The SIDS campaign has been incredibly successful with its “back to sleep” message. I totally support this initiative. What hasn’t been so effective has been promoting the other side of the message which is “tummy time or vertical to play”.
The past fifteen years we have seen an explosion in the management of flat head syndrome or plagiocephaly, with baby helmets rivalling bottled water as a growth industry! Absolutely, sleep our littlies on their backs but introduce awake tummy time as soon as you can. Your baby doesn’t have to go on the floor: they can be on your chest, across your lap or on the change table. You can roll them onto their tummy to dry their back after a bath. Tummy time is crucial for development of strong back and neck muscles and heads that don’t have a flat spot because your baby prefers to turn their head one way.
Our resident baby model Gracie (first offspring of physiotherapists Christy and Mitch) demonstrates some positions of choice with a skin to skin ( kangaroo) cuddle with Dad and using a bed nest to help with head control and elbow position (see how elbows are under Grace’s shoulders).
Sometimes babies can have a shortened neck muscle which is located at the front and side of their neck. It’s called the sternocleidomastoid muscle and the condition is commonly called torticollis. It can be associated with flat head syndrome because a baby has difficulties turning their head due to the muscle on one side of the neck being tight and the muscle on the opposite side being weaker. The goal is to get your baby to sleep with their head turned to their least favourite side – not so easy when they are sleeping 18 hours per day (or not sleeping at all). In my next post I’ll give you some sneaky tricks to help with this and some practical hints.
But to finish up tonight, here’s a tip: babies start consistently eye following horizontally at about six weeks of age. This is a good way to start them turning their heads. They can focus on someone (usually Mum or Dad – the loves of their life and ultimate protectors!) from a hand spans’ distance. Put your thumb on your nose and spread your hand and your little finger: this is where bub will need to be to focus on you. Then get them to start to eye follow from side to side, gradually increasing the range until they are experts!