Positioning your baby to sleep

Positioning your baby to sleep – something every mum needs to remember. A must read article to ensure that you are correctly positioning your baby in the cot, car, pram, bassinet etc to avoid flat spots on babies head and to ensure that your baby doesn’t have a short neck muscle known as torticollis.

With so much going on when you have a baby, it can be hard to remember some of the basics. What I am going to tell you may sound obvious or may ring alarm bells.

This is my second child – my elder son is 2 ½ and our days are really busy. My second son, now 4 months was really tough. I didn’t realize just how run off my feet I would be when I had my second baby. Apart from breastfeeding round the clock, my son up until 10 weeks cried a lot unless he was feeding or sleeping, he honestly seemed miserable when he was awake.

As I was also very busy with my toddler, I suppose some things went unnoticed. For example, I never really thought about changing my son’s head position in the cot. I seemed to do it religiously with my first but I didn’t really think about doing it much with my second. Although my first son developed a flat spot on the back of his head, the maternal health nurse said it was nothing to be concerned about. My second son started to develop a flat spot on the left side of his head – this is known as “PLAGIOCEPHALY” and can cause asymmetry in the face and skull. When plagiocephaly is severe, often the baby will need to wear a helmet to correct the shape of the head. Early awareness and detection of a babies head preference means that you can correct the positioning and hopefully avoid having to get a helmet. It is best to see your paediatrician or maternal health nurse to be sure that the flattening is not severe and on ways to improve movement of the head.

As my son is a good sleeper (as mentioned he cried a lot so sleeping seemed to make him happy) – he did develop a severe flat spot and some asymmetry started to develop. Once I began to try to correct this I realized that my son was favoring his left position so much that he resisted when I tried to move his head to the right. I also soon realized that his head was really lopsided especially after he was ten weeks old.

It may sound strange that I didn’t pick up on this earlier but I guess I thought that the flat spot on the side of this head was just the same as a flat spot on the back of the head – I didn’t really think any harm could come from it. Also, he slept a lot so he was tucked away in his room and I tried to reason with myself that when he started to come out of this crying phase I would catch up on the things I needed to do for him.

Once I started to become more active in tummy time I realized that my son definitely had some issues as he continued to pull his neck to his left preference. After doing some research I began to question whether my son’s ‘plagiocephaly’ was caused by tightness in his neck muscle – known as torticollis. Torticollis occurs in about 1 out of 200 babies and is thought to occur from the babies position in the womb or a traumatic labour and is also more common amongst twins. As the neck muscle is shorter than the other, it pulls the neck to the opposite side – hence also causing a flattening on one side of the head.

In essence, the main things you need to do are continually alter the position of your babies head or move them around to the opposite side so that they are always facing out and do lots of tummy time to strengthen the neck muscle. Try to do this from birth at every nappy change. Tummy time helps to not only strengthen neck muscles but also aids in motor skills later on. Although most babies will scream, the more you do it, the more it becomes part of an everyday routine for them. I realize this is easier said than done and when you have other things going on in your life – whether its work, children etc you can lose track of keeping an eye on some of the basic up-keeping in relation to your baby.

Whilst torticollis is not something you could have avoided, early detection will help to resolve the issue a lot quicker. A physical therapist specializing in paediatrics will help to show you the appropriate neck exercises should your baby have the condition. It is fully treatable and the earlier the better. Since becoming aware of the condition, my son has started to recover from it, although we still have some weeks of therapy to stretch and strengthen his neck muscle. The flatness on his left side is still there but probably not as severe as it was due to some growth spurts and also re-positioning in the cot.

I hope that this can help bring some early awareness and detection for you.  When writing this article, no support aids  were available to provide the head, neck and spine support I required for my baby.