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 together, 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.
What Is Flat Head Syndrome?
When a baby’s head forms a flat patch in the first few months of life, flat head syndrome, also known as positional plagiocephaly, occurs. The baby’s delicate skull and still-weak neck muscles cause them to rest their heads on objects during this period.
When a baby often lies or sleeps in the same posture, the baby’s head may acquire a flat spot and take on a deformed appearance. Find out more about the signs and symptoms of flat head syndrome, as well as how parents may assist with treatment.
When Does Flat Head Syndrome Occur?
1. Sleeping position
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.
The safest posture for babies to sleep in is flat on their backs in their cribs, which may explain why the number of infants suffering from flat head syndrome has increased over the past few decades. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is lowered when a baby sleeps on their back.
Babies are placing light pressure on the back of their heads from the bottom of the crib (or side of their heads if they are more to one side), as they are sleeping on their backs more frequently.
2. Insufficient tummy time
The more time your baby spends on their back, the greater the chance of plagiocephaly. While you are awake and observing them, giving them enough tummy time can lower their risk of developing this illness.
Even though your baby could cry when placed on their stomach, it’s crucial to let them do it multiple times each day.
Put your baby on their stomach on a mat or blanket when they are awake. Start by scheduling a few sessions every day for a few minutes each. You can lengthen the session as your infant gains greater neck control and muscle strength.
Your baby can develop the strength and muscles needed for rolling over, crawling, sitting up, and eventually walking by spending time on their tummies.
Image Source: iStock
3. Being a multiple
A baby’s skull is more likely to be squashed than usual when the womb is small. Plagiocephaly may arise as a result.
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.
4. Being born prematurely
Compared to babies born at term, preterm babies have softer bones. Premature babies, whose skulls are softer than babies born full-term, are more at risk of developing flattened heads.
They also have a higher likelihood of having prolonged hospital admissions during which they spend the majority of the time lying on their backs, having to spend months in a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) or nursery.
Premature babies are more likely than full-term babies to have positional plagiocephaly.
5. Forceps or a vacuum delivery
Being born through forceps or vacuum-assisted delivery can also increase the likelihood of flat head syndrome. These tools exert pressure on the skull’s pliable bones, which may cause plagiocephaly.
6. Muscular torticollis
Infants with this syndrome have tight or unbalanced neck muscles. It frequently results from having a small uterus or from the baby being in the breech position.
It is more difficult for the baby to turn their neck and move their head when the uterus has less room or when they are in the breech position. They may favour one side as a result, which could result in plagiocephaly or another type of skull deformation.
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.
Symptoms of Flat Head Syndrome
During the first several months of life, particularly before the infant can elevate their own head, flat areas typically develop.
You can look at your baby’s head to check for any emerging flat head syndrome symptoms.
Look at your baby’s head from above to see if you can see any areas that are flattened. When your baby’s hair is still wet after a bath and they have a full head of hair, it can be simpler to glance at their head.
Flat head syndrome symptoms include:
- A rounded area on their skull (back or sides)
- A portion of their head with less hair (this could be an early sign they are putting pressure frequently in this spot)
- They have a slightly protruded ear or side of the forehead.
Flat Head Syndrome and the Brain
Only the shape of your baby’s head will be impacted by flat head syndrome; not their brain development.
Flat patches can be caused by a disorder known as torticollis. Tight neck muscles that result from torticollis cause the head to twist to one side. Your baby may start holding their head in the same position repeatedly as a result.
Flat Head Syndrome: Diagnosis
At each well-child appointment, your paediatrician will examine the head shape of your child. They carry out this to keep an eye on normal growth and look for any flat patches. It is important to request an examination from your child’s doctor if you see a flattened area on your baby’s head.
Although it’s infrequent, flat areas can occasionally be a symptom of a disorder called craniosynostosis, in which the skull bones fuse too early.
The head and neck muscles are examined physically to make the diagnosis. If the doctor treating your child thought they had craniosynostosis, they might suggest imaging to examine the skull more closely.
When discovered early, flat head syndrome often doesn’t pose any major health risks. Simple adjustments to the baby’s head position on a regular basis will help mild to significant flat patches disappear.
Flat Head Syndrome: Treatment
The severity of your child’s ailment and the plagiocephaly’s alleged cause will determine the course of treatment.
Your doctor may advise stretching exercises to widen your baby’s neck range of motion if they have muscular torticollis. Never perform neck stretches without your doctor’s permission and instructions.
2. Counter-position therapy
While it’s crucial to always place your infant on their back to lower the risk of SIDS, pay attention to shifting their posture.
For instance, place your baby’s head so that they are resting on their right cheek if they like to sleep with their left cheek flat against the crib mattress.
3. Molding helmet therapy
Wearing a specially made band or helmet during moulding helmet therapy will help gently reshape the baby’s head into a symmetrical shape.
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons states that children between the ages of three and six months are ideal for helmet therapy. Using this procedure, the skull can be modified in as little as 12 weeks.
The use of a moulding helmet is often limited to people with moderate to severe plagiocephaly.
A moulding helmet must be purchased with a doctor’s prescription, and your child must wear it constantly, with the exception of while they are bathing.
The helmets may irritate your baby’s skin and make them irritable or agitated. On the usefulness of these gadgets, there is also conflicting information.
Before beginning treatment, talk with your doctor about the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.
In most instances of positional plagiocephaly, surgery is not required. When sutures have closed and pressure inside the skull needs to be released, it is required in the majority of cases of congenital plagiocephaly.
How To Prevent Flat Head Syndrome?
Image Source: iStock
The good news is that flat head syndrome doesn’t require surgery. Minor flat spots can resolve on their own, but make sure to consult your doctor regarding the severity of your baby’s case.
Here’s how it can be prevented and treated.
Change your baby’s head position when asleep
Remember to place your baby on her back while sleeping and keep in mind sleep safety guidelines! 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.
Alternate where you place them down in the crib
If you’re right-handed, then you usually carry your baby with your 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.
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!
Having guided tummy time while your baby is awake can help prevent flattened heads. 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.
Adjust your feeding position
For breastfeeding mums, 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.
Shorten naps when your baby’s head can’t move around easily
Spend as little time as possible in car seats or curved baby swings
that limit movement.
Carefully pique the infant’s interest
Your infant might turn and look if there is a mobile or another safe toy outside the cot.
Visit a physiotherapist to diagnose muscle problems
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!
When To Seek Professional Help
The more quickly plagiocephaly is identified and treated, the more likely it is that the problem will be cured.
Parents may notice plagiocephaly symptoms when their infants are around 6 to 8 weeks old, and many paediatricians evaluate infants for skull malformations at each checkup during infancy.
Consult your child’s paediatrician in the event that you observe any abnormalities with your baby’s head, including:
- Flat areas
- a head side that appears tilted
- crooked ears and eyes
- absence of a cranial soft spot
- the head’s ridges are sharp.
Updates by Matt Doctor
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