Early Intervention is Key in Young Children.
Some little ones would benefit from manual therapy at OMPT Specialists Physical Therapy, to address muscle tightness, weakness, or movement restrictions from conditions like torticollis or shoulder dystocia. Others may require a helmet to restore head shape prior to the skull maturing. Plagiocephaly, otherwise known as flat head, is also common in newborns.
In addition to formal interventions such as Physical Therapy treatment or helmets there are a lot of changes that can be made at home to help get a jump start.
Tummy time can start right away.
Babies are born with protective physiological flexion: from being in the womb they have tight muscles (contractures) in their neck flexor muscles. Tummy time offers them an opportunity to lengthen out those tight muscles and strengthen their neck. With newborns, parents/caregivers can have the baby lay on their chest, talk to the baby, and encourage them to look for you. Start off with several short stretches lasting a few minutes and progress to the floor and longer intervals. Use age-appropriate toys such as mirrors, rattles, a favorite teether to encourage the baby to lift their head. You may notice they like to look to one side more than the other, if so try to spend more time encouraging them to look to the opposite side. In infants with shoulder dystocia, they may be less willing to weight bear on one side. Focus on support and symmetry in play, this can help to address muscle imbalances. As always, tummy time should be supervised until baby is rolling independently and consistently.
The use of swings and supine support systems.
Swings and other supine support systems can be great help for busy parents who need a safe place to put infants, but it should be used for short durations and not for sleeping. You may have heard of “container baby syndrome” which refers to infants who spend too much time in swings, bouncers, or car seats. This is also a risk factor for plagiocephaly and other development delays.
When it comes to sleep most babies sleep in a rectangular crib that sits up against a wall. If they want to see the world around them, they will turn their head to face the open room. Placing a baby to bed sometimes with their head to the right and other times with their head to the left can help to even out head turning, but can also be used to encourage turning to the less favored side, in case of plagiocephaly.
There are a lot of great resources available out there to help see if little ones are meeting their milestones including the CDC’s milestone tracking app. Early intervention is key as the skull will mature in young children and harden as fontanelles close. If you are wondering if Physical Therapy is the right fit for your little one you can always schedule a free consultation with one of our therapists at OMPT Specialists!
By Beth Henigan, DPT, OMPT and Nicole Mikulski, DPT, OMPT