As if life as a new mum wasn’t challenging enough, Vanese Lau’s baby was born with a congenital neck disorder…

“My baby was born with a twisted neck”

“Pointing to my 4-day-old baby’s tiny neck, my mother-in-law asked my husband Raymond and me, ‘What’s this on Victoria’s neck?’. I couldn’t see anything at first, but on closer investigation and a little prodding, I saw and felt a little hard lump on the right side of her neck that was as big as a 20 cent coin.

I then noticed that the right side of my daughter’s neck was stiff and that she preferred lying on her left, whether it was to look at something, breastfeed or even sleep. We tried to prop her up on her right but after several minutes, she’d always turn to her left.

Worried for my newborn’s health, I Googled her symptoms and kept getting results related to a condition called torticollis. I finally found an informative piece on WebMD and started reading up on congenital torticollis (or twisted neck), which causes the head to tilt to the opposite shoulder. If it’s not treated, it may limit mobility of the head and neck and cause the face and skull to grow unevenly. The article also stated that while torticollis is highly treatable, it’s best to deal with the condition as soon as possible.

I immediately made an appointment to see a paediatrician to confirm that Victoria did indeed have torticollis, which affects one in 2,000 babies. She said it probably came about because Victoria was a breech baby — being in an upright position in utero didn’t give her much space to move her head and neck around. We were also happy to learn that although she was uncomfortable, Victoria was not in any pain.

To get a better look at the lump and rule out other medical conditions, we took her to get a scan at Mount Alvernia Hospital. Trying to keep Victoria still while cold gel was applied on her was a real feat. On checking the scans, the paediatrician ruled out cancer, but advised us to start her on physiotherapy to rectify the torticollis.

At our first session, we learnt how to release the tension in her neck with a stretching exercise. We had to raise Victoria’s chin and stretch it to the right and hold it for 15 seconds. We had to do five sets of this, three times a day.

It sounded simple enough and the physiotherapist made it look easy, but it was challenging for amateurs like my husband and myself. It also didn’t help that Victoria was so young — she screamed her little lungs out whenever we started doing the stretches. Being able to successfully finish one set was a good day for me.

Since we were not doing the exercises properly, the physiotherapist didn’t see much improvement in my daughter during her follow-up sessions. I started feeling stressed, since I knew that if we didn’t get the condition treated now, it would be harder to correct later as Victoria’s muscles started getting stronger. Juggling my duties as a first-time mum while trying to carry out the exercises also left me exhausted.

On days when it all got a bit too much and I was ready to give up, my husband’s perseverance was what kept me going. The minute he came home from work, he would wash his hands and head straight to Victoria and help her with the exercises. He was my rock during those stressful months.

Victoria’s preference for resting on her left side also caused her to get flat head syndrome — the left side of her head is slightly flatter than her right side. While it wasn’t harming her, we had to prevent the condition from worsening by encouraging her to use her right side. We placed all her toys on her right, so that she would face that direction. I kept offering her my right breast when I nursed her and got her to sleep on a doughnut-shaped pillow.

Things started looking up one day when, just for the fun of it, I distracted Victoria with a nursery rhyme video clip on my mobile phone while I did her exercises. I placed the device on the right side and she was so fascinated by it, she didn’t move an inch. We finally found a way to keep her still!

From then on, exercising her became less stressful and since I could perform it properly, we started seeing improvements in her. After just five months, the lump on Victoria’s neck was completely gone. Even our paediatrician was amazed.

Victoria still has mild flat head syndrome, though it’ll be less noticeable once her hair grows out. But I’m so happy that we caught her condition early and the worst is behind us.”

Vanese Lau, a HR manager, lives in Yishun with her husband Raymond, a project manager, and daughter Victoria, 2.

This story was first published in the June 2015 issue of Mother & Baby Singapore.

Photo: INGimage

Torticollis — The Facts

SmartParents expert and paediatrician Dr Low Kah Tzay explains this condition.

• INFANT TORTICOLLIS refers to a fixed position of the head and neck when these are tilted, rotated or bent. This condition arises because of the baby’s position when it was in the womb. On rare occasions, it’s caused by a tumour.

• SIGNS The baby tilts or rotates her head to a particular side. This condition gives rise to plagiocephaly (the flattening of one side of the skull), or sometimes, an asymmetrical face or jawline.

• TREATMENT Physiotherapy, which includes manual stretching, is usually recommended. Babies who have persistent torticollis despite physical therapy may be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon.

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