All babies are different. They have different preferences in how they like to eat, how they like to be held, and how they like to sleep.
For instance, you might have one baby that loves to be swaddled super tight and another that may completely despise any type of restriction. Some babies even show a preference in the direction they like to look, favoring the left or right side.
This preference is often a result of how a baby was positioned in the womb or could stem from complications at birth. Always looking in one direction is a condition known as torticollis and can be corrected while a baby is still young.
Torticollis simply means that your baby has tight muscles on one side of his neck and stretched muscles on the other side, causing him to be unable to turn his head in another direction.
If you have even had it as a fleeting thought that, ‘my baby always looks to the right,’ then you need to take action.
A head direction preference, if left alone, could result in some more serious complications like uneven head shape, damage to hair growth, and even shortened muscle development.
Make sure you talk to your pediatrician about your concerns as she can recommend the next best course of action. However, there are a few corrective remedies you can try at home to encourage your baby to turn their head to the left instead of always being turned to the right.
Sleep on your baby’s left side
Most babies want to be facing their primary caregiver in both waking and sleeping. To encourage your child to turn his head in the less-favored direction, try placing the bassinet, so the caregiver is on the opposite side.
This could encourage your baby to at least sleep with his head in that direction. For a baby in daycare, or without their primary caregiver, you can place a shirt or stuffed animal on the left side of the crib, so the baby still has the scent when napping.
When opting to use an object, be mindful of placing objects inside a crib for its risk of SIDS.
Position the bassinet near a wall
If your baby likes to look to the right, then position the bassinet so the baby would be looking at a wall if his head was turned to the right. In general, babies prefer to look out into a room.
Realizing that he can only see a wall unless he turns his head would be another motivating factor to practice turning to the left.
Feed your baby on the left side
This is a tough suggestion to follow through on as it can make your baby very fussy and frustrated, but one that can have some serious impact.
Your baby may not enjoy having to turn his head to the left to eat but will be very motivated to do so to get fed.
Note that this strategy should only really be used once your baby has a good breastfeeding relationship established.
Learning how to breastfeed while trying to stretch neck muscles might make your baby even more frustrated and unable to concentrate on a comfortable latch.
Perform neck massages and stretches
Your baby is turning his head to the right because of tight and shortened muscles going up from his chest bone and collar bone to his skull.
These tight muscles will loosen through stretches and massages. Gentle rubbing on the tight muscle and very gentle pulling of the neck and shoulder will help strengthen and lengthen them.
If you are uncomfortable doing neck massages or stretching on your baby, make sure you talk to your doctor about what types of stretches and massages you should be doing. Your pediatrician may refer you to a physical therapist for a more detailed list of exercises to try with your child.
Practice tummy time
Even though most infants despise tummy time, and a baby who only looks to the right may be the most indignant of them all, encouraging your baby to hold their head up without support helps him gain muscle strength and stretch his tight neck muscles.
An easy way to get through tummy time with a less than thrilled baby is to place the baby on his tummy and sit or lay on the baby’s left side.
From there, you can sing, talk, use a toy, and make noises to encourage the baby to look towards you.
Tummy time can be a rather exhausting activity even for the strongest of babies, so be sure to monitor if your child is getting too tired to continue and give him a break. In general, 10-15 minutes of focused tummy time during the day is plenty.
See a physical therapist.
After trying all of the methods above consistently to motivate your baby to look in other directions. You should consider physical therapy if you do not see any changes.
The physical therapist can work with you and your child on specific stretches, massages, and muscle release techniques to promote the turning of your baby’s head in other directions.
Depending on the severity of the head turn, your baby’s physical therapist may want to see you and your child as frequently as once every week.
As your child’s neck, muscles get stronger, and he gets more efficient and comfortable with looking in other directions, that time with the therapist can drop to every other week.
However, long between therapy sessions, make sure you continue to work with your baby at home on his stretches, massages, and neck turning encouragement games.
For any of these corrective remedies you try, do not get discouraged. Continue to practice them and encourage your baby to turn his head consistently.
It can take anywhere from six months to a year to correct torticollis. While this may seem like a long time, it is comforting to know that torticollis is completely reversible. Your baby will be able to look in any direction he wants.