Supporting an infant's neck

By | October 22, 2009

You look at that fragile little thing and your heart flutters with fear for its safety. You are so scared of jerking that flimsy neck supporting that big head, that you take a full minute before the baby transfers from the bed to your arms.

Well…. Life has a way of enforcing efficiency, as has confidence and observation. Trust me, I learned, and then had conversations with the doctor, other experienced people….

The first sign you get that you may be being too careful with the infant’s nect is when you want to snatch your baby back from the doctor when s/he handles him. Fact is, most infants are able to take movement of the neck comfortably. What you want is to avoid jerks, head dropping from gravity, and such horrible things.

Most of the time, if you are picking up your baby with a hand under its head, you are already doing things right. If you are supporting it in the crook of your arm, that works too, as do many other ways.

Most people will advise you to be super careful, under the belief that better safe than sorry. However, it doesn’t help if you fear damaging your child for life each time you pick him or her up. Babies will move their heads at will and often correct uncomfortable head positions themselves. Sometimes they will nod their heads to angles beyond what they are able to control, and the head will suddenly flop.

My technique is to keep my arm/hand or other body part or soft surface loosely and attentively ready to “catch” the head if it tries to go more than the baby’s usual range of movement. However, I don’t see the sense in immobilizing my son so much that he strengthens his neck through fighting restraints rather than attempting normal movement. This has gotten me grief from my mother-in-law who always holds him like he’s strapped to a splint. However, it hasn’t even earned me a whimper of discomfort from my son.

I don’t think nature ever intended us to keep our offspring unnaturally rigid till some predecided date when they miraculously started not needing support. Nisarg learns to hold his neck every day and keeps getting better at it. He can now raise his head easily when sleeping on his tummy, turns to look in every direction, and will often rub his forehead on my chest or bang his head on my breast himself. He doesn’t seem to have suffered from the wear and tear.

If you are still trying to figure out how and how much to support your infant’s neck:

  • provide support under neck and head for all horizontal positions, but it is not necessary to restrict any voluntary movement.
  • Provide support underneath for diagonal positions and be attentive for baby’s movements moving head to positions he can’t control or recover from and and situations where gravity could tax the neck muscles and cause the head to drop. This includes pulling into sitting positions for example
  • When holding baby upright, there is no real need to keep holding head, though positioning him so that he can rest on your chest or shoulder and keeping one hand on is a good idea. Don’t “hold”, just keep it there for comfort and readiness.

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