Is your newborn tilting her head when you hold her, when she lies down or sits?
Or perhaps, she always has her head tilted to one side?
If so, you are not alone.
Such involuntary behaviour is not uncommon amongst the little ones.
My younger daughter kept tilting her head to the right side, which was evident only when she sat on my lap. Perhaps, that’s why I never noticed it.
I was surprised to learn about this during family lunch from the aunt sitting across the table, who had a good view of Lena. My little girl was just 4 months old at that time.
After an urgent visit to the doctor, it turned out there was nothing to panic about. And it took only a few weeks to get sorted out. By itself.
So, let’s talk about 5 potential reasons why your little one may be tilting her head to one side.
Why Does My Baby’s Head Tilt To One Side?
The most common reason your baby tilts her head to one side is congenital torticollis – a condition where her neck muscles become tight from one side. If diagnosed early, it can be easily corrected at home, with a few simple exercises. Much rarer causes of head tilting include acquired torticollis, abnormal head posture caused by eyes problems, Sandifer Syndrome, Klippel-Feil Syndrome or brain development issues.
1. Infant Torticollis
Torticollis, also called wryneck or twisted neck, is a condition that commonly occurs in infants.
The main symptom of torticollis is that the muscles on one side of the neck are tightened and shortened. This is causing a limited range of motion in the neck and pulling the head to the affected side.
Girls and boys are equally affected by this disorder, and 75% of cases are skewed towards the right.
Other common symptoms of torticollis include:
- Asymmetrical appearance of the face
- Flattening of one side of the head, called positional plagiocephaly, resulting from the baby sleeping on the same side all the time.
- Small lump in the neck caused by constricted muscles. This lump will disappear once you start the exercise recommended by the therapist.
- Preference for breastfeeding only from one side.
Torticollis comes in two forms – congenital and acquired. Their treatments differ significantly, so it is important to diagnose them correctly.
1.1 Congenital Torticollis
It is a more common type, occurring in babies at birth. This condition usually arises when the baby is in an abnormal position in the womb. Or due to trauma experienced during a difficult delivery with ventouse or forceps.
When this disorder is caught early, it is easy to treat at home with physical exercise, as per the doctor’s advice.
Most likely, you’ll need to encourage your baby to turn the head in all directions – not only the preferred side. You’ll also need to perform stretching exercises to strengthen the muscles on the other side of the head and loosen the stiffened ones.
Besides this, there are also a few other easy tweaks you can do to improve the neck muscles. Such as the folowing:
- Give your baby plenty of tummy time. Performing this activity is excellent for the general development of baby core muscle. But it is even more essential in the treatment of torticollis. That’s because it will help strengthen neck muscles on the weaker side.
- Turn the baby bed round on alternate days so that baby turns her head on both sides and stretches the neck muscles.
- When the baby is in the bouncer, you should arrange the toys so she can look in all directions and use her entire body muscles.
- When placed in the bouncer, roll a muslin and put it against the side on which she tends to tilt her head. This will prevent her hed to tilt to that side.
If stretching exercises do not improve the posture, physical therapy may be needed.
And in extreme cases, if the baby does not respond to physical treatments, surgery may also be recommended. However, it is highly unlikely.
1.2 Acquired Torticollis
Acquired torticollis is a far rarer disorder and affects older children rather than babies.
There are several possible causes for acquired torticollis. These include: trauma, neck arthritis, inflammation of the throat or reaction to certain medications.
The tilting head is typically accompanied by neck pain, limited neck movement, headaches, or swollen neck muscles.
The treatment of acquired torticollis is completely different from congenital torticollis. It usually involves easing the symptoms and treating the underlying cause with medication, i.e. antibiotics.
2. Ocular Abnormal Head Posture (AHP)
Abnormal Head Posture is diagnosed when the head or face tilts to either side, when the chin tilts upwards or downwards, or when the combination of any of these symptoms occurs.
AHP can develop at any age, but it is most prevalent in early childhood and becomes more prominent as the visual system matures.
