As a parent, the word “symmetry” probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of your new baby. As therapists, symmetry is something we look for in infants to ensure they are developing on target.
Just what is symmetry? And why is it important?
Symmetry, without going into too much detail, means that your baby is using both sides of his or her body equally and is not showing a preference for using one side over the other. Babies should be kicking legs equally and be reaching out with both arms/hands equally. Babies should also be turning their heads equally to each side in all positions.
If you notice that your baby shows a preference for keeping his head turned or tilted to only one side or if you notice that your child reaches with only one arm/hand or kicks with one leg only these can be red flags for development. Babies should not appear “right handed” or “left handed” in infancy. If you notice any of these red flags in your child please speak to your pediatrician or schedule an early intervention developmental evaluation.
If your baby turns his head to only one side repeatedly, his neck muscles may be tight and he may have something called Torticollis. This often leads to a flat head on the preferred side, or Plagiocephaly. Therefore it is important that you position your baby in such a way to promote a nice round head shape. Also, babies that prefer to turn their heads to only one side may only reach with the arm/hand on their preferred side, and they may have difficulty visually tracking or following toys to each side equally.
Babies heads when they are younger can change shape easily until their skulls begin to harden around the age of one year. If your baby doesn’t have a round head shape, this is purely cosmetic, but if his neck muscles are also tight this can cause difficulty with later motor skills such a rolling, and affect sitting, crawling and walking. Also, left unaddressed the longer a child keeps his head to turned toward one side can also cause asymmetries in the face by pushing his cheek, ear or even his jaw forward or out of alignment.
How can I promote symmetry and help prevent my baby from developing a flat spot on her head (aka positional plagiocephaly)?
Again, if you notice your child showing a preference for one side of his body over the other, or if your baby is between 3-5 months of age or older and continues to turn his head to only one side and/or has a flat spot on his head that is not resolving or is getting worse please address this concern with your pediatrician and/or call for an early intervention evaluation.