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Newborns have such floppy necks that they need support while being held. The question I have about this is, what are we trying to protect in supporting the head/neck ? My wife and I have a few possible ideas about this but aren't sure which (if any) are accurate.

  • You want to support the neck/head to prevent the head from moving in an uncontrolled way, which could damage the brain.
  • Neck support could prevent the neck from being injured somehow. For example, if the neck is tilted to one side and a sudden muscle spasm pulls the head in the other direction, the baby could pull a muscle or something like that.
  • Head/neck support might just be a way of stabilizing baby to make him easier to hold, and less prone to "jumping" out of one's arms.

Or perhaps there is another reason entirely ?

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The greatest danger, according to my pediatrician ('cause I was curious and asked the same question when my first was brand-new), is brain trauma, commonly known as Shaken Baby Syndrome. The neck muscles are so weak that the head bobs around, and as it bobs around the brain can slosh around inside the skull (depending obviously on the force of the bob). Also, the uncontrolled neck movements can cause whiplash and tear muscles and ligaments.

  • Just to add a tidbit, You or I can turn our head shoulder to shoulder without a 2nd thought. This movement could hurt newborns muscles if the baby actually knew how to do it. The baby's musculature in the neck is weak AND tight and fragile AND it's an inexperienced newborn mind. – monsto Oct 16 '13 at 18:10
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It is so vital to support the head and neck of a newborn baby. This is because if you allow the head to loll back for even a relatively short period of time, it cuts of the supply of oxygen through the trachaea so that they can suffocate. Try holding your neck backwards for as long as you can and you'll see precisely what I mean!

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    Yes, this is called "positional asphyxia". Note that the risk is not limited to holding the neck backwards; it can happen from bending in any direction. However, positional asphyxia is mainly a problem when the baby is lying down incorrectly, not while being held (where it will typically be moved from time to time). Still, good thing to be aware of. – sleske Apr 8 '16 at 12:42
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I am not a doctor. I am an EMT who was in paramedic school but had to drop out to have triplets. They were born six weeks early and came home on heart rate monitors. So I have some training and experience. But I'm still not a doctor, and this just the way I understand the issue.

Newborn heads are incredibly large relative to their bodies. They do not have the musculature to support it. So it is very easy for infants to experience hyperflexion of tissues and the spine and cause brain damage. This has been asked on stackexchange before.

A newborn is unable to keep their airway open on their own even while awake. If an infant's head is not properly supported the primary concern is that the airway will close and they will not be able to cry to tell you there is a problem. Newborn heart rates tend to decline rapidly with loss of oxygen (called "A's & B's" or apnea and bradycardia), and so they can go into cardiac arrest. I've watched this happen several times while my babies were in the NICU and it's very scary. It's why some parents buy breathing or motion monitors. And that's the only way I got what little sleep I did.

Most of the airway issues are with laying them down. You want to make sure the nose is pointing up if they are on their back or that they are on their side. You may need to place something under their neck to hold it up and keep the airway open.

A seated baby's head can roll forward and cutoff the airway. This is why preemies are sometimes tested in carseats and there are carseats specifically made for preemies. In an ambulance preemies and infants are transported lying down to prevent this.

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    not sure why the downvote -- if you know the answer is inaccurate -- please explain! It certainly answers: "Why is it important to support a newborn's neck?" I won't upvote until I know this is accurate, but the downvote is not helpful without an explanation. – WRX Apr 17 '17 at 15:57

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