Baby’s tilting head is a clear symptom of AHP. The tilting is caused by certain eye conditions and the natural body response to correct it. Therefore, if the vision from one eye is perceived as weaker than that from the other eye, the brain will try to compensate it by tilting the head to equalize it.
There are a few eyes disorders that may cause development of AHP. These are:
- Eye misalignment
When a child has crossed eyes, she may tilt her head to find the position where the eyes are best aligned. Such a reaction will prevent double vision or blurring and relieve the strain on the eyes.
- Difference in vision between the eyes
Often a child will tilt her head to position the eye with better vision closer to the target, so she can see it better.
Nystagmus can be developed in babies around 2-3 months of age. This condition causes rhythmic back and forth eye jerking in horizontal or vertical directions. Because of this movement, the eyes cannot clearly convey what they see to the brain. So, to improve the vision, a child instinctively tilts the head to find the position where eyes movement is minimal.
The treatment of abnormal head posture focuses on curing the eye condition. It may involve surgical procedures, prescribed glasses, or other measures.
So, if you are concerned your little one may have abnormal head posture, you should get a comprehensive eye exam performed to rule out any vision issues.
It is a rare condition found in babies up to 24 months old. Typically, it is associated with severe acid reflux – gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Although it is not a life-threatening illness, it causes discomfort during feeding and may lead to poor weight gain in babies.
Sandifer syndrome is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms can indicate many other disorders.
Among the most prominent symptoms are tilted neck and dystonia – involuntary contraction of muscles that cause babies to suddenly arch their backs. And arching backs may be associatd with so many other issues.
Such episodes last no longer than a minute or two and may occur up to 10 times a day, usually after eating.
Other symptoms include head nodding, involuntary eye movement, poor feeding and weight gain, trouble sleeping, irritability, or making gurgling sounds.
Treatment of Sandifer syndrome basically revolves around treating reflux. So to do that, adjustments may be needed to the baby’s diet, as well as medical treatment.
The good news is that once the reflux is treated, the condition goes away entirely.
It is a very rare bone disorder causing the fusion of two or more spinal bones of the neck.
This abnormal bone joining manifests itself by a short neck and consequently a low hairline at the back of the head and limited movement of the head and neck.
The condition occurs at birth. Though mild cases may not show until additional symptoms appear. These may include; headache and chronic muscle pain in the neck, spinal problems such as scoliosis, rib defects, malformation of the ear, nose, mouth, head and facial area, anomalies of kidneys, urinary tract, heart and lung defects, central nervous system damage and many other scary abnormalities.
Currently, the exact cause for Kippel-Feil syndrome is unknown. But it is most likely related to a genetic mutation in the last three genes. The treatment for this condition is determined by the severity of the symptoms and may involve input from a multidisciplinary team of medical specialists.
5. Brain problems
Tilting heads in babies and children can also indicate various brain issues.
Even though brain problems are relatively rare, it is vital to be aware that they do exist, as well as their most common symptoms.
5.1 Brain development issues
There is a possibility that one hemisphere of the brain is developing faster than the other, which would explain a tilted head.
5.2 Brain inflammation
Brain inflammation can be caused by infection, hormonal disorder, food allergies such as gluten and dairy intolerance. These factors can affect brain function and cause damage to the vestibular system.
5.3 Brain tumour
In rare instances, if the child has a stiff neck and holds her head at an awkward angle – this could indicate a brain tumour. However, often there are other associated symptoms to look out for. TSuch as persistent headaches, change in vision, feeling of nausea, reduction in motor skills, failure to grow or even episodes of seizures.
If you suspect your child has a brain tumour, go to the doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment.
6. Final Few Lines
There you have it.
5 different reasons why your baby may have tilted her head to one side.
Although most of the conditions I described look rather frightening, they are also extremely rare.
Therefore, the chances are your child developed “just” stiff neck muscles from being positioned on the same side all the time. You can fix this problem quite easily, by getting your baby to change sides and stretching these muscles.
But, you should always trust your instincts. So, id something does not feel right, go to the doctor and have it checked out.