After babies pass through the birth canal, it’s natural for their heads to appear pointy or long during the first days of life. It will take time for parts of their skull to move, fuse, and settle into a shape while maintaining its softness to accommodate your baby’s growing brain.
But if a baby’s head appears to be misshapen for weeks after birth, then this may be a sign that they’ve developed flat head syndrome, or what is also known as plagiocephaly.
Two types of Plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome
There are 2 types of Plagiocephaly: positional plagiocephaly and congenital plagiocephaly.
The most frequent type of flat head syndrome is positional plagiocephaly, also known as deformational plagiocephaly. It affects up to 50% of babies, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Congenital plagiocephaly, on the other hand, is a rare birth condition. Sutures, the fibrous gaps between the skull bones, prematurely close in babies with this disorder. As a result, the head develops an odd shape.
How does Positional Plagiocephaly manifest in a Flat Head Syndrome?
Plagiocephaly usually manifests as flat spots on any part of the head, which can be the result of prolonged pressure after lying down in a certain position for too long.
A baby’s sleep posture is the most common cause of a flattened head. Because infants spend so much time on their backs, their heads can flatten in one region. This can happen in infant car seats, carriers, strollers, swings, and bouncy seats, as well as while they sleep.
Premature babies, whose skulls are softer than babies born full-term, are more at risk of developing flattened heads. Another reason is that they may spend too much time lying down, having to spend months in a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) or nursery.
It could also be attributed to neck muscle problems. Even before they are born, babies can develop this syndrome, if their skulls are subjected to too much pressure from their mother’s pelvis or if they are born with a twin.
Tight neck muscles produce a flat head syndrome, which makes it difficult for babies to turn their heads. Torticollis is the medical term for this disorder of the neck. Because it is difficult for babies to turn their heads, they tend to lie down with their heads in the same posture. Flattening can occur as a result of this. Torticollis might then worsen once the head develops a flat region.
But worry not, this condition doesn’t harm or hinder your baby’s growing brain! It does, however, threaten the appearance of your baby’s head, which could have negative socioemotional effects later on in life.
Photo by Lisa from Pexels
How to spot a flat head in my newborn?
Flat head syndrome can be observed through the following signs:
- On one side of the baby’s head, the back is flatter.
- On that area of the head, the newborn normally has less hair.
- Looking down at the baby’s head, the flattened side’s ear may appear pushed forward.
In severe situations, the forehead may protrude and seem uneven on the side opposite the flattening. If torticollis is to blame, the neck, jaw, and face may be unequal as well.
How is Flat Head Syndrome diagnosed?
When doctors examine the baby’s head, they are often able to diagnose flat head syndrome. To check for torticollis, the doctor may watch how a baby moves the head and neck. In most cases, no medical tests are required.
Baby with no flat head syndrome (left) baby with flat head syndrome (right) (photo: pinterest)
There’s good news: flat head syndrome is not a medical condition that requires surgical intervention. Flat spots that are minor can resolve on their own, but you should visit your doctor about the severity of your baby’s condition.
Here’s how it can be prevented and treated.
4 ways to prevent and treat flat head syndrome
1. Change your baby’s head position when asleep
Remember to place your baby on her back while sleeping and to keep in mind sleep safety guidelines!
Babies are at most risk for flat head syndrome or plagiocephaly in the first four months of life, before they can roll over on their own. It is highly suggested for you to always put your babies to sleep on their back to reduce Sudden Infant Death or SIDS.
To avoid flat head syndrome, make sure to reposition your baby’s head from side to side as they sleep. Remember to keep the round part of their head touching the mattress. Avoid using pillows to keep your baby in a certain position, as this may increase the risk of choking or aspiration.
2. Alternate where you place them down in the crib
If you’re right-handed, then you usually carry your baby with the left and then lay them down in their crib using your right hand. Once you leave them in their crib, babies tend to turn to look to the other side, causing more pressure on a particular side. So, make sure you don’t lay them down in the same direction every time you leave them to sleep.
3. Carry your baby more often
Holding your baby more lessens the time they have to spend on their backs or pressing their heads onto a flat surface, like strollers, or car seats. Carrying them often lessens the pressure on their heads, plus: it also increases bonding between you two!
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Although your baby may cry when you place them on their tummy, it is critical to provide numerous tummy-time sessions throughout the day. Having guided tummy time while your baby is awake can help prevent flattened heads.
Place your baby on their tummy atop a blanket or mat when they are awake. Begin with a few minutes every session and a few days per week. You can lengthen the session as your baby’s muscle strength and neck control improve.
It also helps improve neck muscle strength and encourages your baby to begin exploring how to use the upper body muscles needed for crawling or sitting.
5. Adjust your feeding position
Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels
For breastfeeding moms, it would help to feed using the football hold to reduce pressure on the side of the head that’s usually pressed against a flat surface in other feeding positions. If your baby is bottle-fed, practice switching arms used to hold them to lessen pressure.
Can Flat Head Syndrome be treated?
Torticollis affects the majority of babies with the flat head syndrome. As a result, physical therapy and a home exercise program are frequently included in treatment.
A physical therapist can give you stretching exercises to undertake with your infant. The majority of the motions involve stretching the neck to the side that is not tilted. The neck muscles will lengthen and the neck will straighten out over time. The exercises are straightforward, but they must be completed correctly.
A helmet can be prescribed by a doctor for the flat head syndrome. The helmet is made to fit a baby’s head snugly where it is flat and loosely where it is round. The head cannot grow in the helmet because it is already round. As a result, it thrives in areas that are flatter.
Helmets cause the skull to round out faster than normal growth. However, after a few years, babies who wear helmets and those who do not, have the same outcomes. Consult your doctor to see if a helmet might be beneficial to your child.
Lastly, in most cases of positional plagiocephaly, surgery is not required. When sutures have closed and pressure in the skull needs to be removed, it’s required in the majority of cases of congenital plagiocephaly.
The majority of children with flat heads will be fine
About 10% to 25% of the children in the studies included in the review by The Conversation, exhibited developmental deficits beyond what was expected (although the range observed was 3-51 percent depending on the study).
Some studies found that children with flat heads were up to ten times more likely to have developmental deficits than children who did not have flat heads. However, in terms of development, most babies with flat heads are likely to be well.
Visit a physiotherapist to diagnose muscle problems
If you detect any anomalies in your baby’s head, tell your child’s doctor straight away, including:
- Flat spots
- Slant-looking side of the head
- Misaligned eyes and ears
- Lack of a soft spot on the skull
- Hard ridges on the head
As previously stated, flat head syndrome can be traced to poor neck muscle strength. To know for sure and to address other issues and concerns you have, it’s best to visit a specialist!
We hope these tips help. Let us know what you thought of this article in the comments below!
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