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The torticollis was not my fault.

Before Bun Bun was born, I read in The One Parenting Book I Will Ever Read that many parents tend to be one-sided: They primarily hold the baby with one arm, put it the same way on the changing table, etc. Doing this puts your baby at an increased risk for torticollis (a condition where your baby gets a stiff neck, which has to be dealt with or the baby has to wear a scary helmet). Despite having read this, I am totally a one-sided parent. I can only hold babies over my left side. Bun Bun had to go to physical therapy for torticollis and Bunlet narrowly escaped having to do the same thing. Obviously a failure on my part, right?

WELL! A while back I went to Northern State University to give a talk, and before my talk I met with anyone who wanted to meet with me. One such person had a car seat in his office with a baby doll in it, which naturally led me to ask what it was used for. (Hey, I have some weird stuff in my office, too. Styrofoam models of molecules, a lot of eye masks, a very long pink jump rope…) Turns out he has an extensive line of research on the infant holding bias. Since 1960 research has been around showing that people have a bias towards holding babies on the left side! Could be a real baby, could be a fake baby, but doesn’t show up for aversive stimuli, like a pillow with a picture of a giant spider on it. (Science! How I love thee!) Men and women both show it, and you don’t have to have experience with infants to show it. It might be about the heartbeat, it might be about having your dominant hand free, though some studies show left handers have the same left bias, not a right bias as you’d expect if it’s about handedness. The prevailing theory suggests it’s heartbeat, handedness PLUS also a desire to have your baby in your left visual field. Why? Because the left visual field projects to the right hemisphere of primary visual cortex, and the right hemisphere is more specialized for emotional processing. DUDE.

Conclusions: Totally not my fault the babies got torticollis. I’m glad I get the chance to redeem myself with Bunter–we’ll see if knowledge is power. Nowhere in my many interactions over torticollis did anyone bother to mention that one-sidedness is common and hard to resist. Yet another case of psychology and pediatrics utterly failing to communicate with each other.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ana #

    so cool! I always hold my babies (now kids) on the left, too. I thought my left arm was just stronger, because I kept switching back to the left quickly even when I tried to give that side a break.

    September 1, 2015
  2. The frugal ecologist #

    Fascinating & I love visualizing the experiment subjects cradling the spider pillow.

    I however am a lefty that carries my babe in my right hand.

    September 1, 2015
    • Yeah, you lefties are highly variable. Right handers have pretty predictable brain organization, but left handers much less so.

      September 1, 2015
  3. I definitely carry babies on the left. I just figured it was my body’s way of beefing up my non-dominant arm:

    September 2, 2015
  4. Uh oh. The world is packed with things I have no clue about. Tortiwhatsit. Oh emm gee. You are speaking in a foreign language, bunny, as far as I’m concerned, but for what it’s worth I have tremendous faith in your parenting expertise.

    September 2, 2015
  5. SHU #

    WOW! i love this. i also only hold left, and I’m left-handed.

    i can also only change diapers if the head is on the left. (and i’ve changed a good #, my kids are 3 and 18 months.)

    September 3, 2015
  6. This is fascinating. I definitely carry kids (ones I babysat for, my own) on my left hip because that keeps my right hand free to do other things. I also do it because — by now — my hips are asymmetrical enough I don’t have a nice shelf to balance things on my rip hip as I do on my left. Whether this is a (partial) cause of my preference for carrying things on my left, or as a result of my preference, I don’t know.

    Joel is left-handed, so I’d be very curious to know which hip he defaults to, except that I don’t think I’ve EVER seen him to the “park a child on the hip and leave one arm free” action. He’s always been a two-arm person for holding children, and always sort of awkwardly.

    September 3, 2015
  7. This kind of casual idea transfer between academics is something I miss about life in Castalia*.

    I am another left-sided carrier. Funny enough, I had to pick up my neighbor’s little boy this morning to check. I had babies like yesterday but still honestly couldn’t remember.

    *according to Hesse

    September 3, 2015
  8. This I did not know! I want to start an observational study where I just surreptitiously (uhhh….spelling…so tired) spy on mamas and dads and babies all day, perhaps whilst sitting at a coffee shop drinking a cold drink all alone. And get paid for it. But yeah, it will be interested to see if knowledge = power in this case, or if the another annoying cause of torticollis (intrauterine position) gets in the way. As a paediatric PT, I can tell you that torticollis is a booming business right now – but usually attributed to the prevalence of toting kids everywhere in a carseat and the back to sleep movement, as I’m well sure that you know. Not that I advocate for tummy time – I recall that you hate it – baby wearing does just as well.

    September 4, 2015
    • I should maybe mention just in case anyone ever reads this for actual information about torticollis: intrauterine position is the most likely culprit in the case of my babies, AND because we slacked on tummy time AND because we’re both one sided in the same direction, it all had a cumulative effect. Baby wearing, alas, did not suffice for Bun Bun as a replacement for tummy time because she’d always have her head turned in the same direction–well do I remember trying to get her to put it the other way.

      Anyway, I’m fascinated that PTs are seeing so much of it! I also talked with the guy about the fact that many women favor the left breast for the same left visual field thing. So weird to be talking about breastfeeding in that context…

      September 4, 2015
  9. Jos #

    Science is so cool. I’m a lefty, and even though I made a concerted effort to switch which hip I carried my kids on and which breast I nursed on, I am still MUST stronger and more coordinated when I hold them on my left side (and I always default to holding them on the left to this day). Maybe I was more anal about holding on the right too sometimes just b/c I’m left hand dominant for writing/cooking/etc? As for nursing, lefty always came in with more milk and bigger in the beginning, but both of my kids ended up preferring righty, and I’m sure I encouraged the somehow so my left hand would be free to do things while they nursed. Kind of cool to think about…

    September 4, 2015
    • Jos #

      er… *much stronger, not must stronger

      September 4, 2015
  10. SRB #

    Ooooooooh! I love it when you turn on the I Have A Degree in Neuroscience! sections of my brain. Such a delightfully refreshing feeling.

    I definitely carry babies on my left and am right-handed. I think they have normal necks, but I also confess to not ever checking. That said, MY left neck/shoulder seems to be permanently fucked as a result of my Left Baby Carrying and I would like science to fix it posthaste!

    September 5, 2015
  11. Steph #

    I am right handed and have carried all of my babies on my right side with my right hand. I actually feel like my left arm isn’t strong enough or it just doesn’t feel natural for me to carry on that side. S had torticollis but I have to go back in my notes to read about the side to give you a good data point.

    September 8, 2015

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