What Is Baby Flat Head Syndrome?
Have you ever put your hand on the back or top of a newborns head and felt a gap in their skull (often known as a soft spot?
That is because babies are born with soft heads. Their skulls are not like ours (solid, in one piece), but rather they are in several pieces to allow movement as they are developing.
Babies’ skulls are like this for two reasons.
First, your child’s brain grows at a tremendous rate over the first three years of her life. When she is born, her brain already has about all the neurons it ever will.
By the end of her first year, her brain will double in size, and by age three it will already be about 80% of its adult volume. With all that growth, the skull needs to remain flexible so that brain growth in not restricted.
Second, the separation in your baby’s skull allows for easy molding and flexibility when descending through the birth canal.
Imagine if your baby’s skull was solid. There would be no way for her to pass through without major damage to you or herself, if she could even pass at all.
Now, even though baby’s skulls need to be softer for these reasons, it can also cause them to be misshapen due to birth or the position they lay in.
Due to pressure on the skull from these things, babies may develop a flat spot on their skull, developing what is known as Flat Head Syndrome, or Positional Plagiocephaly.
Is The Condition Dangerous?
Most cases of positional plagiocephaly are not dangerous. They do not cause any problems with brain development, and are actually very common.
You should always notify your pediatrician if your baby develops flat spots on their so it can be monitored as your baby develops.
In some cases, this condition will affect your baby’s neck and her range of mobility. This is known as torticollis.
It is usually caused by severe head flattening in one area, which can cause your baby to stay laying on that one area and develop a stiff neck.
In rare cases, this can also develop in the womb. If a baby is too cramped for an extended period of time, it can cause head flattening and not allow proper neck movement.
While torticollis can be difficult to overcome (you know the feeling if you have ever woken up with a stiff neck), it is also something that is easily treated with proper care and resolved over time.
Your doctor will be the one to diagnose the problem, if it is flat head syndrome, and to what degree the flatness may affect your baby.
They will check for the baby’s head and neck movement and will monitor this over several visits.
Treatments For Positional Plagiocephaly
Most cases of plagiocephaly heal themselves over time. Especially when they are caught when the baby is still young and the skull is still soft.
There are things that you can do to help the reshaping process, or at least keep it from getting worse.
1. Change Your Baby’s Position During Sleep
A big part of the reason that babies develop flat head syndrome is due to the fact that they are always on their backs, especially when they sleep.
It is important to keep your baby in this position as it reduces the risk of suffocation from lying on the stomach and SIDS.
You can reposition your baby’s head while she sleeps to keep flattened areas from getting flatter.
Turn your baby’s head from side to side, allowing the flat part to be off the mattress so that it can round itself out again.
2. Incorporate Lots Of Tummy Time Into Your Day
I am very thankful that my baby did not develop flat spots on her head (despite being born with a “cone head” which lasted for the first few days).
I believe this is because she did a lot of tummy time.
Supervised tummy time is the best way for your baby’s head shape and neck strength to develop properly. This will be key for later development, which will involve crawling and sitting up on her own.
3. Severe Cases May Require A Helmet
Severe cases of plagiocephaly require extra treatment in order to round out the baby’s head.
If your baby’s flat head syndrome does not improve after 2-3 months of repositioning at home, your doctor may prescribe a helmet for your baby to wear.
They typically work best between the ages of 4-12 months when the bones are still moldable, and your child is still growing at a fast rate.
By applying gentle but constant pressure on the baby’s skull, the helmet helps to redirect the bones and promote rounding.
4. A Cheaper Alternative: Baby Head Shaping Pillow
For cases that may not be severe but need a little extra help, you can look into getting your baby a pillow specially designed for rounding out the shape of her head.
This is much less expensive than a baby helmet – which can run into thousands of dollars if not covered by insurance – and much more comfortable for your baby.
While most cases of positional plagiocephaly occur as the result of pressure on the baby’s head while sleeping, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend using a positioning pillow in the baby’s crib without supervision!
Here are our best pillows to prevent flat head syndrome: