Answers to common questions about flat head syndrome in babies

Flat Head Syndrome, also known as plagiocephaly and brachycephaly, is becoming so much more common today.  Now that babies are sleeping on their backs, studies have shown that nearly half of all babies are developing flat spots on the head.  Because this condition used to be much more rare, many new parents do not know much about it.  This article will try to answer some of the common questions about this syndrome.

What is Flat Head Syndrome?

Flat Head Syndrome is a term often used to describe the medical conditions of positional plagiocephaly and brachycephaly.  Plagiocephaly is when flattening occurs on one side of the head, and brachycephaly is when the flattening occurs across the entire back of the head.  With brachycephaly, the head can almost take a cone shaped appearance.

What causes it?

There can be many different causes of infant head flattening, but the most common by far is when there is repeated pressure to the same part of the baby’s head.  This can occur in the womb or after birth, usually in the first several months of life when the baby’s skull is very soft.  Some babies are more likely to have this problem, such as premature infants and multiple births.

Sometimes there are genetic factors involved, and more serious conditions such as craniosynosynostosis can also be the culprit.  If you notice any flat spots on your baby’s head, it is critical to consult your pediatrician or qualified medical professional to determine the exact cause.

What can I do to prevent it?

The best things that all new parents can do to prevent flattening caused by pressure is to vary the position of your baby, and avoid having them spend too much time in one position.  You can alternate the side of the crib that your baby’s head is facing on the changing table or crib, for example.  Avoid having your baby spend more time than absolutely necessary in containers like car seats, bouncers, and swings.  A sling or wrap is a good alternative that doesn’t put so much pressure on one spot. There are special pillows and products that can be used (always with supervision!) to keep the pressure off your baby’s head when they are lying on their backs.

Tummy time is a very important activity for your baby’s development as well as to keep pressure off the head.  It’s best to start tummy time with your baby when they are young as possible, otherwise some babies may not enjoy it.  If your baby isn’t happy during tummy time, try doing shorter sessions but do them more frequently.  You can also place your baby on their tummy on your lap or chest.  Try to make it as enjoyable as possible for them!

What should I do if my baby’s head is flattening?

As already mentioned, the most important thing is to consult your baby’s doctor right away.  They will be able to take measurements and advise you on the appropriate course of action.  Sometimes physical therapy is necessary (for example when babies are tight in one side of the neck due to torticollis).  Most doctors will advise more conservative treatment when the baby is under 4 months, such as repositioning therapy and tummy time.  If there is not enough improvement, helmet therapy may be indicated.

One important thing to know about this condition is that it can only be treated when the baby is very young, and the sooner treatment begins, the more successful it is.  Do not wait if you notice a flat spot on your baby’s head.

For more information on preventing and treating flat head syndrome, please visit our Baby Flat Head website.

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