapist to find out the cause of your baby’s torticollis.