Bebcare Academy Knowledge Series - Flat Head Syndrome
A blog post by Brian Murphy
Flat head syndrome usually happens when a baby sleeps with the head turned to the same side during first months of life. This causes a flat spot, either on one side or the back of the head. Flat head syndrome is also called positional plagiocephaly.
These problems are quite common, affecting around 1 in every 5 babies at some point. In most cases they aren't a major cause for concern, as they don't have any effect on the brain and the head shape will often improve by itself over time. Your baby won't experience any pain or other symptoms, or any problems with their general development.
What Causes Flat Head Syndrome?
A young baby's skull is still relatively soft and can change shape if there's constant pressure on a particular part of their head.
Reasons why this may happen include:
- Sleeping on their back – the back or side of a baby's head can become flattened as a result of always sleeping on their back, but it's important they do this to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Problems in the womb – pressure can be placed on a baby's head before it's born if they're a bit squashed in the womb or there's a lack of amniotic fluid to cushion them
- Being born prematurely – premature babies are more likely to develop a flattened head because their skull is softer when they're born, and they may prefer to rest their head on 1 side at first as they're not yet able to move their head themselves
- Neck muscle tightness – this can prevent a baby turning their head a particular way, meaning 1 side of their head is placed under more pressure
How Is Flat Head Syndrome Treated?
Caregivers should always place babies on their back to sleep to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), even with possibility of flat head syndrome. Avoiding swings, car seats, bouncy chairs, and other devices is safest for sleep and also helps to make sure that babies can move their head freely.
So what can parents do when flat head syndrome is due to a sleeping or lying position? Simple practices like changing a baby's sleep position, holding your baby, and providing lots of "tummy time" can help it go away.
If your baby has difficulty turning their head, physiotherapy may help loosen and strengthen their neck muscles. Corrective surgery may be needed if they have craniosynostosis.
Use Specialized Equipment
There are specially designed helmets and headbands that some people claim can help improve the shape of a baby's skull as they grow.
These devices apply pressure to "bulging" parts of the skull and relieve pressure from other parts, potentially allowing growth in the flatter areas.
Treatment is started when the child's skull is still soft, usually at around 5 or 6 months old, and the device is worn almost continuously (up to 23 hours a day) for several months.
Get Professional Help if Unsure
Always get help from medical professionals if you are unsure of your baby's situation and would like a qualified advice.
- Brian Murphy