Baby Tilting Head To Shoulder Teething -All Possible Reasons

baby tilting head to shoulder teething

Newborn babies are a delight: they teach you new things and give you a whole new perspective on life. But they are also very peculiar and every baby has their quirks; it can sometimes make you wonder what they are doing exactly. One such thing that some parents notice is their little one leaning to one side.

Tilting the head to one side when they are sleeping, lying down, or being held can mean a few different things. Two of the major reasons for a baby’s head tilt are an ear infection or teething. It could also be caused by congenital muscular torticollis. 

Torticollis can be caused by a neck trauma, brain or eye injury, swelling in the neck, or simply because of your toddler learning to walk upright. It might sound a bit scary but don’t worry! Torticollis isn’t a life-threatening disease or a major cause of concern and the problem can be rectified with simple exercises at home. 

Let’s find out a little more about all the reasons for baby tilting head to shoulder, teething, and what you need to fix it.

Baby Tilting Head To Shoulder Due To Ear Infection

If you notice your newborn tilts his head to his shoulder and refuses to keep it straight despite your repeated efforts, the first thing you can check for is an ear infection.

When babies get colds, their tiny nasal tubes can sometimes swell, which prevents fluid from draining. This fluid can then sometimes get trapped behind the eardrum, creating the perfect environment to host viruses or bacteria and leading to ear infections.

Statistics show that more than 80% of children are diagnosed with infections in the middle-ear at least once before their third birthday. If your baby is constantly tilting their head to their shoulder and running a temperature, then it could be a sign of an ear infection. You should consult your pediatrician immediately, who might suggest visiting an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) if necessary.

Usually, doctors prescribe an antibiotic if the infection is severe, or they’ll suggest a pain reliever like anesthetic ear drops to make your little bub more comfortable and less cranky.

How Can You Tell The Difference Between Teething And An Ear Infection?

Tilting the head towards the shoulder, tugging ears, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and crying more than usual are all signs of an infection in the ear, but all of these are also symptoms of teething. How do you know if your little one is suffering from an infection or teething?

When your baby starts teething, the nerves present in the back teeth branch out to the middle ear, which might make them feel like the pain is commencing from the ear. This makes your baby tug those ears and tilt their head towards their shoulder. That’s why it can be confusing at first. However, if the tilting head is combined with a fever that is around 104 degrees Fahrenheit and your little tot is extremely uncomfortable in the lying down position, it is likely that he or she has an ear infection. Babies also develop a cold and sometimes you will notice some discharge from their ear. These are all clear signs of an infection.

While teething, your baby may not have a fever, and even if he or she does, it will be below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius. Your little one will be cranky, irritated, and might even refuse food or find it difficult to eat. Check the gums and if you notice that they’re swollen and red, it is a clear sign of teething.

All Other Possible Reasons Baby Tilting Head To Shoulder

Now that you know that ear infections or teething can cause your baby to tilt head to shoulder, there are also some other possible reasons that your little one is doing it. When it comes to babies, it could be even nothing, but here are the three most possible reasons.

Baby Torticollis or Wryneck

The most common reason why your baby might be tilting their head to their shoulder is because of congenital muscular torticollis.

Torticollis, also known as wryneck, is a problem that babies have at birth in the neck muscles, which are responsible for them tilting their heads. This usually happens when babies are born with a small knot of tangled fibers in one of the neck muscles on the side, which is known as the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM). The tangled knot results in the sternocleidomastoid muscle being shorter on one side, forcing the baby to tilt its head towards the direction of this shorter muscle.

Now that you know the scientific reason behind your little one tilting their head to one side, we are sure it will help you understand your baby’s condition better. Congenital muscular torticollis is the most common type of torticollis and is present at birth. The knot develops in the muscle when the baby is in the womb and happens when the baby is cramped for space or is in the breech position.

It usually takes a few weeks before the parents notice the symptoms or it may be detected by the pediatrician when they notice a small lump on the side of the baby’s neck.

Acquired Torticollis

 baby tilting head to shoulder teething

When a newborn gets torticollis after birth, it is called “acquired torticollis”. There is no one specific reason why babies get torticollis post-birth, but there are some common reasons or issues that are known. It could have been caused due to difficult childbirth, like breech delivery or difficult first-time deliveries; bone/spine problems because of the infant’s abnormal position in the womb; or from an inherited nervous problem.

Unlike congenital muscular torticollis, acquired torticollis can be difficult to detect in babies initially. The symptoms are not very clear, and you may not notice anything unusual with your baby until they gain some control over their head and neck movements. Once your baby has strengthened those head and neck muscles, there are some signs and behaviors that you might notice if your baby is suffering from torticollis.

  1. Your little one is tilting their head to one side, but the chin is pointing towards the opposite shoulder.
  2. Statistics show that 75% of babies are affected by acquired torticollis on the right side, so if your baby tilts their head to the right side, it may be a sign.
  3. Baby finds it difficult to turn head up or down or even from side to side.
  4. You notice a soft lump present in your baby’s neck muscle.
  5. You notice flat areas on the baby’s face on either side or a flat head from lying in one position most of the time.

When you notice any of the above symptoms, it is best to consult your pediatrician immediately.

Does Torticollis Go Away?

Yes, it does. With timely treatment, both acquired and congenital torticollis can be treated. If your baby has been diagnosed with either, don’t worry. With simple stretching exercises that you can even do at home in most cases, you can help your baby ease that cramped, knotted neck muscle.

As a mom, it can be difficult for you to see your baby having difficulty moving their head and tilting their head to one side all the time. But with simple exercises and stretching, your bub will be fine in no time. If you feel that making your tiny baby perform these exercises is a bit taxing for you or you feel unsure, you can always consult a pediatric physiotherapist, physical therapist, osteopath, or chiropractor for extra support and guidance.

Torticollis is not painful; it only causes your baby discomfort when he or she tries to move their neck. It does, however, need to be detected and treated early to prevent long-term side effects like delayed walking or sitting, poor balance, uncontrolled head movements, and feeding problems.

Once torticollis is diagnosed and the physical therapist or parents begin stretching exercises, most babies start showing results within 6 months and gain more control over their neck muscles and movements. Continuing the exercises and sticking to the treatment plan is of utmost importance to speed up recovery and completely cure torticollis.

Klippel-Feil Syndrome

Another reason for head tilt can be Klippel-Feil syndrome, a very rare condition wherein two or more cervical vertebrae are fused together. This is present from birth and babies with Klippel-Feil syndrome have a short, broad neck with very limited movement.

It affects 1 in 40,000 newborns across the world and cannot be treated using stretching exercises, unlike torticollis. You need to see a doctor if you suspect your baby is suffering from Klippel-Feil syndrome.

Final Words From BizzieMommy!

Fussing about your baby and making sure they are okay comes with being a mom! Every mom wants her baby’s development to stay on track and for her baby to be healthy and safe. The minute you notice a weird thing, you might panic, but always remember to take a deep breath. First, find out what exactly is wrong because many times, it’s absolutely nothing. Your baby might just be fooling around with you!

Baby tilting their head to their shoulder because of teething is very common and so is acquired and congenital torticollis. Now that you know all the symptoms and all the possible reasons for the baby’s head tilting to the shoulder, we hope you feel better and ready to take the next steps.

Stephanie Edenburgh

I'm Steph, a mom to 3 beautiful children and lover all things having to do with my family and being a mom. I've learned a lot raising my own children and working in education and healthcare roles throughout my career. Living in beautiful Southern California I enjoy documenting and writing about all of the hard work us mom's do on a daily basis.

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