What is Torticollis?
Torticollis impacts breastfeeding. It is a condition where a baby has noticeable asymmetry in the head or the neck muscle. One of the muscles of the neck is often shorter than the other. Babies may look like they are saying: “Pardon me?” Or appear to be giving you the therapist “listening look.”
The sternocleidomastoid muscle is affected. Babies will look off toward one direction. Their heads tip to one side. When you sit them up you might see four neck wrinkles on one side and one wrinkle on the other. One ear may be higher than the other. There may be a fold on one ear as well.
Why does Torticollis Occur?
The jury is still out on this. It was commonly believed this condition was the result of a baby’s position in the womb. The thought was that the baby was crammed into a corner of the womb with her head tilted and the neck just got “stuck.” However, there is some research that suggests the changes in the muscle of the neck are due to cells gone wild. Cells that should have become muscles decide to became tough, fibrotic cells. The reason why remains to be discovered.
Why Does Having Torticollis Matter?
Aside from concern for appearances, torticollis impacts breastfeeding. cBabies needs to feel the nipple in the sweet spot at the roof of the mouth to begin instinctual sucking. When a baby is “twisted,” due to torticollis, this sweet spot is very difficult to reach. The jaw tilts, the tongue’s position shifts and the nipple lands in this tilted mouth, often not reaching the target spot.
It can also affect the musculoskeletal system in general. If you imagine a Christmas tree with all the ornaments on one side, you know the tree is straining to remain upright, it’s trunk feeling torsion. So too, the spine is worked and more muscles take on the strain of balancing the body.
What Can You Do To Improve Breastfeeding With Torticollis?
Luckily this condition can be solved with diligent stretches. If baby’s head turns to the left try breastfeeding in football hold on the left and cross cradle on the right. If baby’s head turns to the right then try to breastfeed in football hold on the right and cross cradle on the left.
Because torticollis impacts breastfeeding, prepare yourself to nurse in nonconventional positions. You may have to really feel this one out. Maybe your baby will only nurse while your semi reclined with her hips tilted one direction and you supporting her jaw in another position. Be creative and trust your intuition to guide you both.
When walking around, hold your baby facing away from your body. If your baby’s head tilts right, have her on a diagonal tilting to the left. If your baby’s head tilts left then hold her on the diagonal to the right.
Tummy time is also excellent.
You will need someone adept at body work for your baby to help with stretching exercises and you will want to perform stretching exercises at home.
When Should You Suspect That Your Baby Has Torticollis
Not when your baby is first born. Not when breastfeeding is going well. Not when you have just read this blog but you haven’t consulted anyone. Torticollis impacts breastfeeding. So, if breastfeeding has been a struggle, especially simply obtaining a latch– I’d recommend seeing a lactation consultant. From there you can tease it out together. As a mom, I never recommend trying to diagnose alone- even if you have a background in anatomy for professional reasons. We all need fresh eyes and a sounding board. I really believe you should have people in your corner that work with newborns. People such as lactation consultants, chiropractors, pediatricians, physical therapists….to name a few. All of those people or just one of those people can help you diagnose torticollis in your baby.
I would say, if you have seen an LC, worked on latching, gotten your baby a frenectomy (tongue tie release), tried every hold in the book and STILL struggle- torticollis impacts breastfeeding, so…this condition may be the culprit. Look closely and ask questions.
This link will take you to an expert in breastfeeding with torticollis.
A great article on torticollis.